Forecast of Truck Fleet Management Trends: 2008-2010
A number of factors will impact truck fleet management in 2008 and beyond. Foremost is the high cost of fuel, which shows no signs of abating. On the fleet acquisition side, truck service lives have been increasing and there has been consolidation in the truck equipment industry. In terms of upfitting, the emerging trend will be to reuse upfitted bodies and equipment, especially high-dollar assets, to cope with rising commodity prices, such as steel and aluminum.
Technology will continue to have a major and ongoing impact on truck fleet management. Telematics will grow as the biggest onboard technology trend as more truck fleets ask for it and more vendors offer applications.
Another emerging trend is the aging baby boomer work force influence on work truck design. Already, fleets are supplying drivers with low-profile chassis, which are easier for drivers to enter and exit.
One concern is the ongoing maintenance technician shortage, especially for centrally maintained fleets. The shortage of qualified and properly trained technicians is creating an issue of service availability, impacting maintenance turnaround and increasing downtime.
To get a better reading on current and emerging truck fleet management trends, Automotive Fleet sought out truck experts from ARI, GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services, LeasePlan USA, Mike Albert Vehicle Fleet Management, Napleton Fleet Group, PHH Arval, Union Leasing, and Wheels, Inc.
Here are their forecasts and assessments of key trends that will influence truck fleet management in the 2008 to 2010 timeframe.
Fuel Costs to Stay Elevated
The high cost of fuel will continue to have a major impact on fleet operating expense in 2008. Especially hard-hit will be truck fleets, since the cost of a gallon of diesel is predicted to remain higher than unleaded gasoline. Higher fuel prices will have a domino effect on increasing prices for other oil-based products, such as replacement tires.
"Managers want to lower fuel costs and are looking for any kind of relief in their operating expenses. This includes looking at tires, maintenance, and downtime to find ways to counteract the effect of higher fuel costs," said Vivek Khosla, director, product management for PHH Arval.
According to Khosla, Arval Trucks has conducted a study offering suggestions on how to reduce fuel costs through slightly overspec’ing the truck. "By slightly over-spec’ing engines to run more consistently in the ‘sweet spot,’ choosing a gear ratio low enough to suit a fleet’s application and location, and enabling the correct fuel-efficient, engine-specific parameters, fuel economy will improve by as much as 0.3 mpg," said Khosla.
One positive observation related to escalating fuel costs is that despite the great fear generated by the new 2007-compliant engines, fleet managers are finding the impact has not been as bad as anticipated. "Fleet managers anticipated a 3-percent decrease in mileage per gallon, but so far have not experienced degradation in fuel mileage," said Khosla.
One controllable fuel expenditure is eliminating unnecessary idling. Most observers foresee a continued move to this fuel-efficient practice. "An example would be limiting long idle times in tractors by the addition of self-powered AC/heat systems. These can be cost-effective over time," said Wayne Reynolds, operations manager, truck and vehicle upfitting for LeasePlan USA.
Also, several state laws have mandated idling limit devices, such as those in California and North Carolina; however, there may be an unintended consequence to fleet operations. "As more states adopt regulations similar to those announced for California and North Carolina, the ordering process for customers, especially those with pools of vehicles, may become more complex. In the early stages, this could result in a pool having vehicles that can’t be put in service in the location desired due to compliance with idling limitation regulations," said Ken Gillies, manager, truck operations for GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services.
"It’s too early to predict the full scope of the idling limitations, but it has the potential to impact fleets employing most any class of diesel trucks," added Gillies.
Anti-idling laws will also increase the use of auxiliary power units (APU) for larger trucks with sleepers. "With states passing anti-idling laws, APUs will be necessary to run the heating and cooling systems, TVs, computers, refrigerators, and other electrical accessories a truck driver plugs in when parked," said Jeff Robley, national truck sales manager – western zone for ARI.
Another factor impacting fleet fuel economy, but not given the attention it deserves, is traffic congestion. "Traffic congestion is increasing labor and transportation costs for every American business. This congestion will continue to worsen for the near future and will drive up product and service costs for consumers," said Khosla. "The estimated cost of delays is roughly $77 per hour of truck time."
The high cost of fuel, especially if prices continue to remain elevated in the coming years, will be the stimulus to spur a shift to alternative fuels. For instance, Robley foresees more use of alternative fuels such as LNG, biodiesel, and synthetic fuels.
Already, propane systems are gaining in popularity. "Propane is more readily accessible than ethanol and has improved the weather-related starting issues encountered with previous propane models. CNG, diesel, and E-85 technology will all bridge what eventually will be the answer between internal combustion power plants and fuel cells," said Greg Carson, director of operations for Union Leasing.