Each year, we compile a listing of the nation's Top 300 commercial fleets. This gives us an opportunity to get a pulse on the state of the commercial fleet industry. Every fleet in the Top 300 commercial fleet listing has its own fleet strategy and challenges; some unique, but most are common to a number of fleets. Here is my “lightning round” summary of the top trends and operational considerations influencing the management of the nation’s largest commercial fleets:
Higher vehicle acquisition costs: These cost increases are driven by government safety and fuel economy mandates. Even with “fleet-equipped vehicles,” acquisition costs are trending upward due to the increase in standard equipment.
OEM production schedules: Managing vehicle cycling is difficult due to scattered model-year launches and early build outs.
Truck chassis availability not in sync with fleet demand: Trucks are hot and fleets are being squeezed by limited chassis availability for commercial vans and mid-size trucks.
Slow order-to-delivery (OTD) for vans: Nowadays most vans are built in Europe or Mexico and then shipped to the U.S., which is extending OTD.
Growth in crossovers: Once crossovers were considered an upgrade, but are now in fleets in numbers similar to retail market.
Migration to smaller displacement engines is slowing: Most fleets already switched to smaller displacement engines where they can and will not return to larger engines. What remains are assets whose fleet application need a larger displacement engine.
More interest in gasoline-engine trucks due to SCR issues: About 90% of SCR breakdowns are re-gen issues primarily due to low-mileage fleet applications, prompting more fleets to switch from diesel to gasoline engines, such as the new V-10 from Ford.
Driver non-compliance with safety policy is top fleet concern: Many companies expect field employees to be working 100% of the time in the field. This corporate culture runs counter to fleet safety policies about the use of cell phones while driving, and the resultant distracted driving, which increases the potential of liability exposure. The spec’ing of safety equipment will expand as it proves to decrease accidents and injuries. Availability of safety equipment in increasingly playing a strong role in determining which vehicles are added to the selector.
Operating costs to remain flat: Diesel and gasoline prices forecast to be flat for 2016 and fuel is 60% of all operating costs.
Fuel hedging attracting more interest: Many believe current fuel prices will be short-lived and prices will start an upward trajectory. This has caused some fleets to investigate fuel hedging, which is a contractual tool used to reduce exposure to higher fuel costs by establishing a fixed or capped cost to the price of fuel.
Maximizing fuel efficiency: Fleets are using a variety of strategies to cut fuel costs, such as lightweight upfitting, spec’ing reduced rolling resistance tires, selecting aerodynamic add-ons, eco-driving training for drivers, and reducing idle time.
Growth in telematics solutions: Fleets are using telematics to lower operating costs and modify employee behavior to be safer and drive more fuel efficiently. In addition, telematics optimizes engine hours, miles driven, and idle time, which has a trickle-down effect on PM services, non-PM spends, and downtime.
Fleet utilization increases: The primary factor is the implementation of telematics and GPS identifying real-time asset usage.
Return to traditional replacement cycling: Almost all fleets have “caught up” with replacing aging vehicles due to extended service lives during the post-recession model-year slowdown in new-vehicle ordering. Deferring cycling parameters has also receded as residuals return to historic norms. One exception are industries directly or indirectly profit-dependent on the price of oil, either upstream or downstream. Currently, these companies are experiencing a contraction in revenue and cash flow. Ongoing low fuel prices are forcing energy companies to cut costs with fleet being a key target. This often means extending vehicle service lives.
Increase in requests for an “ergonomic exception” vehicle: Some requests are legitimate, but, often, asking for an ergonomic exception is an attempt to acquire a larger vehicle with more comfort features than those offered in the “standard” fleet vehicle.
PM costs to remain flat: The key reason for stable costs is extended oil drain intervals. The proliferation of smaller displacement engines in fleet applications is prompting the use of synthetic oil to maximize engine life. Even with the use of more expensive synthetic oils, the longer service interval provided by synthetics offsets increased oil cost.
Fleet standardization: Companies are consolidating upfit suppliers and spec’ing options to get volume pricing, interchangeability of parts, and equipment standardization across the fleet.
Corporate sustainability program to remain strong: This is especially true for multinational fleets pressured by non-U.S. corporate HQ. Initiatives to reduce the fleet’s carbon footprint creates increased fuel efficiency and a decrease in overall fuel spend.
Greater new-vehicle warranty scrutiny by OEMs: An ongoing trend is more stringent enforcement of manufacturer recommended services to be eligible for warranty coverage.
Short-term limited availability of Euro-centric van tires: The new generation of Euro vans are equipped with euro-metric tires, which are not in high use in the U.S. Replacing these tires will produce a short-term challenge due to limited availability in the aftermarket market. This supply constraint will persist until tire suppliers can ramp up production of euro-metric replacement tires to meet aftermarket demand.
Ongoing driver shortage: Each year, for the past 30 years, there’s been a shortfall of 100,000 truck drivers. This will continue despite efforts to attract more women to become drivers.
Outsourcing to grow: Ultimately, all that can be outsourced will be outsourced as management at client fleets pushes FMCs and suppliers for additional services.
Upward pressure on part prices: New technologies, such as hybrid drive systems, diesel emission after treatment, and electric steering assist, are driving up the average price of parts.
Let me know what you think.