Principals' perks

May 2013 » Company Cars
Fewer engineering firms are providing company cars.
Bob Drake
More than half of the company vehicles reported by principals are compact, mid-size, or full-size sport utility (SUV) or crossover vehicles.

A company car can be a valuable perk to an engineering firm principal. With frequent trips to project sites, client meetings, public hearings, conferences, and other work-related events, owning, operating, and maintaining a vehicle can be expensive as well as time consuming, even if the firm reimburses for mileage.

However, the economic recession during the last decade has taken a toll on many perks once enjoyed by firm principals and other engineering professionals. For example, 14 years of data from ZweigWhite's "Principals, Partners & Owners Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms" indicate that significantly fewer firms are providing company cars for principals (see Figure 1, page 34). In answer to the question –"Do you have a company car?" – 54 percent of respondents in 2000 said "yes;" only 38 percent answered "yes" in the latest survey conducted in December 2012.

Figure 1: Engineering firm principals, partners, and owners who have a company car or receive a car allowance

In 2004, as many as 90 percent of survey respondents said that they either had a company car or received a car allowance. That number has gradually decreased since then to only 57 percent in the recently published 2013 survey. For the 19 percent of respondents to the latest survey who receive a car allowance, the median monthly allowance is $500, essentially unchanged compared with 2000 but greater than reported in the 2012 survey ($400).

Nevertheless, the firms that still provide company car perks to principals appear to be loosening their restrictions on personal use of those cars (see Figure 2). The percentage of firms that make company cars available for personal use has remained fairly consistent during the last 14 years within a narrow range from 93 percent to 100 percent, but the proportion of firms that charge principals for personal use of a vehicle has dropped from a high of 37 percent in 2003 to only 16 percent today. During the last 14 years, the median monthly charge for personal use of a company car has doubled from $100 to $200, according to the ZweigWhite surveys.

Figure 2: Personal use of company cars

According to ZweigWhite's latest survey, smaller firms are more likely to provide company cars to their principals, partners, and owners. Evaluated by firm staff size, the following percentage of respondents reported having company cars:

  • 1 to 24 employees – 50 percent;
  • 25 to 49 employees – 42 percent;
  • 50 to 99 employees – 29 percent;
  • 100 to 249 employees – 38 percent;
  • 250 to 499 employees – 12 percent; and
  • 500 or more employees – 20 percent.

Makes and models
During the last two years, ZweigWhite has queried principals about the year, make, model, and color of their company cars. While some report driving older cars – from "vintage" models to 10-year-old vehicles – most company cars are later models from 2008 to 2013.

Additionally, more than half of the company vehicles (54 percent in 2013) reported by principals are compact, mid-size, or full-size sport utility (SUV) or crossover vehicles. In the latest survey, principals reported driving the following company cars (color where noted):

  • 2003 Cadillac CTS
  • 2008 Mercedes Benz 320 CDI
  • 2008 Saturn Outlook
  • 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • 2008 Toyota Sequoia
  • 2009 Acura MDX
  • 2010 Honda Pilot EXL (blue)
  • 2010 Lexus RX250
  • 2010 Mercedes GLK (white)
  • 2010, Honda Pilot (blue)
  • 2011 BMW X5 (blue)
  • 2011 Porsche Cayenne (black)
  • 2011 Toyota Camry XLE (red)
  • 2012 Audi Q7
  • 2012 BMW 528 (brown)
  • 2012 BMW 650ix
  • 2012 Ford Explorer
  • 2012 Infiniti G37 (gray)
  • 2013 Chevy Suburban (champagne)
  • 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee (gray)
  • 2013 Mercedes E
  • Audi 8AL (navy blue)

From the list, it is apparent that luxury brands such as Cadillac, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Porsche, Infiniti, and Audi prevail – at least in the small sample of vehicles reported.

ZweigWhite's "2013 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms" is available for purchase at www.zweigwhite.com/p-2153-principals-partners-owners-survey-2013


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