Assets and liabilities: cars in the cities

I wanted to write something a bit different from my normal column, and a bit different from what everyone else is writing.

Everywhere you look these days, there are positive stories about vehicle finance. Average sales values at British Car Auctions = up. European passenger car and LCV leasing sector profitability level = highest in five years (according to Leaseurope). Number of new cars bought on finance in April 2015 = an eleven per cent year-on-year increase. For people looking to write a bad news story, that’s bad news.

 But while the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and every other association is gathering positive data, the information being recorded by our own cars isn’t necessarily such happy reading.

If you’ve got any form of satellite navigation system, it stands to reason that you’ve got a car capable of knowing not only where it is, but whether it’s travelling at an appropriate speed for that road. It’s a short step from that to cars being aware of each other’s presence. No need for traffic jams either, if there’s a bit of fuzzy logic built in to the routefinding programs. Then we’ve got electronic steering on Porsches, so they ought to be able to slow themselves down and steer around other cars. You don’t even need to look as far up the food chain as that: Volvo’s XC90 can steer itself round corners, park itself and brake by itself to avoid hitting pedestrians.

The news that from 2018 new cars must be able to (and therefore presumably will) automatically dial for an ambulance after a crash is sort of missing the point. There is no reason why any new cars should be crashing at all!

Everything’s going very well now, but perhaps we’re not much more than five years away from a major sea change. If in the future employees can dial up a driverless car – or a driverless van – it will be a very different world of vehicle leasing.

Tucked into an office in the middle London, the future’s already here. You can barely cross the road without a BMW i3, Nissan Leaf or Tesla S silently nudging you out of the way. They sound different and look different, and the way they’re financed is different too. The Car Club Coalition wants to see the number of London car club members reach one million in the next decade, and is trying to help Londoners make the switch from private cars to shared ownership, while TFL will be looking to make parking management smarter and easier (“it says here”). When garages in the capital can fetch upwards of £200,000, clearly it can be a lot cheaper to join a club and sell your own car rather than buy or rent a garage to go with it.

Currently, car clubs operate in 25 of the 33 London boroughs, and they’re early adopters of new technologies. Open up a Tesla like a sardine can, and you won’t find anything resembling an engine. Chances are, look in the driver’s seat and you won’t find a car owner either.