The last few months have been a fleetaplooza for many of us. There has been a steady stream of fleet-related events on an almost weekly basis to keep us occupied while we waited for the outcome of what had seemed to become an endless presidential election campaign. The non-stop travel part of that experience wasn’t so great. But the constant interaction with fleet managers, suppliers, and others related to our industry has been eye opening, educational, and rewarding in so many ways. 

More than once I found myself at an event having a discussion with several people on topics of great import for the fleet market: diesel vs. gasoline, propane autogas vs. compressed natural gas (CNG), trucks vs. vans, leasing vs. purchasing; the kinds of things that every fleet manager deals with on a daily basis. In most of those discussions, or maybe we should call them “debates,” no clear winner emerged.

I can remember two very highly respected fleet managers talking about diesel powertrains. One was absolutely convinced that the lifecycle cost was much better when everything was counted, including acquisition cost, maintenance, fuel expense, and residuals. The other did the exact same analysis and came to the exact opposite conclusion that gasoline was the clear winner.

Most decisions a fleet manager makes require deep thought, rigorous analysis of data, and some real-world testing. And, when it comes time to decide which way to go on a powertrain, for example, the answer usually is “it depends.” If you are running trucks in Prudhoe Bay in February, your experience is going to be a lot different than the fleet that is running around Yuma, Ariz., in August. If you are hauling 4 tons of mining equipment you’ll have a much different experience than the fleet that is hauling bags of potato chips.

The decisions that you make on a daily basis are specific to your fleet. Hundreds of factors go into that calculus. And no one can possibly understand all the factors that go into those fleet decisions. The outsource partners can help you make those decisions, but the odds are pretty good that they won’t know everything about your business, your fleet, or your management. You can talk to fleets in similar industries and find common ground. But every fleet is different.

The best run fleets in the U.S. usually have one thing in common. Those fleets have a fleet decision maker in place who truly understands the fleet business and just as important understands their own business. They don’t abdicate the decision making to purchasing, to vendors, or to senior management. They do their own analysis and make good defensible decisions based on the facts.

It would be a wonderful thing if there was a powertrain that was “just right” for everyone or a vehicle configuration that was perfect for anyone hauling anything. Unfortunately this isn’t Goldilocks and the Three Bears and fleets aren’t porridge. You’ll have to try a lot of things to find out which solution is right for you. There is a reason we are still talking about gasoline vs. diesel after 100 years. There is a reason some people love vans and others insist on pickups. Most of these issues don’t have right and wrong answers that we can apply across the whole fleet market. When it’s all said and done, there usually is a right answer for a particular fleet and the best person to make that decision is a well-educated fleet manager. Don’t be afraid to explain that to your management.

If you disagree, let me know.

About the author
Sherb Brown

Sherb Brown


Sherb Brown is the former president of Bobit Business Media. Sherb has covered the auto industry for more than 20 years in various positions with the world's largest fleet publisher.

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