During the general session, three fleet managers talked about their own experiences, including the good and bad, when trying to add alternative fuel vehicles to their fleets. Even exhibitors like Linda Gaines, transportation system analyst for Argonne National Laboratory found the sessions useful. "The information exchange is beneficial to us so we can tailor our products to the type of responses we hear from real people in the field," said Gaines.
Chris Shaffer, partner at the fleet analytics vendor Utilimarc asked the panelists about topics ranging from dealing with OEMs to budget expectations for infrastructure. Banny Allison, fleet manager for uniform rental fleet AmeriPride, shared some of his unsuccessful stories when it came to implementing battery-electric vehicles into the AmeriPride’s fleet.
“A lot of this is a startup so we’re taking a big risk and we understand that things could fail,” Allison said. Although he acknowledges the risk, the company has added natural gas, hybrids and propane autogas vehicles. Allison hopes that in five to 10 years that 50 to 60 percent of its fleet will be running on alternative fuels.
Tony Orta, fleet asset manager for Southern California Gas, highlighted the significance of regular training of fleet drivers and technicians. Another piece of advice Orta shared was learning from fellow fleet managers. “Fleet managers are story tellers, and we love to tell stories,” said Orta.
Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the City of Columbus, Ohio, reinforced Orta’s idea and says his fleet of 6,400 units wouldn’t be as successful without listening to other fleet managers. Reagan has more than 30 years of experience in the fleet industry but when it came to adding CNG vehicles to the city’s fleet he brought in a consultant, which he called an “eye-opening experience.”
Overall each panelist advised the conference attendees to be aware that there will be problems, but to stick with your convictions that integrating these fuels into your fleets will be worth it in the long run.
For Green Fleet Conference attendee Ransford Ellis, operations manager for the City of Richmond, Va., this is the reassurance he wanted. "We are having issues with getting the infrastructure in place, but it's good to see others move ahead and it is encouraging," said Ellis.
Fleets who have already made steps toward becoming more sustainable were recognized for those initiatives at the Sustainability All-Star Awards. Green Fleet magazine’s staff chose 42 individuals this year. In addition to recognizing fleet professionals, Heavy Duty Trucking magazine returned for a second year of naming the Top 50 Green Fleets.
John Viera, global director of sustainability for Ford Motor Co., closed the conference with some final words on how to think of sustainability from a business standpoint. “I think it can be a very good financial decision,” Viera said. “Just the benefit of running a more fuel efficient vehicle has big time business advantages for commercial fleets.” Viera also noted the shift of the industry’s mindset from keeping up with regulations to “trying to do good instead of doing less bad.”
-By Becky May