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LeasePlan hopes to enter new markets through VW

Many questions still remain unanswered since the VW Group bought 50 percent of the Dutch fleet manager

Neuss. Forty years after the fleet-management company LeasePlan was founded by the banker Anton Goudsmit and the car dealer Hubert van der Meulen, the company, which is based in Almere, the Netherlands, now has three new owners.

Since last week the VW Group (50 percent), the Mubadala Development Group -- a company belonging to the Abu Dhabi royal family -- and the Saudi Arabian family holding Olayan (25 percent each) have been joint owners of the world's second-largest (after GE Capital Services), brand-independent fleet operator. They bought the company from Dutch bank ABN-Amro.

The deal is specifically beneficial for VW. Leaseplan is looking after 1.2 million company cars in 26 countries. The German location has customers such as Dr. Oetker, Kodak and Procter & Gamble.

Managing director Jan Hein Bax says the German LeasePlan employees' reaction to the news of the new owners was between "neutral and slightly positive".

But a few questions still remain unanswered. How, for example, can a company that belongs to the VW Group suggest to customers they order a Renault, Ford or Mercedes? And will the company, which is part of VW's subsidiary VW Financial Services -- which also acts as a fleet operator -- , be able to maintain its operating independence?

LeasePlan would lose competitive advantages should VW break with the business principles of brand-neutrality.

A large number of customers order the no-worries-package. LeasePlan buys the cars at a large-customer discount, insures them, handles any accident damages and then sells the cars to used car dealers. Fuel, maintenance and repairs are charged through a "LeasePlan card". This service costs companies a lot of money but Bax says it is still approximately 12 percent cheaper than managing the fleet themselves.

The 39-year-old Dutchman is not worried: "I don't believe that VW will make any major changes."

He hopes that LeasePlan has hit the jackpot. VW's presence in Asia could bring huge new business. And the Arab owners could pave the way into one of the "hungriest" used car markets in the world.

For the present Bax is doing business as usual and negotiating with car dealers, repair workshop chains and internet providers, to look for new sales opportunities.

In France a project called Carvantis should wet private customers' appetite for vehicle management.

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