Fleet management is a complex job. And, it always has been, at least as long as I’ve been around. But, the level of complexity is increasing exponentially. Staying on top of trends in vehicles, fuel management, maintenance, telematics, safety, and job suitability is a full-time job all by itself. But, it’s not enough any more to just keep up and react to changes. The job requires a little forward thinking, a little anticipation, and maybe a crystal ball to help you see the future.
Twenty years ago, the vehicle-selection process was fairly straightforward. You picked the sedan you liked, you picked the full-size pickup that your drivers liked best, and maybe you bought a few vans along the way.
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of spec’ing a truck or van lately, the process is a bit different. The OEMs have done a wonderful job of developing lines of trucks and vans to meet every possible application. The upfitters have done a similarly wonderful job of developing ergonomically correct, lightweight packages that can maximize productivity while also saving fuel. The downside is that those vehicles are in high demand, are complicated to manufacture, and they take a while to build and get upfit. They also take a while, sometimes a long while, to make their way to the end-users thanks to the shortage in rail cars and vehicle carriers.
And, then there is in-vehicle technology and safety systems. Some of them are amazing. None of them are cheap. And, we don’t always know which ones are going to become required equipment down the road. Remember, seat belts were an option at one point. And, so were air bags. Now you are in the unenviable position of trying to guess whether that lane keep assist program, the heads up display, adaptive cruise control, or any of the haptic warning technologies are going to become must-have equipment. You have to worry about keeping your drivers safe. You have to worry about keeping your company safe from lawsuits. And, you have to worry about having vehicles properly spec’ed so that you can sell them in three or four years. It’s a daunting task for sure.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, there are some changes brewing at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) that may add some additional excitement to your daily fleet management decisions. FASB has been considering some changes to our lease accounting standards for several years now. The new standards would put our rules more in line with the international standards and would make terminal rental adjustment clause (TRAC) leases a lot less attractive. So, that simple “should we lease or buy” decision that you made a long time ago is going to need to be revisited. The change may come as early as 2017, or it may come a year or two later, but it is coming according to the experts.
It’s an exciting time to be in fleet management. It’s challenging to be sure, but there are a lot of great opportunities for fleet professionals to make a name for themselves in their organizations today. It’s an “interesting time” as the old curse mentions, but it’s also a time where you can influence the direction of your fleet and the direction of your business. With a little bit of research and a little bit of help from your crystal ball, you can put your organization in a position to succeed and thrive in the future.