The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Fleet's Brave New World: Managing Fuel, Maintenance, and Telematics

Fuel costs, maintenance, and data management are top priorities as fleets look ahead.

June 2012, by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

At a Glance

While there are no crystal balls that fleet managers can use to predict the future, trends that they should be aware of include:

  • Continued fuel volatility and increased costs.
  • Changes in maintenance costs.
  • Proliferation of fleets adding telematics.

Today’s fleet management landscape does not provide a static, unchanging view. It is influenced by everything from the ups and downs of the economy to natural disasters such as last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan to changing technology. And, while some trends may simply be interesting, others give a clear indication where the industry is and where it may be going. Recently, fleet management companies (FMCs) ARI - Automotive Resources International, Donlen, and PHH Arval analyzed fleet experiences specific to the three of the biggest trends facing the industry — fuel volatility, the adoption of telematics technology, and maintenance costs.

The results of their analyses not only give insight in areas the fleets are concerned about, but, in the case of fuel and maintenance, fleets need to work more efficiently to combat what will undoubtedly be a fleet expense that will do nothing but rise. As one possible aid, the use of telematics is increasingly becoming a pivotal tool in managing drivers and costs. 

You can click the chart below to see a complete gallery of all the charts referred to in the article.

Fuel Costs Continue to Climb

An ongoing trend for fleets and consumers alike is the continued volatility of fuel prices. ARI noted in its recent Industry Forecast 2012 that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicating that the national average price per gallon (PPG) for the year will hover “around” $3.40 to $3.60. Diesel will clock in at about $3.90. The question, of course, is how long will these prices (which are down from 2011) hold fast? While there is no firm number that can be gleaned from the data, one thing is certain, ARI notes that “the days of consistent fuel prices are gone (for fleets).

The future of fuel is simple — an inevitable series of spikes and falls” (Chart 1). Not helping matters from a fleet operational cost perspective are new regulations, such as CAFE, which will put a premium on fuel-efficient models.

What volatile and often increased fuel prices mean for fleets is a higher cost of doing business. According to PHH Arval, an increase of just one dollar from $3.50 to $4.50 will increase the fuel expense of a fleet sedan by almost $550 per year (Chart 2). For light trucks, the increase is even tougher on a fleet budget — an even $800. If fuel increases just 50 cents more to $5, it will cost over $2,700 a year to tank up a passenger sedan and $4,000 for a light truck.

For a 1,000-unit fleet (500 passenger sedans and 500 light trucks), for example, a 50-cent increase at the pump can quickly add hundreds of thousands of dollars to annual fuel spend.

While these numbers should give fleet managers pause, PHH Arval emphasizes there are ways to overcome fuel price increases. Among them are eco-driving techniques: obeying the speed limit, keeping tires inflated, avoiding idling, maintaining the vehicle, removing excess equipment, and optimizing route planning.

Changes in Maintenance Costs  

As vehicles age, they cost more to maintain. The top cost categories change throughout the life of the vehicle — for instance, tires and preventive maintenance are high-cost items for new vehicles (Chart 5), but by year five and beyond, the biggest category becomes engine maintenance with preventive maintenance now the lowest-spend category. While higher-cost transactions occur less frequently, they have a much higher cost per transaction.

However, some spend categories remain relatively flat after their initial increase. While brake and electrical costs are almost negligible in the first year of operation, by the third year of operation, they account for a combined 18 percent of spend per vehicle per year. This combined number stays relatively flat, and even edges down slightly during the vehicle’s “middle age.”

One of the consequences of fleets retaining their vehicles longer — often beyond replacement policy guidelines — is that many repairs fall outside of warranty coverage, adding to maintenance costs, according to PHH Arval.

Across vehicle classes and years in service, the top five categories of spend are tires, brakes, preventive maintenance, engine, and electrical.

The cost per transaction for the top categories has increased or remained relatively flat since 2010, with the exception of tires, which have seen a slight decrease through the first quarter of 2012 (Chart 3). This, as well as the number of transactions per vehicle decreasing, is a result of fleets beginning to replace older vehicles and trying to move back to policy guidelines. New vehicles means new tires, new brakes, and less maintenance transactions during the first year. In addition, the number of preventive maintenance transactions has decreased as more fleets have adopted elongated periods between oil changes.

The good news for fleets is that the average cost per vehicle transaction has fallen in each of the top five maintenance categories. For instance, preventive maintenance is only a third of the cost per vehicle in 2012 versus 2010. Brakes remain the highest spend category, but have fallen by almost $100 per vehicle (Chart 4).

Adoption of Telematics

Technology, in the form of telematics solutions, is the way many fleets are looking to manage their operations more efficiently. In fact, telematics/GPS is the most widely used management technology (Chart 8). This is followed in descending order by other types of monitoring devices, advanced analytics, mobile device applications, and automated solutions for regulatory compliance. While routing — with an eye to controlling fuel spend — is among the top reasons fleet managers are turning to telematics solutions, a slightly bigger priority is improving  driver behavior (Chart 11). No matter what the particular goal for telematics adoption, the overall goal is to increase  operational efficiency across the board (Chart 7).  

Fleets of 300 or more surveyed outnumber smaller fleets in the adoption of telematics solutions (Chart 10). In its survey of telematics use, Donlen found that, for those not using telematics, no business need was listed by the majority (69 percent) of the respondents. However, cost was not a factor for only 17 percent of the respondents. According to Donlen's summary of its findings, the most frequent “other” response was that telematics was not being discussed in the given organization as a possible operational management solution. This coincides with a telling finding that of fleets of less than 100 vehicles, an overwhelming 80 percent are not considering telematics and only 15.7 percent who aren’t current users are considering telematics.

However, for fleets of 300 vehicles or more, telematics are being used by nearly one third of the fleets surveyed with only 20 percent not considering using them. While fuel savings was ranked as the No. 2 reason for fleets considering telematics, those who had implemented a telematics solution listed fuel savings as the third most important reason for using telematics. In both the using and the considering categories, monitoring driver behavior was the No. 1 reason to use telematics.

Likewise, ARI’s recent telematics survey found that improving fleet efficiency, not cost savings, was the overwhelming reason to implement a telematics solution (Chart 9).

Of course, in today’s budget-conscious environment, it is difficult to ignore the bottom line for very long. While the stated motivation to implement a telematics solution may not be wholly to save money, those that do see a better return on investment (ROI) today than just four years ago (Chart 6).

According to a PHH Arval study on the increasing ROI of telematics solutions, hardware costs were between $250 and $300 less in 2011 than they were in 2008.  At the same time, the telematics quality has steadily increased — rated at just five on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being best) in 2008 to nine in 2011. While the cost of telematics have decreased over the last four years, the return on investment has increased from $80-$150 per month per unit in 2008 to $185-$255 per month per unit in 2011.

In the Donlen survey, ROI was an important consideration in deciding whether to use a telematics solution. However, 46 percent of its survey group considering telematics reported they couldn’t calculate the ROI. Likewise, of those who had adopted a telematics solution, 40 percent didn’t know their ROI.

ROI is important for today’s fleet manager, but having an effective fleet that helps to fulfill the company mission and serve its customers may be of even greater importance.

On this count, telematics are playing a key role in improving fleet processes. According to the ARI telematics survey, the overwhelming majority of fleet managers (59 percent) said that telematics would make “most” of their fleets’ processes more efficient; with a little less than one-third said that telematics would improve about “half” of the fleet processes. Surprisingly, 2 percent of fleet managers believe that telematics would be of no benefit to their fleet.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is the bottom line. While there are expenses that are out of the hands of fleet managers, as the statistics show, there are always ways to combat rising costs, either through driver behavior, e.g., eco-driving, or through technological innovations, e.g., telematics.

If there is one trend that continues to carry through the fleet industry, it is the willingness to adapt to an ever-changing world.

Twitter Facebook Google+


Please note that comments may be moderated. 
Leave this field empty:

  1. 1. Robert Donat [ June 30, 2012 @ 10:20AM ]

    Great article Chris. You state that "Fleets of 300 or more surveyed outnumber smaller fleets in the adoption of telematics solutions" and that "fleets of less than 100 vehicles, an overwhelming 80 percent are not considering telematics."

    Do you know:

    A) the average fleet sizes of those surveyed in each of those categories?
    B) the number of total fleets (and the total number of vehicles) in each of those categories in the US?
    C) the average service price for each of the 4 years used to compute ROI (Chart 6)?

    Those statistics shocked me at first (that 4x more small fleets aren't considering Telematics vs. large fleets). However, after thinking about it, I'm curious about how many of those "small fleets" were literally 1-3 vehicle fleets, which I believe are quite likely the mode in that category. I would bet that the majority of fleets across the country with < 100 vehicles are also fewer than 5 vehicles, in terms of the fleet themselves.

    For those companies, where it's either family run, 1 or 2 drivers, etc., I can see where the scale of that operation simply doesn't need Telematics for dispatch, routing, analytics, etc. to the extent that it's necessary for a 300+ vehicle fleet.

    Also, I'll point out that in Chart 6, there are no statistics for the monthly service fee, which I would imagine has dropped from $45 to $30 on average from 2008 to 2011. Amortizing the average cost of hardware over 4 years, and using $30 for 2011's service cost, it's great to see that from a percentage basis, there is a 733% ROI whether you choose a high end or low end solution (based on hardware and service costs). The absolute savings is higher ($1.225 million over 4 years for a 100 vehicle fleet) for more expensive solutions, based on my calculations, available here: .

    Are the raw data available somewhere?

    Rob Donat
    GPS Insight

  2. 2. Gunnar Bertschler [ August 02, 2012 @ 07:31AM ]

    Interesting reading Chris!
    It is stated that for those respondents not using telematics, only 17% actually mention that costs are too high, but that most frequent “other” response was that telematics was not being discussed in the given organization.

    Risk and cost are always important factors and also good reasons especially for small & medium-sized companies to not even discuss traditional telematics solutions. For many of these companies, traditional systems are simply too risky with all the expenses and commitments attached.

    There are immediate and significant hardware as well as installation costs (direct and indirect via down-time) to be paid for, followed by high monthly costs. Adding the risks for long-term contracts, specific one-purpose equipment and all downtime due to maintenance, can understandably result in turning your back on telematics.

    Luckily, there are GPS-tracking solutions that offer excellent, accurate, inexpensive and risk-free telematics services via your smartphone. They are interactive tools that help you coordinate your drivers and optimize the movements of your field staff. And if they run in the background, they increase your operational efficiency while you can still use them as regular phones.

    Checkout - you can’t afford not to, if you have read all the way down here!

    Gunnar Bertschler
    Tracking as it should be!


Fleet Incentives

Determine the actual cost of owning and running a vehicle in your fleet. Compare vehicles by class and model.


Fleet Tracking And Telematics

Todd Ewing from Fleetmatics will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Fleet Management And Leasing

Jack Firriolo from Merchants will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Fuel Management

Bernie Kanavagh from WEX will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Sponsored by

Terminology used in many European countries to define closed end Operating Leases where the lessor is responsible for the cost of maintenance and tires in addition to taking residual value risk.

Read more

Up Next

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher