The Maserati Ghibli fulfils its design brief perfectly. Conceived before the 1972 oil crisis for Italian supermales to surf the Autostrada del Sol at 120 mph, it was the ultimate status symbol. It didn’t matter that it only seated two, the bodywork rusted out within five years or that it guzzled high-octane fuel at the rate of one gallon every 14 miles. If you had the money and felt the need to flaunt it, the Ghibli was an essential prop – and to hell with the environment.
I have to admit that owning this icon of unsustainability is now rather an embarrassment, but, honestly, I bought it in 1984 purely for historic interest and – mistakenly – as an investment. In the 16 years that I have owned it, its whole-life cost has been something like 30% of my purchase price – per annum. It has cost me so much that I cannot afford to give it up or drive it more than 500 miles a year.
Whole–life cost was a key factor in choosing our new company car – a Volkswagen Golf. Spurred on last year by Sir Martin Laing’s Sustainable Construction Focus Group, we decided to research the market to find the most sustainable car that is also suitable for a construction business.
The choice of company car is a very emotive subject. The Sustainable Construction Focus Group’s recent report shows that the “vicious circle of blame” inhibits sustainable construction. Each part of the supply chain passes the blame on to others for not promoting sustainability.
There is a similar block in the choice of company cars – status still takes precedence over sustainability. The real hierarchy of a company is revealed by the car model ranking. People have been known to request a few more engine centilitres, a couple more “S”s or “X”s, or a coveted CD changer in lieu of a pay rise. One or two have declined job offers because our current car model didn’t match their aspirations.
That is because we have a simple company car policy. If you work for George & Harding, your company car is the same as the chairman’s, and that is not a Jaguar. Since 1995, we have happily run a fleet of Citroën Xantias.
One or two have declined job offers because our company car model didn’t match their aspirations
But they averaged only 32 mpg, servicing and repair costs were rocketing in the fourth year and the residual values were plummeting. We needed a replacement that would give a much lower life–cycle cost over five years, impress the neighbours and satisfy all the sustainability indicators.
On paper, the Ford Focus Tdi was just ahead of the VW Golf 1.9TdiSE, but manufacturers’ fuel economy figures are notoriously fickle. Most manufacturers willingly lent us demonstration cars with claimed economy over 50 mpg for our team to drive for several weeks. In our tests, only the VW averaged more than 43 mpg, showing just over 50 mpg out of its claimed 58 mpg.
Now that we have 24 Golf drivers vying for the economy driver of the month prize, it is clear that VW’s dashboard display of fuel consumption in miles per gallon has a big influence on driver behaviour and economy.
Electric cars were discounted early in the programme – still too experimental – and although the Dual Fuel Astra was very economical in gas mode, the luggage space was virtually filled by the gas tank.
The Ford Focus was slightly better on carbon dioxide and particle emissions than the more expensive Golf, but the VW’s higher residual value and fuel economy, plus its three-year warranty, made it a better all-round choice over five years. We expect to reduce our annual fuel bill by 30%.
Archie Norman, the Conservatives’ new shadow environment spokesman, says that his first act when joining Asda was to take away all the directors’ Jaguars, to save money and show solidarity with the workforce. The construction industry is the largest single purchaser of motor vehicles in the UK. Just think what we could do to help promote sustainable construction if we, and particularly our leaders, all switched from status to sustainability.
Colin Harding is chairman of Bournemouth-based contractor George & Harding.