Fleet management is more complex than it’s ever been before. Over the last few years, fleet managers around the globe have struggled to optimize operations and balance budgets amid ongoing vehicle shortages, supply chain issues, long lead times, and the rising costs of fuel and maintenance.
The process of upfitting fleet vehicles has become similarly complicated in recent years. Supply chain delays, the increased costs of materials and components, and labor shortages have made vehicle spec’ing and upfitting a time-consuming and often frustrating experience.
But it is possible to navigate the thorny landscape of upfitting with a bit of planning and the proper mindset. Here are the top tips to keep in mind when acquiring and upfitting your fleet.
Be Honest About Wants Vs. Needs
With inflation pushing the costs of everything higher, it’s critical to determine what equipment you actually need to accomplish the job in the most efficient, cost-effective way. Consider all aspects of your business and fleet: What people or equipment will you be transporting? Where will you be operating, and how are the road conditions and terrain? Are you planning to expand your business offerings or service area?
Being honest with yourself about what you need your vehicles to accomplish can go a long way in saving money and rightsizing your fleet. For example, instead of a full-size van, maybe all you need to meet your needs (and save a few thousand dollars) is a properly upfitted SUV.
Plan, Plan, Plan
A successful fleet management strategy has always relied on proper planning — but with supply chain disruptions and vehicle shortages projected to continue into 2024, it has never been more important to think ahead.
Replacing or adding vehicles to your fleet can take six to nine months in the current climate. Sometimes, it takes more than a year, particularly when you need specially upfit trucks or vans. These delays have caused major issues for fleet managers who want to grow their business or replace older vehicles.
To offset these challenges, take stock of your current fleet composition and consider what your needs will be in six months, a year, or even two years so you can plan accordingly.
Vehicle and equipment shortages also make it difficult to get the specific make, model, or spec you want right now. You may also face issues acquiring the quantity of vehicles you'd like.
One of my top recommendations to clients is to be flexible and adaptable. What sort of vehicle and specs do you need at this point, and are there opportunities to deviate from your expectations while keeping your fleet operational and profitable?
Developing three or four different vehicle spec options that will work for your fleet can increase the chances you’ll be able to get what you need when you need it.
Lean on Trusted Experts
When the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to lean on your support systems—especially ones that are OEM-agnostic. A fleet management company, for instance, can help you navigate the complicated marketplace by sourcing and spec’ing the vehicles that will get the job done, regardless of the manufacturer.
Having a seasoned industry expert in your corner, who will have open and honest conversations about your needs and expectations, can help you prioritize what your fleet needs for optimal operations and productivity.
External forces will continue to complicate the upfitting market in the coming months — but with the proper planning and flexibility, it is absolutely possible to survive and thrive in this stressful landscape.
Marc Layman is the manager of truck upfitting at Mike Albert Fleet Solutions, based in Cincinnati, Ohio with expertise in fleet operations, maintenance, and safety.