Fleet managers continue to face tough challenges in today’s market, including getting a handle on high fuel costs, reducing accidents, cutting costs, and moving toward a green fleet. And, in an effort to help managers stay on top of these industry challenges, DaimlerChrysler has big plans for the future that will lead to innovative products specifically designed for all business types and fleet managers.

Pat Dougherty, director of fleet operations for DaimlerChrysler, recently talked to Automotive Fleet about DCX’s role in the fleet market, its dedication to alternative fuels, and its promise to play a vital role in the commercial, government, and rental fleet segments moving into the future.

AF: Please explain the importance of the fleet market to DCX.

Dougherty: One proof of the importance of fleet to our company is the clear understanding by top management of the different segments within the fleet market. At the highest levels of Chrysler Group and DCX, our leadership understands the different fleet markets and their attributes.

We regularly meet with our senior leadership team — Tom LaSorda, Chrysler Group CEO, and Steven Landry, vice president, sales and marketing — as we formulate our fleet strategy for the coming years. A result of this focus is the dedication to the commercial business and our increasing allocation for vehicles in that segment.

AF: What is DCX’s ultimate vision for its role in the fleet industry?

Dougherty: Fleet plays a vital role inthe future of our company with rational daily rental volume and growing sales and market share in both the commercial and government segments.

AF:What is DCX’s ongoing relationship with the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA)?

Dougherty: DCX Fleet Operations fully supports the NAFA organization and is an active participant on several committees.

AF:What DCX products are currently available to fleet?

Dougherty: DCX offers a full lineup of vehicles to fit the needs of any fleet. This year, we are launching our all-new redesigned minivan. We continue to be in the minivan business and intend to stay.

The 2008 Dodge and Chrysler minivans offer 35 all-new features, including an industry-exclusive Swivel ’n Go seating system. This system allows the second-row passenger seats to swivel 180 degrees. Our minivans are flexible and offer excellent cargo capacity.

In addition, Dodge is back in the commercial truck business in a big way with the introduction of our all-new 4500/5500 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Chassis Cabs. These vehicles feature an all-new 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel engine with 305 hp and 610 lb.-ft. of torque and a six-speed AISIN automatic transmission. The new diesel engine is also B-5 biodiesel compatible.

Those who manage a fleet of SUVs will be excited about the all-new Jeep Patriot. It was recently named Vincentric’s Best Fleet Value in America for SUVs under $23,000. In addition, the Jeep Patriot comes standard with our new 2.4L World Engine and an available continuously variable transmission with auto stick.

Also new to the SUV lineup is the totally redesigned Jeep Liberty. The new Jeep Liberty features excellent cargo and utility capacity and two four-wheel-drive systems.

Lastly, for those fleets that include sedans, we are excited to introduce our all-new Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring. Both vehicles feature our all-new 2.4L World Engine and a fleet-only 2.7L flex-fuel engine. They also offer 13.6 cubic feet of trunk space and plenty of interior space. We are excited about our all-new lineup of 2008-model-year vehicles.

Stop by our booth at NAFA to get a sneak peak at some of these products.

AF:How about future products?

Dougherty: Unfortunately, we cannot comment on future products, but I can assure fleet managers that DCX has a key focus on the needs of the various fleet segments and that those needs are represented in all of our product development activities.

AF: What are some recent DCX initiatives important to the fleet industry?

Dougherty: In 2006, Chrysler Group reduced order-to-delivery by seven days, and our target for the 2007 calendar year is another five days. We mentioned our product initiatives, specifically directed at the fleet industry, and we are building the support activities needed to better compete in commercial and government segments.

It would be premature to mention at this point, but at our 2008 Fleet Preview, we intend to announce some of the initiatives developed with key customers who work with us on our Commercial Advisory Board.

AF: Are there DCX initiatives that will impact the future fleet industry?

Dougherty: Several initiatives currently underway that will have a significant impact in the future is our commitment to alternative sources of energy.

Tom LaSorda recently provided testimony to Congress relative to DCX’s alternative-fuel strategy and our commitment to help improve our nation’s environment and reduce our country’s dependence on petroleum. The DCX strategy is multi-pronged and focuses on ethanol, diesel/biodiesel, hybrid/fuel cell, and electric.

Ethanol. DCX has produced more than 1.5 million flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs), capable of running on E-85. That is more than 10 percent of our vehicle production over the past nine years, and it is a higher percentage than any other manufacturer.

By 2012, 50 percent of our product line will be capable of running on flexible fuel or biodiesel.

Diesel/Biodiesel. DCX offers seven clean-diesel models this year, which provide 30-percent improved fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions of 20 percent.

Our heavy-duty diesel-equipped Dodge Ram meets the stringent, 50- state, 2010 emission standards today. DCX is also actively pushing for the adoption of a national standard for B-20 biodiesel fuel to speed its adoption in the marketplace.

Hybrid/Fuel Cell. DCX is the only manufacturer building and testing plug-in hybrid vehicles with lithium-ion battery technology in fleets. We are very excited about this first fleet test of a diesel plug-in hybrid system.

In addition, DCX is a world leader in fuel cell vehicle production and has in operation today more than 100 vehicles, ranging from small passenger cars to city transit buses.

DCX is putting significant resources into developing these new types of propulsion with the objective of significantly reducing greenhouse gases.

Electric. Global Electric Motorcars (GEM), a DCX company, offers the most innovative line of versatile, efficient, affordable, and zero-emission electric-powered vehicles. GEM models offer solutions for many fleet applications, including security, law enforcement, shuttle services, maintenance, and more.