The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Fleet Selectors: How They Have Changed

Just as vehicles have changed over the decades, so have the selector forms fleet managers have used. Vehicle specifications have gone through significant changes, having been impacted by the economy, products and programs offered by manufacturers, operational requirements of the vehicles themselves, and the emergence of the import vehicle.

November 2011, by Al Cavalli

Company cars represent an integral means of seeing more people, accomplishing more in less time and less effort, resulting in greater productivity. It is perhaps the most valuable tool utilized by industry in general and represents an expense second only to salaries. As such, it demands an efficient, economical management approach not only in vehicle and equipment selection and assignment, but in the approach used to place a unit in service in the most expedient manner.

There are five separate, but related, areas that must be dealt with in developing these necessary procedures: 

  • Establishing the approved vehicle specification.
  • Providing a means for the operator’s selection.
  • Order placement.
  • Delivery confirmation.
  • Used-vehicle disposal.
  • Selecting the Vehicle

Over the years, fleet vehicle specifications have gone through significant changes, having been impacted by the economy, products and programs offered by manufacturers, operational requirements of the vehicles themselves, as well as the emergence of the import vehicle.

In the early days of fleet management, domestic brands ruled the roost with GM, Ford, and Chrysler predominating in the fleet market and, to a lesser degree, second-tier brands such as Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, and later American Motors, et al. They all generally offered models in just two levels — standard and deluxe — and for the majority of fleet operators, the standard lineup were the vehicles of choice.

In selecting vehicles to place in service, consideration had to be given to a variety of operational and economic factors, such as:

  • Initial cost.
  • Resale value.
  • Economy of operation.
  • Cargo-carrying capacity.
  • Type of operational terrain, e.g, urban, rural, off-road.
  • Multiple operator levels.
  • Weather conditions.
  • Number of regular occupants.

At new-model introductions, one would see fleet managers with tape measures checking the “lifting” required to get products into the trunk as well as the trunk dimensions. Invariably, the basic model of choice was often a standard, full-size, two-door coupe, along with a four-door model usually for management-level operators (where that distinction existed). An example of an approved vehicle at the time would have been:

  • Two-door coupe.
  • V-8 or “inline” eight-cylinder engine.
  • Standard transmission.
  • Driver-side rear-view mirror.
  • Heater (north of the Mason-Dixon Line) and antifreeze (alcohol or ethylene glycol).
  • Air conditioning (only below the 100-degree temperature line).

In addition, the air conditioning unit, in its infancy at the time, would most often be an aftermarket unit that could be transferred to the replacement vehicle. Seat belts (lap only), which came along in the 1950s, were optional and also available as an aftermarket item. Radios, considered to be distracting to the driver, were not normally approved. (By today’s standards, these are practically prehistoric specifications!)

Mid-size and compact models started to enter the picture during the late 1950s and 1960s with the introduction of such models as the Plymouth Valiant and the “K” bodies, Mercury’s Comet and Montego, Ford’s Falcon and Gran Torino, etc., eventually becoming the models of choice. The new vehicle could be a replacement, an addition, or an emergency acquisition, which would most often require an out-of-stock purchase, subject to model availability and cost.

Perhaps the first major impact on fleet vehicle selection (after WWII) was precipitated by the gasoline shortages of the ’70s, which piqued interest in mid-size and compact models along with V-6 and four-cylinder engines. Some fleets at the time converted entirely to compacts, a decision regretted later when they couldn’t do the job expected and suffered in the used-car market on resale. Unfortunately, this is a situation repeated too often today.

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