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Making the rounds

At the Australasian Fleet Managers Association (A/MA) our brief Is to seek out new and innovative ways to better the fleet management industry. To this end at present we are doing a tour of the key fleet management conferences in the USA, Canada and the UK.

We have just attended the USA's major fleet conference and exhibition that was held in Detroit, the home of the big three USA automotive manufacturers.

After what has been a tortuous two years, this offered an ideal opportunity for the manufacturers. General Motors and Chrysler, have survived bankruptcy while Ford escaped the process by securing non-governmental lines of credit.

As part of the Conference program, we enjoyed presentations from Robert Lutz, Vice Chairman General Motors, Mark Fields, Executive Vice President of the Ford Motor Company and President of the Americas and finally Peter Grady, Vice President Network development and Fleet Chrysler Group. All three announced first quarter profits and enthusiasm for the future as sales have risen on a year on year basis. One has had as much as a 47percent increase in fleet sales and an 8 percent rise in retail.

All three professed a iove for fleet managers and expressed their hopes that fleet sales would lift them out of the hole in which they find themselves. They also articulated a realisation that their future was clearly tied to the actions of fleet managers and. more importantly, fleet sales. With one in four sales going to fleet (in Australia the ratio is one in two) there seemed to be, finally, an acceptance that fleet and therefore the fleet managers are the single most important group in their bid to secure a future for their organisations.

Whether this expectation will be met remains to be seen, as there are a number of influences being exerted on the market. In particular, while current sales are up this year they are coming from a very low base; total USA sales fell in the previous two years from 17 million to between 10 and 11 million.

This base would have been even lower had it not been for a "cash for clunker" program which stimulated sales. On a positive note, while the global financial crisis had substantially slowed down new vehicle purchases as organisations extended the ownership/retention cycle, there is now evidence that organisations are seeking replacement vehicles and new orders are being received.

The biggest issue affecting Fleet Managers which was highlighted at the Conference is the coming change to the international accounting rules, also relevant to Australia, which effectively removes the operating lease. In the future all liabilities will have to be shown on the organisation's balance sheet.

From a product perspective the greatest area of development Is in relation to driver distraction. There is now a great body of evidence that distraction is one, if not the greatest, contributor to the occurrence of crashes.

The exhibition had many products designed for and around mobile phone use. One of the more interesting developments was a system that automatically disables screens and keypads when the vehicle is in motion beyond 25 km/hr, effectively stopping the use of mobile phones while driving.

Systems are also available for tracking the vehicle location through GPS enabled phones as opposed to having to install additional equipment. These are extremely effective as they can be programmed with desired parameters such as a particular route and report route or area deviations.

What was clear Is that the price of these systems Is very quickly falling to levels that will make them accessible and desirable for all fleet vehicles.

As far as fleet management systems and approaches are concerned it Is pleasing to note that from our reviews and experiences the Australian fleet manager is at least on par and in many cases ahead of their USA counterparts,

Thank you to A/MA's Corporate Partners

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s any good secret agent will tell you, making a clean getaway is vital. Peugeot's 4007 SUV could be just the thing for Secret Services the world over, as it combines speed, comfort and plenty of space without costing a bomb to run.

Peugeot's first venture into the mainstream SUV world is a joint project with Mitsubishi, which is why you're probably thinking it looks familiar. In tact the 4007 is a Mitsubishi Outlander with a fake moustache - I mean Peugeot Nose - and an engine, gearbox and, apparently, some suspension bits from France. Unlike its petrol-powered Japanese alter ego, however, the 4007 comes only with a turbo-diesel engine and all, bar the base model, have a six-speed, double-clutch, automated manual gearbox.

From the outside the 4007 looks remarkably like the Outlander. except for a nose only the French would create. The massive chrome grille seems out of proportion with the rest of the car, and its protective black bumper makes the whole thing even more bulbous. However, like Gerard Depardieu, you quickly become accustomed to it.

There are four models in the 4007 line-up and they're all seven seaters. This is in contrast to most Outlanders, being five-seaters, and Is, apart from the engine and gearbox, its biggest point of difference. Having said that, the seating arrangement is 2/3/2, and only misbehaving children should be seated in the rearmost row. It's small, cramped and best left folded into the floor. It's also perilously close to the tailgate should you be rear-ended in a collision.

Technically speaking, there's nothing too secret about the mechanicals, it runs the same switchable part-time 4WD system as its twin, which allows you to drive normally in 2WD but select 4WD when the going gets slippery on bitumen or dirt. Operation is via an intelligent electronic control module (ECM) that apportions drive between the front and rear, responding to changing levels of grip detected through wheel spin. For more serious off-roading which isn't really the intent of a lightweight SUV - there is a lockable centre differential that apportions drive 50:50 between the front and rear axles.

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Words by Richard Robertson

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