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Uncertain Economy Raises Fleet Manager's Stress Levels

With pressure-filled jobs during good times, commercial fleet managers share how today’s economic turmoil has impacted their professional and personal lives.

January 2009, by Cindy Brauer - Also by this author

Each day, the headlines report more bleak news. Companies bankrupt or closing their doors. Massive layoffs in nearly every industry. Stocks diving and soaring hundreds of points from day to day. In December, experts officially declared the U.S. economy is in recession.

A fleet manager’s job is filled with pressure in the best of times. According to fleet managers across the nation, the current economic turmoil and uncertainty has heightened already beleaguered stress levels. Just as the 2008 holiday season began, Automotive Fleet asked several representative commercial fleet managers how current unstable financial times are impacting their jobs, companies, and personal lives. All asked that their comments remain anonymous.

Full-Court Press on Cost-Cutting

Fleet managers told of a full-court press on corporate cost-cutting, including downsizing, staff reductions, and changes in vehicle acquisition and replacement policies. Diligent oversight and control of fuel, maintenance, and other operating expenses have been heightened.

“All new-vehicle orders are on hold for the 2009 model-year. We will probably push out the replacement criteria,” reported the manager of a mid-sized fleet at an East Coast manufacturing company.

Similar cost-avoidance measures, including a significant hit to the new-vehicle budget, are taking place at a telecommunications industry company. The fleet manager remarked, “Our company is anticipating a difficult year, so budgets for capital purchases are being reviewed very closely and any purchase that does not directly support the business is being cut. For the fleet department, this means a reduction of 88-percent from 2008 levels for new-vehicle purchases.”

This fleet manager also noted, with a touch of whimsy, “We are also tasked with keeping expenses for vehicle maintenance flat from this year to next. I guess my magic wand will be getting a workout.”

The fleet manager for a Midwest manufacturer reported, “Vehicle replacement has been extended to keep vehicles in service approximately six months to one year longer. Fuel economy is still important, and in the U.S., four-cylinder vehicles are now being added to the fleet. In Europe, we are in the process of analyzing the benefits of limiting free choice and negotiating OEM discounts in our largest countries.”

A foresighted CEO of a large manufacturer “has been planning for hard times for more than two years and has mandated a reduction of indirect spend throughout the corporation,” said the company’s fleet manager. “We are always trying to discover ways to reduce costs in the fleet. We have installed telematics this quarter to assist in reducing costs and increasing productivity.”

The fleet manager for a healthcare products company noted the longer-term expense consequences of short-term cost-cutting measures.

“We have increased mileage for replacement, thereby also increasing our maintenance costs, while understanding we are affecting driver productivity and downtime,” said the fleet manager.

This same fleet manager reported the company is “extremely conservative in approach. Normally we have experimented and taken risks, but are now really watching our Ps and Qs.”

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