Whatever the eventual fall out from the VW emissions scandal, there is a feeling in the air that we might come to look on 2015 as representing the high water mark of diesel road fuel here, across Europe, and almost certainly in the US.
Of course, it’ll take years for the heavy hauliers to find a suitable replacement, but company fleet buyers turn over their vehicles much more rapidly, and even private buyers can move quite quickly if the pressure is there.And pressure will come. Already the regulatory authorities in Britain and Europe are looking at new, more rigorous, emission and fuel consumption tests. In themselves, the new testing regimes may blow a huge hole in the recent image of diesel as clean and efficient enough to put off any future buyers. But the real crunch would come if, in the light of new testing, existing oil-burners were to be re-classified into higher tax bands. Company car users, in particular, would abandon the fuel as soon as possible.
It’s too early to spot any trend from statistics, but for what it’s worth, the anecdotal evidence is already out there. We’ve had conversations with clients who’ve chosen to go for high-efficiency, relatively small turbocharged or supercharged petrol engines, even in what would still be classed as the ’executive’ cars that they’re currently buying. Major car manufacturers have been installing very small (around one-litre) but high-efficiency petrol motors into mainstream models, which only a few years ago would have come with 1.6 or 1.8 engines as standard. And, of course, there’s the ever-growing number of petrol/electric hybrids in all classes of vehicle.
Naturally, it’s premature to suggest converting your DERV tanks and pumps back to ’motor spirit’ but if your forecourt is of a certain age, and you may be having to think about spending tens of £000s replacing tanks and/or pumps, just pause for a while. Maybe it’s time to plan a little further ahead and look at other fuelling options LPG, electric recharging points, or even hydrogen. Any or all of these are potentially the fuels that may well relegate DERV back to its historic role as something for tractors and heavy trucks.
Interest rates will they ever rise?
For at least the past 18 months, the financial media has been trying to predict when interest rates would start to rise from their present all-time lows. And, for at least as long, they’ve been putting the date back. A year ago it looked very much as if US rates would go up from August or September (2015), and if that happened then the UK would have followed suit within a month or two. Obviously it hasn’t happened and today few commentators will risk predicting a likely date, although the general consensus seems to be ’not before late 2016’.
The reason is simply that nobody really knows whether the Chinese economic bubble has finally burst, and if so, just how hard the pieces will hit everyone else. Add to that the near-deflation in the UK and much of Europe, and nobody is about to risk raising bank rates in the near future. So if you work off a large overdraft, or need to find funding for business development, you can relax for a little longer.
Auto Enrolment will soon be here
Yes, we keep harping on about it. Yes, you’ve now seen the official adverts on TV. Yes, it’s going to affect your business. Yes, you will need to do something about it in 2016. So start by checking your Staging Date; talk to your payroll service provider, and then start planning how you’re going to fund your contributions.
National Living Wage even sooner
The National Living Wage is another change that has been written and spoken about many times during 2015 and April ’16 is now another month closer, when it will be £7.20 per hour for employees aged 25 and over. That could be quite a large percentage pay rise for some of your staff. And just to repeat the answer to one client who may only have been joking no, you really can’t simply fire your staff on their 25th birthday and replace them with younger ones! The Employment Tribunals would take you to the cleaners for age discrimination and, if the penalties didn’t destroy you, the bad publicity might finish you off.
Supermarkets the same old fuel tactics
Virtually all of the ’Big 4’ traditional supermarket chains are in trouble, with their gross margins on core groceries squeezed by the no-frills discounters, their once-promising non-food lines all but killed off by internet retailers, and their estates of huge out-of-town sheds left looking like massive liabilities rather than assets.
You’d think that in such an environment they’d be trying everything to maximise margins wherever they could, or at the very least protecting the remaining ones not yet under attack from Aldi, Lidl or Amazon. So what do these dinosaurs do? With fuel prices already generally at low levels all year, they engage in another round of petrol price wars with the rest of the industry. Now they may have some internal logic behind this policy which the rest of us can’t see; or it may be that they really are so set in their ways that they’d rather buy ’market share’ than make any money.
Maybe they just like hearing the applause from self-appointed ’champions of the consumer’ in the media. Whatever their reasons, it all smacks of desperation another pointless swipe of rage at everything around them as they slowly slide into history. Other than the possibility that one of them might break up some time soon, it’s likely that we’ll see more of the same in 2016.