EXECUTIVE CARS : Driven to success – Executives’ favourite cars

You’ve finally made it. No, not getting an office, five weeks holiday or even carpark. No, you finally get company car. And forget about the 1990s where you were stuck with what the fleet manager decided the coffers could afford (a Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic – or for the really budget conscious Hyundai Accent).
These days clause for work vehicle is factored into most executives’ contracts: it gets rid of the need for fleet manager, maintenance of the cars (yes, we all know it wasn’t you who dented work’s Nissan Primera as you were manoeuvring it out of the over-crowded carpark), and puts the onus on the individual to provide work transport.
But with the choice comes hours of indecision. What car to buy? What about leasing? And what will your colleagues say about your vehicle?
Fear not. I am here.
As motoring writer, I test, on average, new vehicle every week, and having been in this job for 11 years I can honestly say I’ve driven everything (sans Lamborghini). I’ve driven that little hatchback that most junior sales reps start off in, to the medium-sized sedan of the ad manager, the fuel efficient but personality-depleted Korean car that is favoured among accountants, to the $200,000-plus European marques that your boss has parked in the key spot by the company’s front door.
(By the way boss, yes your staff do take note of what you’re driving and yes, if it is Bentley or Aston Martin they’ll be poking pins in voodoo doll of you at the Christmas party if you don’t have free flowing bar and catered nosh.)
Over the years, I’ve noticed that as consumers we expect more from our vehicles than just getting us from work to home. As sales reps you’ll need – as standard – decent driver’s seat, usually an automatic, air conditioning, decent stereo, four airbags (two front airbags and two curtain), ABS braking, and electric windows. All of these features are now standard in even the cheaper model Japanese cars such as the Toyota Corolla and the Mazda2.
So when it comes to work cars, you expect something special.
After realising in the early to mid-1990s that – gasp – women buy cars, motoring companies now know that more and more employees are having say in what they drive.
Mazda New Zealand has seen an increase in vehicles being bought for companies.
“In recent times we have seen number of organisations revisit their internal policies relating to company vehicles – shift in thinking which has seen companies embrace fleet selection policy that both serves to foster employee retention but also create differentiation against their competitors,” says Glenn Harris, national marketing manager, Mazda New Zealand.
“This has resulted in larger number of ‘user-choosers’ entering the market, shopping for company vehicles that reflect their personal tastes or which have the flexibility to accommodate both their professional and personal needs.”
More New Zealand car companies are also seeing change in vehicle preferences in middle management, especially if part of the vehicle package means paying for your own fuel. Gone are the 3-litre V6s along with the likes of the Toyota Camry, Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon. Instead, execs are looking at such fuel-efficient options as the Mazda3, the new-look Honda Civic or what was once joke car from the 1970s, the Skoda.
The Skoda is now sought after because in many cases this vehicle is basically re-badged Volkswagen after the Czech government chose the German manufacturer to relaunch the brand in 1996. So don’t laugh when colleague pulls up in Skoda Octavia. This sedan has the engineering and styling of more expensive German car.
As choice increases due to user-choosers, you’ll also notice variety of vehicles in the staff carpark. Given budget of, say, $45,000, some execs may forgo the usual sedan and opt for four-wheel drive such as the Honda CRV. This popular SUV combines work and play – being stylish enough to take clients to lunch and still cope with taking the family to the holiday home on weekends.
Ford’s cross-over vehicle, the highly popular Territory, is winner in its medium SUV segment due to Ford Australia creating an off-roader with the comfort of luxury sedan and the benefit of station wagon. This vehicle has proven winner for the self-employed and company owners alike, as it is stylish vehicle that is comfortable ride for those long business trips.
While SUVs still prove popular for many consumers, other managers may go smaller. Nothing says “look at me” more than the Mini Cooper. Companies such as shoe and handbag designer Minnie Cooper use the British legend as moving advertising with decal on the side advertising the Auckland-based business.
For the ultimate ‘small but perfectly formed’ car, try the smart car. The two-seater, 700cc smart for-two coupé is 2.50 metres long and 1.5 metres high and is consistent winner with fuel economy. It’s also high in the ‘green’ stakes with 95 percent of the vehicle recyclable. And if you feel like new colour, it takes just 90 minutes to change the body panels.
But if you want kudos in the lunchroom, then your pick of work car has to be hybrid. Despite flack in recent months for the lack of recyclable parts and environmentally unfriendly battery, the hybrid is the still one of the most sought-after vehicles worldwide.
In Los Angeles, the waiting list for Toyota’s car to the stars, the Prius, is six months, while in Auckland, consumers were waiting up to three months for new Prius.
The Prius is part of Waitakere City Council’s fleet while Auckland Regional Council opted for the Honda Civic hybrid.
New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker went one better and drives four-wheel drive Lexus RX400 hybrid. The luxury brand of Toyota also produces two other hybrid vehicles. The GS450h is the world’s first luxury performance hybrid sedan as well as being the world’s first ever rear-wheel drive hybrid vehicle, while the LS600hL large sedan has the power and performance of V12, but delivers the fuel economy of V6.
Other car companies are also realising that user-choosers are after something to stand out from the usual fleet choice.
“In the past 12 months we have launched range of new executive level products,” said Mitsubishi Motors national sales manager, Warren Brown. “The new Series III 380 fits the more traditional mould for senior executives but we are also seeing trend toward our more lifestyle focused Pajero and V6 Outlander SUVs.
“We’ve recently launched the Lancer Evolution X and, although historically it has not fitted this segment, we think its refined ride, exceptional handling and increased space will attract interest from executives who are looking for little more excitement from their vehicle.”

On the road

So with such wide selection of vehicles to pick for your work car, how exactly do you go about it?
Do your homework. Go on to car company websites and check the selection in your price range. Then hit the road. Drive as many vehicles as you can – from the price-friendly yet glamour-free Korean cars such as the Kia, to the high-end marques such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
You can’t go past Japanese brands for dependability – with the Toyota Camry reliable mid-sized sedan, Honda’s Accord always consistent choice, Nissan’s made-over Maximum star, and Mitsubishi’s 300 series popular choice.
The European brands cover the range of staff needs – with 1.6-litre, hatchback base models for sales reps with class – at around the $40,000 mark, such as the Audi A3, the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Moving up the management ladder to the mid-size European sedans are the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and the Merc C-Class all around the late $60,000s to early $70,000s.
Of course, for the flashy execs among you, it has to be convertible. Then expect to pay from $53,990 for the 2-litre VW Eos, to $260,000 for the Porsche 911 Carerra 4S.

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