• Undercover investigation: Leasing companies push customers to opt for fossil and hybrid cars in France

    A new undercover investigation commissioned by green group Transport & Environment (T&E) shows that sales staff of leasing companies in France rarely promote battery electric cars to customers, unlike some of their German counterparts.

    In France, leasing companies aren’t advising their customers to switch to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), despite claiming to be green mobility leaders and supporting their clients to switch to zero emission technologies. Sales staff in Germany push fleet managers to transition to electric cars more often. These are the findings of an undercover investigation published by T&E and carried out by a business intelligence unit via mystery calls to Europe’s biggest leasing companies.

    In the calls, the investigators pretended to be company managers wanting to lease a fleet of cars for their staff. T&E scripted three scenarios where the company’s situation – fleet size and required mileage – should have easily enabled them to go electric. It was therefore expected that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) would systematically and immediately be advised to the customer as the best option – as leasing companies claim. Investigators made in-depth calls to Europe’s top seven leasing companies (Arval, ALD-LeasePlan[1], Athlon, Mobilize Financial Services, Volkswagen Financial Services, Leasys and Alphabet)[2]. 29 calls were completed – 12 in France and 17 in Germany.

    The results of the investigation reveal that leasing companies are not just ‘middlemen’ between corporate fleet managers and carmarkers, but rather they actively steer fleet managers during their sales calls. This guidance, however, points away from zero-emission mobility in many cases.

    Polluting technologies offered in majority of cases by leasing companies in France

    Contrary to the green leadership claims made by leasing companies, in almost all calls in France, the leasing company sales staff promoted polluting technologies such as plug-in hybrids or internal combustion engines to their potential customers. In one call, a salesperson is on the record saying “the best compromise is a petrol-based engine”. Only two calls in France resulted in immediate and concrete recommendations to go for battery electric vehicles.

    These revelations in France are particularly concerning as France is the largest market for the two biggest multi-brand leasing companies, ALD I LeasePlan (now Ayvens) and Arval, accounting for 22% of their whole fleet in the EU[3]. Plug-ins and ICE cars continue to flood the French company cars market due to such recommendations, T&E says.

    The investigation also revealed that, in several cases, sales staff actively discouraged clients to opt for an electric car with false information about performance, including the drawbacks of battery range and charging. One leasing employee claimed that “at a household socket it’s going to take you 30 hours to recharge it to 100%”.

    Furthermore, leasing staff were not well informed on electric vehicles, claiming that hybrids have the same tax benefits as electric vehicles. This is no longer the case as of 2023, since hybrid cars aren’t eligible for the French eco-bonus anymore and are not taxed as favorably for depreciation and benefit-in-kind. In many cases, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) were presented as “clean” vehicles, even though research shows they pollute just as much as petrol and diesel vehicles in real-driving conditions[4].

    “A veil has been lifted: despite claiming to be green leaders and help their customers go electric, leasing companies in France continue to push diesel, petrol or hybrid cars. This is harmful for the climate, but also for French company fleets. They are being advised to lease the most expensive solutions on the market. During the course of the lease, battery electric cars are by far the cheapest solution for fleets in France. Leasing companies are not offering their customers an objective and informed choice,” explains Stef Cornelis, Director of the Electric Fleets Programme at T&E.

    Leasing companies in Germany overall more favorable to electric cars

    German sales staff spontaneously presented battery electric cars as the recommended vehicle for their potential customer in 9 out of 17 calls. In the remaining cases however, staff remained neutral on the different technologies including offering petrol and diesel cars as a viable option. This despite the green claims of the leasing companies and the use cases which made it very easy to advise electric cars. Leasing staff dismissed plug-in hybrids almost consistently, stating that fuel consumption and high operating costs made them less attractive choices.

    Among the leasing companies operating in Germany, T&E finds that Volkswagen Financial Services (VW FS) is the least proactive in offering battery electric vehicles to customers, especially when compared to some of their counterparts in Germany. Sales staff at VW FS left the choice in the hands of the customer and still offered petrol cars as an option.

    “Our investigation shows several good examples of leasing companies actively promoting BEVs. Leasing staff can steer their customers to a particular car technology, although in many cases in Germany, they choose not to orient them towards electric cars. If leasing companies are the green leaders they claim to be, they should consistently promote and advise fleets to go for EVs. They should close the gap between their green statements and sales strategies.” explains Stef Cornelis.

    In the EU, the seven biggest leasing companies investigated oversee a fleet of 9.7 million vehicles. Research by T&E[5] has found that leasing companies are not the green leaders they claim to be. The group calls upon these companies to step up their ambition and stop leasing polluting cars at the latest by 2028. This first and foremost needs to be translated into how they advise their customers on electric vehicles.

    [1] Rebranded Ayvens on 16 October 2023. In this release, we still refer to the name ALD Automotive I LeasePlan. The rollout of the new brand will happen in 2024.

    [2] In France, the investigators managed to reach five out of seven companies – all but Leasys and Alphabet. In Germany, investigators reached all seven.

    [3] Latest available data by country from ALpD and Leaseplan 2022 annual report.

    [4] https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/plug-in-hybrids-2-0-still-not-a-solution-for-the-climate/

    [5] https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/leasing-giants-called-out-for-greenwashing-and-low-ambition-on-electric-cars-in-new-investigation/