PARIS -- PSA Peugeot Citroen has found that big business still is reluctant to purchase fleet cars at a pan-European level.

But that could be changing, says Thierry Peugeot, head of the French auto maker’s international fleet sales. "There is a trend, a movement toward concentration in purchasing," he says.

PSA has signed four pan-European deals in the 18 months since Thierry Peugeot, a member of the controlling family, became the first boss of the new branch.

"We had requests in the past, but there was no structure before the board decided in February 2000 to establish an international fleet office," he says. Peugeot's 6-member team negotiates with PSA’s national distribution companies, as well as some 70 potential customers, with fleets ranging from 500 to 40,000 cars.

The team creates conditions of sale for the customer with each of PSA’s national companies involved. There are two main kinds of fleet sales: cars that will wear a company logo, such as France Telecom, and cars that will be given to employees as part of their salary.

The national sales companies have a lot of experience at this kind of selling, especially in regions such as the U.K., where fleets account for half of all new car sales. What’s new is the idea of selling at a pan-European level.

"We deal with American companies, and they have the approach that you could manage Europe like the U.S., as one market," Peugeot says.

The biggest benefit for the customer is that they need only deal with one person for all of Europe. While most of the target clients are in England and France, Peugeot says his group can arrange fleet sales in any country where PSA has dealers.

PSA will sell about 42,000 cars to fleets this year in Europe, including those that Thierry Peugeot's operation has arranged.

The European fleet market is difficult to identify, but one recent published estimate is about 500,000 units. If so, PSA’s share would be about 8%, well above its 5.8% share of the overall European car market.

With some big fleet buyers, that is not true. "If the (PSA) market share in their fleet is not as high as our national market share, I tell them that they are not reflecting the desires of their employees," Peugeot says. If PSA’s share in the fleet is higher than the market, I don't say anything," he adds with a smile.

The trend is for businesses to outsource non-core activities, and most large fleets are managed by outside companies such as GE Capital. PSA does not compete with the leasing companies, as it sells cars and not leases.

"I tell people we are a manufacturing company selling a product," says

Peugeot. "Customers today are buying a monthly payment. That depends on the price, the interest rate and the residual value, which is one of the most uncertain parts of this business. We offer price, product, a network of service; and we can offer financing, but we don't establish a residual value."

Most businesses still have national purchasing departments with bosses who may resist change, says Peugeot, but the advent of the euro and the growing awareness of the European Union is pushing the marketplace toward a pan-European approach.

"The future of Europe is in that direction," says Peugeot. "We don't have to drop our national specificity, but we are probably going to become like the U.S. market and deal on a continental level."