There are a multitude of trends that will impact tomorrow’s fleets, but, due to space constraints, I will focus on two trend lines:
- Technology, specifically the widespread digitalization and connectivity proliferation of almost all business activities and our day-to-day lives.
- Governmental mandates, in particular, the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of 54.4 mpg for cars and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards to reduce CO2 emissions to an average 163 grams per mile per OEM. Both are effective 2025.
Impact of Technology on Fleets
Remote diagnostics technologies: These technologies evaluate equipment status from a remote central location and, if necessary, downloads corrective software. In the past, equipment diagnostics required technical troubleshooters to drive a company-provided van to a customer location. Service vans will always be needed, but fewer may be needed in future years due to the proliferation and efficacy of remote diagnostics technologies.
Next-generation videoconferencing or telepresence: Companies, such as Cisco, are betting big on the future of videoconferencing, or, as they call it, telepresence. One area where telepresence could impact fleets is in the pharma and medical device industries, which would use this technology to remotely demonstrate products and pharmaceuticals to physicians versus using field reps driving company vehicles. Field reps will always be needed, but the widespread use of this technology may require fewer of them, and conversely fewer company-provided cars.
Forthcoming Virtual Reality Tools: Watch for new and exciting virtual reality tools to burst forth into the business and consumer marketplaces. There will be quick adoption of new virtual reality tools for remote new-vehicle selection by both consumers and commercial fleet buyers. There will be numerous fleet applications, such as early adoption of virtual reality to train new technicians or educate drivers in safe driving techniques.
Self-Service Fleet Management: The U.S. is migrating to a self-serve economy. Interactive self-service technology permeates large swathes of our economy, with the retail, hospitality, banking, and travel industries being the early adopters. Similarly, technology is shifting more fleet management to the driver level. The transition to self-serve fleet management will change not only driver interaction, but also the skillset required of fleet managers.
Wearable Computers to Amplify Distracted Driving: Wearable technologies are a wide range of miniature electronic devices worn for extended periods by a user on either his or her body or clothing. These devices will have numerous consumer applications, such as healthcare (monitoring blood pressure or glucose levels), physical fitness accessories (heart rate monitoring or calories burned), wearable cameras, or augmented reality devices, which provide Web-based information through an optical head-mounted display. Deloitte predicts there will be 100 million wearable devices sold by 2020. If you thought distracted driving was a serious issue today, just wait until tomorrow.
Greater Use of “Digital Wallets:” A digital wallet is an electronic device that allows a user to make electronic financial transactions, such as using a smartphone (or perhaps a wearable) to purchase something at a store. Potentially digital wallets could be the next generation payment mechanism replacing fuel cards.
Partial Shift Away from Driver-Dedicated Vehicles: As the cost to operate a company fleet grows, proponents will advocate a shift away from driver-dedicated fleet vehicles to alternative car-on-demand services, such as Uber-like companies. This advocacy will be generationally driven by millennials and younger associates whose representation in the workforce and, more importantly, management, is growing and who have a greater acceptance for this type of service.
Technology to drive reduction in overall fleet size: Technology will allow many in-person functions to be handled remotely. I’ve heard estimates that companies, which will aggressively employ a wide menu of these business efficiency technologies, could, in the future, decrease fleet vehicle count by as much as 20%.
Another talked about trend is autonomous vehicles, which, while significant, is destined to be a “late next decade” discussion.
Impact of CAFE and GHG Mandates
The 2025 CAFE standards and GHG standards for OEMs will have a major impact on the types of vehicles fleets operate in the future. Although beneficial, there are unintended consequences.
CAFE to increase acquisition costs: The cost to design and build vehicles to meet the higher 2025 fuel efficiency standards will average an additional $2,000 to $6,000 per vehicle. This will represent another variable contributing to “fleet price inflation.”
Higher Vehicle-Related Taxes: As vehicles become more fuel efficient, revenue generated from fuel taxes will drop, causing states and municipalities to introduce higher registration fees, specifically commercial fleet usage fees and emissions taxes.
CAFE will Dampen Hybrid Sales: Hybrids will become less attractive as fuel economy increases for gasoline engines.
Impact of Lightweighting on Accident Costs: One strategy to increase fuel economy is to reduce curb weight using lighter materials to construct vehicles, upfit bodies, and automotive components. This will improve fuel efficiency, but the use of the lighter materials may increase the per-incident accident repair cost.
Autonomous Vehicles Help Meet CAFE Standards: If driver behavior influences 30% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption, then it stands to reason, by eliminating the driver, you will get a dramatic uptick in average fleet-wide fuel economy. Autonomous vehicles will represent the true embodiment of eco-driving.
Let me know what you think.