How are auto transporters working with fleets to adjust their transportation processes amid the ongoing supply chain challenges?
Teri Ross, vice president, sales and client relations for PARS, a full-service relocation, transport and logistics provider for fleets, shares insights into the changes. She discusses the changing transportation behavior by fleets, long-term challenges in auto transport, alternative replacement vehicle strategies, and unique issues posed by the rise of EVs.
New Environment in Transportation
Ross says that fleets are placing more of their vehicle inventory into storage, as opposed to in the past when a vehicle may have fallen under their replacement guidelines and was scheduled to go to auction. “Companies are extending the life of a vehicle while they wait for new vehicles to arrive at dealerships,” she adds.
Another new development is that fleets are requesting vehicle transfers requiring longer distances than prior to the onset of COVID, she says: “While their desire is to keep their vehicles within the same state to help with cutting the title and registration costs required to move the vehicles out of state, fleets are needing to move vehicles for longer distances in multiple states to ensure that their drivers have a vehicle.”
The longer-distance transportation of vehicles can also be attributed to companies allowing their employees to work remotely, Ross says. As more employees work at home, PARS has experienced a larger number of pickup and delivery address changes during the height of the pandemic, she adds.
Supply Chain Constraints
With fleets needing to use their current assets more today than in the past, the necessity to move their vehicles for longer distances has had an effect on other areas of the economy, Ross says. “As greater distances often mean multi-state moves,” she adds, “we are all experiencing the rising costs of fuel, airlines, hotels, and fast food chains, which are all involved when transport drivers engage in longer transports.”
While it is easier to secure a rental car today than a year ago, she says, car rental companies still remain “very reluctant” in providing one-way car rentals. “Our drivers only need one-way rentals either to get into or out of a location,” she adds.
During the summer months when vacationers need a rental vehicle, she says car rental companies would normally prefer to rent their vehicles to vacationers who would likely be booking for a weekly round-trip rental vehicle, as opposed to drivers who would need a rental vehicle for less than a day. With more employees working remotely, she anticipates that “we could continue to see the remote pickup and delivery locations for months and years to come.”
Remote locations require either the use of a one-way rental or a rideshare vehicle, Ross says. As with the challenge of using a one-way rental vehicle, she says that rideshare has also become an aggravating issue due to not having enough drivers, as well as the price increase in rideshares.
The auto transport industry has had to deal with the challenge of driver shortages, “an area that we continue to struggle to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” she says. “There are fewer truck drivers that have the experience and understanding of the fleet environment than in the past, and this is causing delays in transports for our clients.”
In response to not having enough drivers with fleet experience, she says that PARS is focused “on recruiting and retaining top-notch, strong drivers.” Through its mobile app, PARS drivers have “the ability to see all the open orders, which allows us to better schedule and match drivers with other vehicles.”
She adds that drivers take photos of the vehicle, which are uploaded to PARS’s web portal, and these photos help allow fleet managers and fleet management companies to make better decisions regarding the condition of the vehicles.
Vehicle Replacement Strategies
Ross reiterates that fleets are leaving their vehicles in storage for longer periods than prior to the pandemic and adds that “the lack of rental vehicles, along with the cost of the rentals, was a critical issue during 2020 and 2021, and still is today due to the lengthy lead times for new vehicles.”
PARS recommends that fleets use their vehicles in storage when another vehicle is getting an expensive repair or having preventive maintenance, or when they are waiting for a new vehicle to arrive at the dealership, she says. “This substantially cuts back on the rental costs and allows the clients to utilize their sitting assets.”
PARS’s web portal provides 24/7 access to their transportation information, including storage data, and allows fleets to view where their vehicles are stored in various locations throughout the country, she says. “This allows them to assign their storage vehicles based on their locations and their drivers, helping to minimize the move distances, as well as cut the cost for the rental vehicles,” she adds.
Logistics of Transporting EVs
Ross says that EVs present unique questions that wouldn’t be asked with ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. For example, will the cord in any adapters be in the vehicle at the time of pickup? Will the vehicle be fully charged when we arrive to pick it up? Is there an active account or a special card for charging?
Transporting EVs requires a different approach, Ross says. Rather than going from one location to another because of the easy availability of fuel stations, the trip would need to be mapped out based on charging stations. “It’s critically important when picking up electric vehicles that they have enough charge to get to a charging facility, or that may need to change from a driven move to an auto carrier,” she says.
Another key component is the availability of fast-charging stations, since the length of time to charge an EV can impact the timing when it is being transported, Ross says. PARS can provide “strong ETA” for vehicle deliveries because fueling is quick, but this does not apply with EVs because charging times may vary.
She says it is important to monitor the battery charge levels monthly to ensure the health of the battery and know what charge level is needed and available – whether an EV requires a Level 1 110-volt or Level 2 220-volt charge. “A lot of discovery has been done, and still more to come for the industry as we really dig into electric vehicles.”