The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Top 10 Fleet Maintenance Trends

January 2005, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

1. Longer Vehicle Lifecycles
Fleet managers continue to extend vehicle lifecycles, said Greg Tepas, director of operations for Emkay Inc. As major component failures decline, in general, fewer warranty repairs are needed. “However, labor rates continue to climb to more than $100 per hour in most major metropolitan areas,” added Tepas.

But increased longevity of vehicle lifecycle has resulted in more efficient maintenance management of vehicles, said Skip Hamilton, manager, technical call center for Automotive Resources International (ARI). As examples, Hamilton cited increased client reporting requests and an increase in the use of a variety of vendors by commercial fleets. “With the increase in reporting tools and diverse vendor use, maintenance programs can be more specifically tailored to meet a client’s unique requirements.”

2. Extended Maintenance Intervals and More No-Charge Services
Maintenance intervals have increased over the last five years. “The cost of ownership is a concern for fleets as they look to reduce the number of dollars spent for routine maintenance and the associated downtime,” said Dave Lodding, vice president of Fleet Management Services for Donlen Corporation. “More and more services will soon be included with the vehicle as is currently the case with many high-end vehicles.”

3. Less Routine Maintenance
As vehicle engineering and quality continue to improve, the intervals between oil changes and routine maintenance will extend. “Eventually, the driver will no longer need to keep track of scheduled maintenance - the engine (through onboard technology) will monitor things and let the driver know it’s time to take the vehicle in for service. In addition, tire technology continues to extend the mileage capacity,” said Arnie Barnes, director, vehicle maintenance assistance for PHH Arval.

“The ongoing improvement in the quality of vehicles also means less need for preventive and non-preventive maintenance,” said Jeff Whiteside, vice president, operations, Chicago, for LeasePlan USA.

“This is driven by technological advancements and competition among manufacturers for better and more efficient vehicles,” added Whiteside.

4. Remote Diagnostics and Monitoring
The use of onboard technology will become the norm in the commercial fleet market.

“Engine data is automatically transmitted, providing real-time information on the status of the engine, along with GPS positioning and other key information, such as idle time and vehicle speed.

It increases driver efficiency, vehicle safety, and reliability. In addition, this technology can ensure emissions compliancy; in some states, such as California, remote diagnostics can ensure that drivers no longer need to have their vehicles tested for emissions,” said Barnes.

5. Increased Online Interaction Between Lessors and Vendors
Online communication will increase between fleet management companies and vendors for access to faster, more accurate data. “This is driven by customers who want to manage their fleets more accurately and effectively. Increased online communication helps reduce driver downtime and create efficiencies,” said Whiteside.

6. Increased Use of Telematics/GPS and Tracking Systems
More fleets are using GPS-based systems as they become more affordable.

“One of the factors driving this trend is the systems’ ability to provide real-time mileage reporting, a major challenge for fleet administrators,” said Whiteside. “These systems also allow fleet administrators to evaluate driver risk profiles, potentially leading to safer driving and fewer accidents.”

The technology to allow a fleet manager to track and monitor vehicles has been available for years. “But the cost of the system has been prohibitive in the past when you look at the cost of entry and the monthly fee,” said Lodding. “The monthly costs have declined and should continue to decline. The cost of entry, like all technology, goes down as more and more units are sold.”

“Telematics has been a part of the over-the-road truck industry since the late ’80s, delivering a vital part of helping with delivery schedules, driver services, and route optimization,” said Mark Stumne, truck product manager for GE Commercial Finance, Fleet Services.

7. Maintenance Issues with Hybrid Vehicles
There will be a rapid increase in the use of the hybrid vehicles in the fleet market during the next five years, said Lodding. “The issue of servicing these vehicles will be critical for their success.

“Fleet drivers will be required to return to a dealership for service until the independent repair facilities become trained to properly service these vehicles,” said Lodding. “Normal PM services are no different than traditionally powered vehicles.”

Dick Feist, director, customer service for GE Commercial Finance, Fleet Services, adds: “As with any new automotive technology, technicians will require additional training to work on the hybrid components of these vehicles. Initially, manufacturers will work with dealers to provide training, usually done at a manufacturer’s training facility. The dealer will normally identify those technicians who will work with hybrid components, such as drivetrain, electrical, and brakes and send those individuals to the training facility.”

“Additional training resources will become available and repair facilities not associated with the manufacturer will be able to enroll their technicians in training programs that cover the hybrid industry,” said Mark Lange, customer service specialist for GE Commercial Finance, Fleet Services.

According to Lange, new components for hybrid vehicles that will require additional technician training are:

  • Regenerative braking system to supply voltage.
  • Dual-use transmissions.
  • Intelligent power electronics.
  • Battery pack.
  • Electric motor.

    8. Shortage of Technicians
    The shortage of qualified technicians is still a concern throughout the industry. “Fewer people are entering the trade as seasoned veterans begin to retire,” said Lodding. “The advantage that fleets have in this area is that vehicles are cycled more frequently, so there is less likelihood of major problems.”

    9. New 42-Volt System (runs at 36 volts, charges at 42 volts)
    According to, the industry is on a fast-paced track to convert from today’s 14V to 42V batteries.

    Why the need for a 42V system? cited three reasons:
  • Higher voltage can dramatically increase fuel mileage.
  • The ability to implement electric power steering and air conditioning.
  • Improved braking and handling systems.

    The key reason it is not currently implemented is cost. Manufacturers are still able to produce cars that can be adequately supplied by the current 14V system.

    The second difficulty is getting all of the manufacturers to agree on the same platform. Manufacturers are debating whether to change over the entire electrical system to 42V or only those that require that much voltage. Systems such as radios and power locks could remain at 12V.

    Some hybrid vehicles are currently using the 42V battery system since they need the added capacity it offers to operate the electric motors. When will we see 42V enter the marketplace on a mass production vehicle? The best guess at this point is 2008.

    10. Increase in Number of Units with CVT Transmission
    While this technology is not new, a dramatic increase is expected in (continuously variable transmissions) CVT-equipped vehicles. CVTs allow infinite variability between the highest and lowest ratios. This allows the engine to operate at its most efficient speed more frequently and further improves fuel economy. “This trend, however, might be short lived with the advancements in automatic transmissions,” said Lange. “A recent partnership between General Motors and Ford allows the two to work together in the design of fuel-efficient six-speed automatic transmissions,” said Lange.
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