I’m not usually one for watching political debates. The candidates rarely say anything of real consequence; they spend the majority of the time pandering to the extreme ends of the spectrum of their various parties. They seldom take a real stand or offer a workable plan to solve any of the various ills we are currently working through as a society.
Last week, while watching a debate that really could have doubled as the opening skit on “Saturday Night Live,” it occurred to me that one of these people is actually going to be our next president. And, we might see some seismic changes in a lot of areas. Fleet is no exception. Many of the trends we see currently in fleet were born out of a political agenda. Lightweighting, alternative-fuel programs, electric vehicles, the obsession with air bags, and the new proliferation of life-saving safety systems all came about in response to legal and legislative encouragement. Fleets, in many cases, were innocent bystanders, but still forced to adopt these new technologies and adapt their fleet operation to function in this new framework.
Whether you care about your carbon footprint or not, it is virtually impossible to make fleet purchases without considering emissions, mpg, etc. You are going to be spec’ing higher levels of safety equipment, whether you think it adds value or not. You are going to be buying lighter (and more expensive) vehicles, whether you wanted to or not.
The real challenge for fleet managers is figuring out which of these changes are going to stick and add value or which ones might be part of a temporary political agenda.
If you ever want to see how this could play out on a national stage, look at California as a perfect microcosm of the system. California politicians are well known for thinking they can legislate their way out of any problem. Several years ago, they decided to make alternative-fuel vehicles eligible for car pool/HOV lane stickers. If you’ve ever driven out here, you can imagine how valuable that would be. Overnight, the value of those vehicles went up by several thousand dollars. And, just as fast as they went up, once the stickers were all gone, the values of the vehicles went right back down. If you were a fleet and had to buy some of those vehicles, you were stuck overpaying for them for a substantial period of time. California has some looming electric car standards in the not-too-distant future that will affect fleets similarly.
The modern fleet manager and the companies that serve them needs to keep an eye on the political process. They need to watch not just the economic trends, but the political ones as well. Those trends are going to determine what vehicles are available and what they cost. And, a few years down the road, depending on the winds of change, there might be some new trends that will determine what those vehicles are worth. If you don’t have a crystal ball, the best thing you can do is keep an eye on the political process and do whatever you can to protect your business and your fleet from the whims of our leaders.