Fifty, even if it’s not the new forty, or the number of possible ways to leave your lover, or all the available shades of grey, is a nice round number. As a birthday, it is a momentous achievement, and LeasePlan has chosen to celebrate in an appropriately expansive way.
It’s perhaps not surprising that a vehicle leasing and fleet management firm should mark its 50th anniversary with a car-related event. But, as befits the world leader in the sector, the roadtrip which they have planned is a little more ambitious than your average spin in a jalopy – and, amongst the fun, also has a serious purpose.
LeasePlan has assembled 25 teams of drivers from their employees in offices across Europe, and they are currently undertaking a colossal 20,000 kilometre relay covering the whole breadth of Europe, from Russia in the East to Ireland in the West, and Finland in the North to Turkey in the South.
The competition element centres on one of the most important challenges for the future of motoring – fuel efficiency – with each of the 52 drivers trying to maximise the number of kilometres they get to the litre.
Coincidentally, this sort of challenge last had a heyday just before LeasePlan’s founding, when the scarcity and, in some European countries, the rationing of petrol created a fad for economy rallies, with drivers attempting to see how far they could get on a limited supply of petrol.
Despite the tremendous technical advances in fuel economy, the LeasePlan 50th anniversary rally is also designed to focus on the individual driver’s behaviour and how it affects efficiency. And looking towards the future, the issue has again become central to motoring, though nowadays for environmental reasons as much as economic ones.
Hence the serious aspect of the celebrations. Using advanced telematics from Bosch, the data from the relay will be analysed, not just to pick the winning team, but to enable LeasePlan to identify the factors which help to maximise efficiency in driving behaviour.
Those telematics mean that the route so far can be followed on the LeasePlan website where the car’s progress is being updated daily.
An enterprise like this, as you might expect, has flung up a few challenges and difficulties already. The car’s distinctive appearance has created one of them, since, although the LeasePlan Audi is currently fairly comprehensively covered with a bright orange wrap-round sticker emblazoned with the route and company logo, its registration documents describe it as black – something which has required a certain amount of explanation at some border crossings.
Assembling the documentation alone for a trip around 25 countries was a massive logistical job, and was compounded in some places – such as Russia – by the fact that the same driver needed to bring the vehicle in and out of the country.
But there was the worry that they wouldn’t get into Russia at all, when a tyre was damaged before the car’s arrival at Helsinki, and the team discovered that there were only two suitable replacements in the whole of southern Finland. Since there was a fixed time slot for the border crossing into Russia (something which can often take six hours or more), there was a frantic scramble to get the repairs done in time, which the organisers admit was “disconcerting”.
Fortunately, they made it in time, but there were other potential hiccups. Some drivers have taken a relaxed approach to the mileage, and made detours for sightseeing, while others have been fairly competitive. Traffic and the state of the roads have not always been ideal, while the driving style of some nations has put the wind up some of the competitors. The Romanian team was so intimidated by Turkish driving (and by the fact that their sat-nav maps didn’t seem to bear any resemblance to the roads around them) that they admitted defeat, and called in someone from the local office to get them to their destination.
Variations in motoring rules across Europe also threw up some other headaches. To comply with differing regulations, the car is equipped with an enormous first aid kit, three red triangles of varying sizes, five high visibility vests, fire extinguishers, a raft of stickers specifying emissions rates (required in some cities) and disposable alcohol testing kits. Then there was the problem that some countries require vehicles to carry extra fuel, while others prohibit it. All this baggage left so little space for luggage that the Dutch team were distraught to find that there wasn’t any room for the enormous supply of toffee waffles they had brought with them.
As the LeasePlan teams enter the last quarter of their mammoth journey, however, the car remains unscathed. It is due to arrive in the UK on October 1, and if you spot it – and, as I mentioned earlier, it’s fairly conspicuous – you can join in by tweeting pictures using the hashtag #leaseplan50.
But even when it reaches the finish line on October 7, this ambitious rally won’t quite be over. The lessons on efficient and economical driving which can be taken from the journey, and which LeasePlan intends to share through its website, should give some useful pointers to the direction motoring will want to steer towards over the next 50 years.