With its acquisition of Hertz Lease from parent company Ford, French bank Societe Generale continues its remarkable thrust into the European car leasing market. A wave of consolidation has already reshaped much of the industry - but even as Societe Generale grabs new markets, this doesn't look like the industry's last big deal.

The purchase will be completed in January 2003, more than doubling SocGen's fleet size from 115,000 to 277,000 and winning the company market share in several new countries.

SocGen acquired ALD Automotive in 2001 to become a major player in the market, and this latest purchase boosts the French firm into the number two spot in the sector, behind ABN Amro's LeasePlan.

It is the latest move in a continually consolidating market. Over recent years, LeasePlan has acquired Dial, Arval acquired PHH to become the then number two in the market, Lloyds TSB acquired First National Vehicle Contracts, and Lombard Vehicle Management bought Zenith Vehicle Contracts.

The outcome of the industry's appetite for consolidation is most starkly presented in Fleet News magazine's list of the 50 leading players in the UK leasing market. The largest company now has a fleet of 137,000 vehicles, compared with 52,000 in 1998. The combined fleet size of the list is now 1.33 million vehicles, compared with 1.12 million in 1998.

Despite such extensive consolidation, however, many in the industry remain convinced there is room for far more. In fact, the vehicle manufacturers, banks and independents that are currently fighting for market share are spurred on by a belief that the market is still broadly fragmented. The drive for consolidation has a few more miles left in it yet.

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