NCP, Southampton Docks, Batteries, and, of course, Brexit


NCP, Southampton Docks, Batteries, and, of course, Brexit

When Adam was a child and I started working in the parking industry, National Car Parks or NCP was the British parking industry. It was estimated that NCP once operated about 85 percent of the non-municipal parking in the UK. The company was run by two former soldiers who, legend has it, started off parking cars on post-war bomb sites in London. The rest, as they say, is history. They never operated anything except off-street parking and never went outside the UK but, at its peak, we are talking about a billion-pound business. Eventually, the founders sold out to a financial institution and it was pretty much downhill from then on in. 

In 2017, the then-owners Australian bank Macquarie sold NCP to Japanese operator Park24 having first sold off and rented back its whole property portfolio. This was done at the peak of the market, just before the last recession, when parking income went through the floor. 

Costs maximized, income minimized is not a good look, and Macquarie had to subsidise the operation to keep it afloat. Now, under new owners, the Times of London reports that NCP has stopped paying its landlords rent for their car parks. Park24 is trying to negotiate a deal whereby their landlords agree to write off the £30m in unpaid rents. Methinks a classic case of if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Oh, yes, and parking isn’t simple, dumbo.

A new wrinkle on an old trick. I have spoken before about parking companies that offer cut price off-airport “secure” parking where they are actually leaving the cars in a field, or worse. Now, the boys at EzeParking in Southampton have gone one better. 

They offered their services at both the local airport and for people taking cruises out of Southampton Docks with cars kept in their unspecified “secure private car park”. What they actually did was put their customers’ cars in a local town center car park and then tailgated other cars to leave the car park without paying.

The judge wasn’t amused at all. For trading offenses, the boss got a £500 personal fine and the Company’s tab was about £7,000. I would imagine that Southampton City will also want to have a discussion about the unpaid parking charges, if the company doesn’t want to go back into court on rather more serious criminal charges.

I wouldn’t buy shares in Uber just now. There has been a long-running legal dispute here between the company and a group of its drivers about their exact legal status. Uber insisted that the drivers were independent contractors. The drivers argued that they should be treated as employees. It has now gone through the UK Supreme Court and the drivers have won the day. 

This is a big thing for Uber as, over here, every employee gets sick pay, holiday pay, pension rights  and other benefits. When I was interested in such things, we would typically add about 20 percent overhead on top  of salary for these items when costing projects. Uber has already decided to increase its charges to customers to cover these costs going forward. If the law lords decide that the judgement is retroactive, well, I hope that Uber has got a big piggy bank.

Sometimes, well, most of the time, actually, I just do not “get” the mindset of those in charge of the Empire. I have reported again and again on our government’s proud “green” policy to promote a switch to electric cars and save the planet. Well, sort of, since our total vehicle fleet represents just about 3 percent of the world’s total cars. They also conveniently ignore the inability of the national power grid to service the resultant demand. So, “We want you to buy Electric, even although they cost, on average, about £10,000 more than an equivalent petrol model”. To do this they offered a £3,000 sweetener to potential buyers, already down from £4,500 just a couple of years ago. Or rather, did, that is, because they have just cut this by another £500. They also cut the upper limit for qualifying cars by 30 percent. This limit means, for example, that the Tesla Model 3, which was this year’s best-selling electric car here, is no longer an option. 

I would guess that when I fill my dirty old diesel car at the pump, from engine off to engine on takes less than five minutes. The minimum to charge an electric vehicle is 30 minutes. This logically leads us to charging while parking and moves refuelling from a gas station to a car park. OK, that’s what the future will be, and we have to live with it. 

I have just heard that in Spain they have decided to ban all electric vehicles from underground car parks, because of the risk of fire. Think back to the very early Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and a number of unfortunate incidents where batteries spontaneously ignited. It’s not a fire per se, it’s a chemical reaction, which means that it can’t be easily extinguished. Spain has a lot more underground car parks than we do, but I could imagine that we might feel the same way when we put our minds to it. How real is the risk? 

Hyundai has recently recalled 82,000 battery cars and buses following 15 battery fires in their vehicles. Of course, the battery manufacturers blamed the car builder for not installing things correctly, but subsequently one of  the vehicles that had supposedly been fixed caught fire, pointing the finger squarely at the batteries.

And just to bring a sniff of reality to all of this: Tesla has sold just 34,000 cars in Germany. This compares to the Trabant, of which over 38,000 are now registered. The Trabant is a pre-1990 two-stroke, oil-burning throwback to East Germany. It has a top speed of 75 mph, downhill  with a following wind with, allegedly, parts of the bodywork made out of cardboard!

Surprisingly, in what seems to me a totally counterintuitive move, London Gatwick Airport, which currently has one of its terminals closed and is operating at about 15 percent of its pre-Covid peak, has announced that it is to introduce a fee for drivers dropping off passengers at the terminal. I must have missed that lecture in Marketing 101 where you encourage demand at an under-utilized facility by charging for what was previously free. 

I suspect that, for many, this will come straight out of the money that was going to be spent in the terminal shops.

Brexit? The first trade figures show a 40 percent drop in trade with Europe with 27 percent of small companies no longer willing to trade with the EU because of the bureaucracy. Having just tried to send a box of gifts to my new granddaughter in Holland and found the paperwork impenetrable, I can understand why. Bravo BOJO. 

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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