The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Are You A ‘Doubting Thomas’?

September 2006, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.
Wilson Mizner

No man likes to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself.
Henry Adams

Doubt of any kind cannot be resolved except by action.
Thomas Carlyle

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
Bertrand Russell

When we published Mike Antich's (he's our veteran editorial director) "Buying Intentions Forecast" in our July issue, he had canvassed a large number of fleet managers. It also covered a period in April and May, perhaps before purchasing plans for the fall were etched in stone.

In the first paragraph of his feature story, Mike summarized the opinions of the interviewed group by saying that "the overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that there would be no change in their '07 orders."

Mike assures me that most of those people he talked to three or four months ago were confident in their approach to ordering their new models. And I believe him. And I believe all those fleet managers felt that way then.

I can share in confidence that the many fleet managers I have talked to in the past: two months are singing a different tune. I've been to four national fleet previews, three fleet advisory board meetings, and other functions where both fleet managers and fleet lessors were grouped together.

While a handful of these fleet managers remain confident in maintaining a status quo in repeating their '06 buy, most expressed doubt about their intentions. They also were not very exact in telling me when and how they were changing their purchasing plan. They unconsciously conveyed doubt.

So, why did this happen in the past couple of months?

1. The corporate climate has changed once again. There's no doubt that expense savings is the mantra, even more than last year. If you haven't had to face off on reimbursement lately, be prepared to.

2. The dramatic shift in a sustained $3+/gallon cost for gas makes its mark on everyone (including execs) personally as well as corporately. The media prominence on the topic relates to nearly every selection decision. Why are personal "big" pickups, company SUVs, and 6- (and 8-) cylinder engines suddenly in a jaundiced view'.' Why are crossovers, small sedans, and 4-bangers now attractive? Duh!

3. Older models persist in the landscape for fleet. Projected remarketing values from three years ago now are proving pretty accurate. These values for "domestics" still aren't where many of the U.S.-built "imports" are. Between gas and depreciation (and the cost of money), lifecycle costing becomes a cardinal rite.

4. The "Go Green" (and I don't mean my Spartans) craze phase is waning. Initial price, loss of incentives, I lie competitiveness of new 4-cylinder engines on mpg. and fleet availability lead the executive folks to think twice.

5. Before the landscape clears on the fall selector (a done deal by the time you read this), this year's process will include some head-banging between corporate policy makers, HR (who should be carrying the flag with risk management for safety), and presumably the fleet manager who champions the comfort angle along with the head of sales.

If your selector still isn't settled, 1 urge you to take the initiative with backup for each of the numbered above items. Then, add alternate Plan A and B (and Plan C if you're chicken and want to CYA). Present it before you're asked and do it professionally. Then take an aspirin and call me in the mornings.

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