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'Fleet Creep' and Vehicle Over-Spec'ing Thwart Green Fleet Initiatives

August 23, 2013, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

The larger the vehicle, the greater the emissions. The more vehicles there are in a fleet, the greater the cumulative emissions. In every fleet operation, you will find employees driving larger-than-needed vehicles to fulfill the fleet application.

Is your company over-spec’ing its vehicles? To answer that question, you first must determine what the vehicle must accomplish in its daily routine, such as payload requirements and cargo volume. Lower mileage, urban driving can accommodate a smaller engine that produces fewer emissions. However, it is necessary to periodically perform payload and weight analysis to determine the actual needs of your truck fleet and help configure the proper vehicle for the job.

A smaller, more aerodynamic vehicle can offer better fuel economy by creating less rolling wind resistance. But, many fleet drivers become comfortable with certain types of vehicles despite the fact that it may be overkill for the intended fleet application.

Combating ‘Fleet Creep’

Another common problem that thwarts sustainability initiatives is called “fleet creep,” in which the overall size of the fleet — both the size and quantity of the units within the fleet — slowly grow over time. Managing fleet size should be one of your top priorities, because that’s where your biggest emissions reductions and cost savings arise.

There should be a relentless focus on managing vehicle utilization, especially identifying underutilized vehicles and equipment. It is important to recognize that your company doesn’t have to own every conceivable unit necessary to conduct its business and, as an alternative, can rent infrequently utilized assets on an as-needed basis. If you want to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, consider these strategies:

  • Eliminate unnecessary or underutilized fleet assets.
  • Acquire newer, fuel-efficient vehicles on a regular replacement cycle. If you’re not updating your fleet on a regular basis, you’re operating less fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Downsize vehicle fleet size where practical. For example, can you substitute smaller crossovers in lieu of full-size SUVs?

Fleet application dictates vehicle size. When spec’ing different vehicles, compare the weight of major components.

For example, some engines weigh several hundred pounds less than others with the same horsepower and torque. Some pumps are much lighter than others for similar flow and pressure ratings. Aluminum wheels can save hundreds of pounds over steel wheels, especially for trucks depending on the number of axles. However, decreasing the vehicle weight is a difficult challenge for OEMs, especially when mandated to comply with ever-stricter safety regulations, which require new onboard equipment, such as stability control or stiffer bodies that can withstand tougher roof crash standards.

In fact, the average weight of a vehicle in the U.S. and Japan has increased by 10 to 20 percent in the last 10 years, due to safety enhancements and increased onboard content.

Correlating Weight & Emissions

There’s a direct correlation between vehicle weight, fuel consumption, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Fleet managers should require drivers to eliminate weight that accumulates inside a vehicle. Fleet managers should institute a program to instruct drivers, on a quarterly basis, to remove all unnecessary items (weight) from their vehicles.

Ask field managers to enforce these fuel-saving tips and discourage drivers from using their vehicles as “rolling warehouses” to carry everything they may possibly need — just in case. Over the course of a vehicle assignment, drivers accumulate a “cargo” of dated sales materials, point-of-sale demos, and seldom-used tools carried in trunks, storage bins, and back seats. You’d be surprised how quickly pounds add up, especially when heavy tools and materials are carried.

In terms of trucks, not only are they filled with work-related materials, but they are also sometimes used for personal storage. Ask drivers to unload all excess equipment, tools, and shelving, and carry only needed items. If given leeway, drivers will carry everything they can conceivably fit into a vehicle. It is important to develop guidelines as to what may be carried in vehicles relative to tools, sales materials, and payload. Not only does unnecessary weight consume additional fuel, it poses a potential safety risk and causes unnecessary vehicle wear and tear.

Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish

You should avoid the knee-jerk reaction to under-spec fleet vehicles to achieve greater fuel economy, because certain applications require larger vehicles. However, what I am saying is take a hard look at your fleet, and I guarantee you that you will discover hither-to-unnoticed, underutilized vehicles that should be eliminated and over-spec’ed vehicles that were designed to meet a driver preference versus the intended fleet application.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]


  1. 1. Allen Mitchell [ August 28, 2013 @ 05:23AM ]

    Spot on Mike. Right typing of equipment and right sizing fleets are two tools for fleet managers need to employ for controlling costs, fuel consumption and emissions. Significant fleet growth (including unplanned fleet creep) will offset reductions in emissions and gains in fuel economy.

    I recommend that fleets implement an "additions to fleet" process that requires senior management approval to add new equipment and/or retain old holdover equipment for short term use. That form should capture the projected use of the equipment (for all additions) and amount of years it will be retained (for holdovers). It should also provide the authority to the fleet manager to redeploy or sell the vehicle if the projections are not attained.

  2. 2. Ed Richards [ August 30, 2013 @ 06:55AM ]

    I totally agree with these comments, but the area that bugeds me the most is when the big auto makers decide to do away with all the compact and mid-size pickup trucks. My Fleet is heavly stocked with Ford Ranger. To me it seams that the SUV catagory they are down sizing vehicles but in the pickup catagory everything is getting bigger.

  3. 3. Steve Kibler [ August 30, 2013 @ 07:41AM ]

    I also totally agree. Operator driven vehicle specifications rather than the right fit to the standard duty is the nemesis of all fleet managers. Another key driver that "thwarts Green Fleet Initiatives” and may have more of a negative impact is a high average age of the fleet. With current advances in average MPG and improved emissions, average age of the entire fleet should target 8 years or less. This target is almost impossible to hit or maintain with chronic "fleet-creep"

  4. 4. Jim Watters [ August 30, 2013 @ 02:12PM ]

    Mike, I am a spec. writer for the City of Akron Ohio and enjoyed reading your article. Writing Specifications can be a challenge, but with a little effort it is very rewarding. I personally like to get input from the operators and management to get their perspectives. Many times I have sat down with both sides and all parties were able to “learn” what is needed and what wasn’t. Your article hit the nail on the head when you stated that over and under specing will cause problems. Spec. writing today is much different than 10 years ago. The 2010 Emissions standards for Medium duty vehicles has made me look at many different aspects of building vehicles, from horsepower and torque of engines to placement of accessories near exhaust systems. One great tool is to use the manufactures CAD systems. We will have the chassis and the body companies “built” the vehicle on paper and then overlay the drawing to see what will work and what won’t work. This works a lot better than my paper and pencil drawings!! One other part of specing is the willingness of all parties involved to be opened minded. Egos can and do get in the way. When there is cooperation the finally product is much better suited for the task it was built for. Thanks again for the article. I am looking forward to reading your next article.
    -Jim Watters

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

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Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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