On Dec. 9, 2020, Automotive Fleet in partnership with Merchants Fleet hosted a webinar featuring several 2020 Fleet Visionary Award honorees who shared their innovative fleet management strategies and best practices.
A Fleet Visionary is any fleet professional who has brought a new perspective to running a commercial fleet with the result that the fleet is more operationally efficient, cost-effective, safer, or any combination of these by introducing new methods, efficiencies, and/or technologies. Merchants Fleet is the exclusive sponsor of the award.
The webinar featured David Farber, fleet administrator, Dish Network; Russ Wilson, fleet operations manager, Kadrmas Lee & Jackson (KLJ); Stephanie Connor, program manager vehicle administration, FedEx Office; and Aleece Beaulieu, senior program manager, transportation Genentech, who was last year’s 2020 Fleet Visionary of the Year. It was moderated by Diana Holland, VP, strategic pursuits, Merchants Fleet.
The webinar was divided into several major talking points to which the Visionaries were able to share areas of success in their operations.
Fleet Sustainability Initiatives
Beaulieu of Genentech, which has a fleet of roughly 1,500 vehicles, opened the discussions with a focus on her company’s efforts in sustainability and becoming a member of the EV100 by The Climate Group.
“As part of EV100, we have committed to do the following by 2030: convert our sales fleet of over 1,300 passenger vehicles to all electric or plug-in hybrid; electrify the majority of our commuter bus fleet; transition at least 50% of our 30 plus medium-duty site fleet vehicles to EV or plug-in hybrid; and to continue to expand the charging infrastructure so that employees can use electric vehicles to commute to work, if they’re not using our commuter program,” Beaulieu said.
After the company’s most recent ordering period, Beaulieu said that Genentech’s fleet has roughly 15% of its fleet running with PHEVs, 10% are diesel vehicles, and roughly 50% are hybrids. “More recently, we rolled out a full solution to provide employees driving fleet EVs with level two charger installs providing reimbursement for at home electricity used to fuel that company car, and functionality in our expense report system to accurately report EV expenses,” she said.
One of her challenges to introducing more sustainable products into the fleet was getting buy-in from company drivers.
“Based on where you are in the U.S., EVs may not be as widely adopted. So we started with PHEVs and getting drivers comfortable with the technology, building trust,” she said. “And it’s a good stepping stone so that employees are more excited to order a full electric vehicle next time they’re allowed to order.”
Effective Vehicle Cycling
Following this, Wilson of KLJ discussed his fleet’s vehicle cycling program, specifically how modernizing cycling strategies improved their maintenance strategy. Wilson manages 275 transportation assets across an eight-state region with KLJ.
He championed introducing a different lease model and shorter vehicle cycle for the company’s long-term fleet, which previously was functioning on an ineffective replacement plan, and operating vehicles until roughly the 250,000-mile mark.
“There were a number of assumptions that were being made, and most were really not based on good or recent data,” Wilson said. “At the same time, we had been also supplementing our fleet with a considerable number of rental vehicles and expensing personal mileage to try to make up the difference in need versus what we had in assets purchased.”
Wilson and KLJ introduced a new maintenance program with the help of their FMC to ultimately establish a thorough vehicle cycling program, after doing a thorough lifecycle costs analysis for the fleet based on maintenance intervals, and data provided. From this, KLJ transitioned to more of an open-end leasing model for preserving company capital.
“This allowed us to transition to a newer fleet model that allowed us to rely upon the five-year 100,000 mile powertrain warranties that were being introduced by the manufacturers to help insulate us from major repair costs and also retire the vehicles at a point where there’s still some residual value and maintenance costs that have not yet materialized,” Wilson said.
Fleet Vehicle Maintenance
Continuing on fleet maintenance, Connor of FedEx Office spoke to how she implemented several enhancements to her maintenance program, particularly to overcoming challenges of operating a decentralized fleet. She manages a fleet of 950 Class 2 vehicles with FedEx Office.
“In an effort to better service our fleet, we brought on mobile maintenance vendors to help with that need,” Connor said. “What that is, is they can do maintenance, whether it be an oil change, tires, serpentine belts, brakes; almost anything, they’ll come on site and complete maintenance repairs without the vehicle having to be taken into a brick and mortar shop.”
This created flexibility to when to schedule maintenance appointments, which she said helped with reduction of vehicle downtime for her fleet. Her fleet also launched a mobile carwash program for consistent vehicle cleanliness. To implement this new program, Connor worked with ensuring that drivers were aware of the new program and how the vendors operated. Her drivers were introduced to the services via an online webinar so they could be introduced to the services before the vendor would dispatch technicians.
“Our drivers are taking these changes very well, it helps keep them on the road,” Connor said. “They come in before their shifts, get their service done, and then they are on the road. So they don’t have to get their vehicle serviced during their lunch hours.”
Farber of Dish also commented on new strategies his fleet has implemented to better manage maintenance, particularly with overcoming challenges of non-compliance of its preventative maintenance program due to challenges in 2020. Dish has a fleet of 3,665 vehicles.
Complications he mentioned included proper vehicle mileage not being tracked, delays of repair facility invoices, user input errors when filling out inspection forms, etc.
“Let’s say your vehicle has averaged a certain amount of miles for years and years and all of a sudden that pattern changes drastically,” Farber said. “Your fleet management company might be utilizing a certain algorithm or time threshold that is now inaccurately stating the vehicles need service or being due at that time. So this compounds with the earlier problems mentioned.”
To solve this issue, Farber said his fleet implemented and is mastering a “back to basics” strategy, which they were able to secure through buy-in from leadership and the company’s different business units. This strategy included localizing vehicle maintenance tracking at the facility level, updating the fleet’s internal tracking sheets, and improving its receipt capturing processes. “Ever since implementing this process earlier this year, we’ve seen a 43% reduction in overdue vehicles and a 97% reduction in vehicles over 10,000 miles since their last PM events,” Farber said.
Farber expanded on Dish’s improved PM program by elaborating on how it improved the fleet’s vision of safety.
“So not only did our new preventative maintenance process help with OEM compliance and downtime, it was also helpful in finding bald tires, faulty brakes and other safety items,” Farber said. “And just being able to get the vehicle in more frequently and having more frequent inspections, getting the tires off, things like that, it gives us the opportunity to catch more of those safety items prior to failure.”
In other areas of fleet safety, Farber also said that Dish implemented a collision avoidance system back in 2014, which through 2020 was implemented in roughly 80% of the company fleet. Dish also implemented a collision reporting application tool for its drivers, to improve tracking data that is reported in the event of an accident. This solution walks the driver through the process of gathering the right information in the order of importance and in the order of time constraints. He was able to integrate this tool with other internal business units as well as the company’s accident management company. Again, gaining buy-in from leadership and the surrounding business units was critical toward implementation of the tool. He also noted the addition of a new internal dashboard that was created to house all the submitted claims.
Connor of FedEx Office also touched on safety during the presentation, particularly the addition of new accident prevention devices.
The new devices included a high mount pulsing brake light to the rear of vans, which helps draw attention to the drivers behind the vehicle when they are coming to a stop; engine disablement device, which can remotely shut off a van in the event it is stolen; and a vehicle even data recorder, which records activities such as distracted driving, hard braking, and acceleration if they’re speeding.
“So what we use that for is we help to coach the couriers on driver behavior,” Connor said. “A lot of things that they’ve not thought of before as being distracted driving, with these cameras now we can work with them and notify them when we observe distracted driving tendencies and kind of coach them into having better driving behavior and with that decrease their incidents.”
Additionally, Beaulieu of Genentech spoke to how safety was equally as important as the company’s sustainability initiatives.
“We partnered with our environmental health and safety partners to complete a risk assessment as to why drivers were getting into accidents, with the goal to reduce our accident rate,” Beaulieu said. “The results supported adding more safety technology features to our vehicles as standard during the ordering process. So now, these features are considered standard for any new vehicle orders.”
The standardized safety features included backup camera with cross traffic alert, blind spot detection, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning.
Wilson of KLJ also discussed how safety plays a factor in fleet decisions around vehicle cycling. “By shortening our cycle time, we have created new opportunities for newer technology, and increased the reliability of our fleet, which pretty much equals increased safety across the board,” Wilson noted.