“A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good, and a real one.”
— J.P. Morgan
In changing the name of Green Fleet Conference & Expo and expanding to include fleet efficiency topics beyond alternative fuels, we’ve been getting a lot of questions as to why we’ve evolved the conference to the Fleet Technology Expo. The change of name and expanded focus simply reflects a change in times.
About 8 years ago, we launched the Green Fleet Conference in the basement on the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Chicago. It was supposed to be a cozy gathering of 50-100 fleet professionals who had a vested interest in sustainable fleet initiatives. Energy security was a top-of-mind concern for the fleet industry. Our increasing dependence on foreign oil, coupled with chronic instability in those parts of the world that supply a lot of that foreign oil, led many corporate executives to mandate a shift from traditional internal combustion engines. Natural gas got a lot more popular. Propane autogas won over a lot of new fans. Hybrids also picked up steam as the TCO finally swung around in their favor. EVs, as impractical and economically unsound as ever, became the darlings of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. We even convinced ourselves that corn-based ethanol might be viable.
As fuel prices climbed over the years, so did our Green Fleet Conference attendance. A few short years later, we had almost 1,000 attendees and a massive exhibit hall displaying all the latest and greatest alternative-fuel options.
As the price of a barrel of oil shot up and whole new segments of fleets got interested (or at least financially incentivized) to go green, a few people took notice, and as sometimes happens in a free market economy, everything changed. The tar sands in Northern Canada got a lot more interesting and fracking opened up a whole new universe of oil for the U.S. The price of oil all of a sudden started declining. And, that whole energy security argument didn’t carry as much weight as the U.S. became the world leader in oil and gas production.
We’re at a crossroads now. That senior management pressure most fleet managers were feeling to “go green” is significantly reduced in most cases; $2-per-gallon gasoline will tend to do that. Being green is a lot easier to sell to shareholders when it means saving money or at least doing your part to help our balance of trade. Being green solely based on a commitment to sustainability is a corporate club inhabited by very few senior executives these days.
For just about every fleet we know, fuel is the second biggest expense right behind depreciation. And, that doesn’t change simply because oil prices are down. Even without senior management pressure to fleet up with hybrids or biodiesel, the leading fleets are doing everything in their power to maximize efficiencies and minimize fuel expense.
We recognized, with a lot of urging from suppliers and fleet managers, that there is much more to being “green” than we ever imagined. We are seeing a real commitment to telematics, driver training, and proper vehicle selection as a method to manage fuel expenses. We’re seeing it to such an extent that we redesigned our own Green Fleet Conference and renamed it the Fleet Technology Expo (FTX). The conference is Aug. 24-26 in Long Beach, Calif.
We’re changing with the times. Our educational tracks this year will include the greatest collection of green fleet experts, suppliers, and fleets together, sharing experiences about the good and the bad of making significant alternative-fuel commitments. But, we’re also going to open up the floor to some cutting-edge technology providers who are helping fleets save incredible amounts of money with solutions that can be implemented overnight and work seamlessly with every type of propulsion system.
Being green today means diving headfirst into the deep end of the technology pool, in addition to understanding all the nuances of the various alternative-fuel possibilities. That’s what the best-run fleets are doing today. We’re seeing more and more stories of fleets cutting fuel costs (and carbon output, too) by 20 percent or more without having to make wholesale changes to the way they fuel their fleet. It’s a lot of work to stay on top of developments in this area. That’s why we’re changing with the times. And, that’s why being green isn’t easy, but in almost every case it is worth the effort.