Where Do You Get Your Fleet Information?
It’s a simple question, but a complex answer. Print publications, online newsletters, industry conferences, fleet management company resources, and factory reps and OEM websites form key components of the answer.
A discussion about where fleet managers get their information, moderated by AF Editor Mike Antich (left wearing red tie), included fleet professionals (clockwise from left) Mike Ahart, Dean Foods; Mike Sims, LDS Church; Alicia Hammond, Ambius; Lee Miller, Boehringer Ingelheim; Theresa Belding, Forest Pharmaceuticals; Donna Bibbo, Novo Nordisk; John Dmochowsky, Kraft Foods; and Bret Watson, Sprint.
The question was straightforward: Where do you get the information you need to manage your fleet? The answer was surprisingly complex — with print publications, the Internet, and old-fashioned face-to-face networking forming critical parts of the answer.
Automotive Fleet sat down to discuss their go-to sources for fleet information with:
● Mike Ahart, vice president, transportation, Dean Foods Company.
● Theresa Belding, senior manager - Fleet Services, Forest Pharmaceuticals.
● Donna Bibbo, CAFM, manager, Fleet and Travel, Novo Nordisk.
● John Dmochowsky, CAFM, sales fleet manager, Kraft Foods, Inc.
● Alicia Hammond, CAFM, fleet administrator, Ambius.
● Lee Miller, senior manager, fleet services, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc.
● Mike Sims, global fleet planning, acquisition, and resale manager, LDS Church.
● Bret Watson, CAFM, national fleet manager, Sprint Nextel Corporation.
What resulted was an eye-opening, lively discussion.
AF: What are your main sources of fleet information?
HAMMOND: I rely on publications and OEMs. I read Automotive Fleet; that’s probably the one I read the most. I also work with my fleet leasing company and the guys in the truck department. They’re a great source of information for me, because they work with customers who have similar applications and similar needs. Also, I have found my manufacturer reps to be extremely valuable resources.
WATSON: The two sources I use primarily are Automotive News and Bobit Business Media. I really like Automotive News because you can find out what’s going on with manufacturers in advance, so I read it cover-to-cover. The other magazines I read every month from cover to cover are the Bobit publications.
When it comes to new vehicle information, it would probably be OEM websites.
AHART: I have Class 7 and 8 trucks and passenger vehicles. On the heavy-duty side, I rely on the OEMs to provide me with information about vehicle changes, especially with the engine changes that have occurred over the past couple of years. On the passenger side, I rely on national account representatives from the manufacturers and the leasing company. I talk to them about data they’ve accumulated from fleets running similar vehicles and their cost of ownership. I also read industry publications to get additional information.
MILLER: My sources of fleet information are the publications, online, especially, because online comes out quicker than in print. As soon as news breaks, I get push e-mails from Automotive News, up to twice daily. It’s almost too much at times, but sometimes there’s critical information in there.
I, too, have trucks in the fleet. And, those become an acute problem, because so many things change, so I rely not only on the manufacturer’s rep, but on the leasing company. I use them as a resource to find out the bottom line and where I am. Then, I educate myself by trying to actually place an order to build a unit. Trucks are so complicated; you really have to go through a dry run to see what options might require another.
HAMMOND: I wanted to mention that Automotive Fleet’s survey of the “Top 300 Commercial Fleets” is really valuable. We can see where we are in position to our competition, and compare the number of trucks on the road we need to do our job.
AF: How do your companies place their vehicle orders?
WATSON: I place all my orders online. I order vehicles from our own select dealer group, so I order dealer direct.
BELDING: I rely on actual meetings with the OEM representative, our manufacturing representative, their websites, and actually going in and building the vehicle just so you know what may have changed. For instance, maybe there is an option you didn’t know about that could add value.
BIBBO: In addition to what everybody has said, I also rely on PC Carbook. I do a lot of building cars and looking specifically at their different packages.
AF: How valuable are OEM websites to your day-to-day operation?
MILLER: I don’t really go to them that often. If I can’t find the information on the FMC website, then I go to the OEM website. The manufacturer websites are difficult to maneuver for spec information; it can be hard to find. It’s not really user-friendly from a fleet perspective.
BIBBO: Usually you can’t build an order. I go to them infrequently. Also, I can’t remember my user ID and password and end up locking myself out.
MILLER: I tend to go there if one of my drivers has called me saying they went to the manufacturer’s website and saw an option they are interested in. So, then I need to go back and look at it, to find out “what did they really see?” Did they misunderstand what they were looking at (which is usually the case)? That’s why I go to the website.
WATSON: I want to add to what Donna [Bibbo] said, because PC Carbook is the tool I use primarily to spec my vehicles. It is a Chrome Data company. What I really like about PC Carbook, for those of us that have upfit trucks, is that I can add in my dealer upfit for what it costs, and my CPA adjustment. Also, if you’re spec’ing trucks, I can look at the gross vehicle weights. It has a comparison tool, so I can do all the comparisons, and look at different specifications. I go to the manufacturer fleet websites all the time, because sometimes what I want to do is not found in PC Carbook. Sometimes, PC Carbook lags and it isn’t 100-percent accurate.
When you log into the manufacturers’ website as a fleet user, you can get the latest information, so if there’s a spec that has changed, it will be there first. I also go there because if I’m looking for color codes, the manufacturer websites have the best color chips, I can really see what the color’s going to look like. If it’s a new model, they’ll have the 360-degree view of how the interior will look. If I have to carry cargo, and need to know what it looks like with the seats folded down, I use the manufacturer websites all the time. And, the other thing, because I order the vehicles direct, I’m always going there to get my order status.
AHART: I expect the dealers or the manufacturer representatives to come see me, bring me the literature, and walk me through changes or enhancements. I’ll bring in my director of fleet maintenance, so we can have a general discussion about engine changes and engine specifications, as well as any safety changes that need to be made. We’re frequently talking to the drivers, the operators of the vehicles, to make sure that we incorporate changes that need to be made to the vehicles. This year, I went to the Mid-America Trucking show (something I don’t normally do), because of all the engine changes on Class 7 and 8 trucks.
I’m not a big user of websites because of the time you’ve got to dig to find what you’re looking for. It’s a lot easier to talk to the experts.
BIBBO: I think it’s clear that one message is to change the OEM website password requirement.
SIMS: They should have a lifetime password and ID.
AF: What about the Church of Latter-Day Saints?
SIMS: We don’t use leasing companies, so we don’t have the advantage of them reviewing our specs. We do everything ourselves. I find the OEM websites difficult to use. I don’t go to them very often, and, generally, my password has expired. All of the OEM websites are different. They are not user friendly. We use PC Carbook almost exclusively. I use PC Carbook multiple times a day — it’s fabulous.
WATSON: I do the same thing. The only time I go on the manufacturer website is when I want to double check something or I’m second guessing something, because every so often in PC Carbook there’s an error.
SIMS: But rarely.
BIBBO: The nice thing about PC Carbook, once you finish building your car, you click on a button that says “validate” and it validates that it is an orderable car the way you spec’d it out.
SIMS: If I have a question, I’ll generally go to my national account rep, because they are very accessible and very knowledgeable. Chrome Data (PC Carbook) first, my account rep second, and rarely I go to the manufacturer website. However, there is one OEM website I do go to, and that’s General Motors.
WATSON: Another website I use, because Sprint is striving to be green in our vehicles and our company, is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website. Sprint’s program for green vehicles right now is to go to the EPA and try to identify the vehicles that are SmartWay certified. As far as I know, the only source you can use to find out if a vehicle is certified is the EPA. I imagine there are some safety websites some people would go to determine the crash ratings of the vehicle.