The Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) was formed in 1969 by a small group of fleet dealers attending a NAFA conference in Toronto, Canada. At that time, NAFA bylaws prohibited non-fleet manager members (known as Affiliates) from attending the association’s educational sessions.
Prior to the start of the NAFA conference, the late Ed Bobit, publisher and editor of Automotive Fleet magazine, invited a group of 70 affiliates to attend a one-day seminar at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto to discuss the merits of founding a new industry association focused on the relationship between fleet dealers and fleet buyers and how to improve their communication and service. The seminar was sponsored by Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge Divisions.
Among the speakers were John Blessing, president of Commercial Credit Industrial Corp.; Dennis McSweeney, new car purchasing manager for Hertz Car Leasing Division; and Ron Trapani, director of purchasing for LeasePlan International. One of the speakers was a fleet manager, Richard P. Hogue, fleet administrator for Westinghouse Electric Corp.
The majority of the seminar attendees were dues paying NAFA Affiliates who felt they were being treated as second-class members by being excluded from voting, holding leadership positions, or participating in educational sessions.
Upon returning to Bobit Publishing’s then-headquarters in Chicago, Bobit met with an attorney who helped develop the association’s bylaws. Later that year, 12 individuals met at the New York Sheraton to elect AFLA’s first president M.C. (Bud) Morrison of Konner Chevrolet. AFLA's first board consisted of all fleet dealers: E. Woody Woodard of Al Piemonte Ford; Don Fenton of Long Chevrolet; and Jack Rosenbaum Rosenstock of Park Circle Chevrolet. Bobit was named AFLA executive director and the association’s secretary/treasurer.
The newly formed association agreed to hold twice-a-year meetings, one immediately prior to the annual NAFA conference in the spring, and the second in New York City during the new-car preview period.
In the ensuing 50 years, there were other formative milestones that helped shape AFLA as an industry association and set it on a trajectory to evolve into a group focused on the commercial fleet management industry.
Milestone No. 1: Changing Membership Tilts to Commercial Fleet Managers
In its early years, fleet dealers represented the heart and soul of AFLA. In that era, fleets purchased vehicles directly from individual local dealers. However, in the 1980s, the use of dealer ordering subcodes by non-dealers, such as fleet lessors, became more prevalent and allowed factory-direct orders. This development coincided with another trend pressuring in-house fleet departments to outsource services that were previously done in-house.
In the 1980s, the trend to outsource non-core services swept Corporate America. In 1989, PHH created the first-ever total fleet management program with Eastman Kodak, which has proliferated ever since. In-house fleet departments witnessed staff reductions as administrative services were outsourced to third-party vendors. Outsourcing also changed the skill set required of fleet managers. In the profession’s early years, most fleet managers had a technical or automotive background. As those fleet managers retired, a new generation of fleet managers emerged, whose backgrounds were financial, administrative, or managerial.
These changes witnessed a decline in fleet dealer membership in AFLA and a corresponding increase in membership of commercial fleet managers.
Milestone No. 2: Decoupling with NAFA Creates Independent Identity for AFLA
Jim Rallo, since-retired PHH vice president, was president of AFLA in 2001-2002. During Rallo’s tenure, AFLA conducted its first-ever membership survey to see if the membership would support having a single annual meeting instead of two meetings per year – one co-located in the spring with NAFA’s annual conference and the second in the fall as a standalone meeting. More than 85% of the AFLA membership voted to decouple from NAFA and to hold a standalone meeting in the fall.
As public sector membership began to increase in NAFA, there was a greater need to provide educational content focused on public sector fleet management. This coincided with AFLA’s focus to provide greater content to its growing commercial manager membership base. This move resulted in a long-term growth in AFLA membership among commercial fleet managers and a corresponding increase in sponsorship dollars.
During the 2008-2009 presidency of Mike Antich, editor of Automotive Fleet magazine, there was a 36% increase in AFLA fleet manager membership. Also, during this time frame, attendance to the AFLA standalone conference for the first-time ever exceeded 300 attendees, growing from 286 attendees in 2008 to 334 registrants for the 2009 AFLA Conference.
Milestone No. 3: Using Management Company Elevates AFLA Professionalism
During the 2003-2004 AFLA presidency of Jim Anselmi, the since-retired fleet manager for Lorillard Tobacco, the decision was made to hire a professional association management company. Ewald Associates was hired in 2004 and assumed administrative management of AFLA.
Currently, Association Acumen is AFLA’s association management company with Bill Elliott serving as AFLA’s executive director. The move to outsource to an association management company helped professionalize the day-to-day administration of AFLA and allowed the adoption of association best practices recommended by Ewald Associates and Association Acumen. This also freed the time for volunteer board of directors to focus on strategic planning and to take a more long-term approach to decision-making versus focusing on meeting near-term administrative deadlines.
Milestone No. 4: Synergy between WIFM & AFLA Grows both Organizations
The idea for the creation of Women in Fleet Management (WIFM) association was conceived in 2007 by Carolyn Edwards and Nancy D’Amico, both of whom worked for LeasePlan USA.
Edwards reached out to four LeasePlan clients to gauge their interest and found an enthusiastic response. The four founding fleet manager members were Gayle Pratt of Ecolab, Sue Miller of McDonald’s, Ginny Liddle of Terracon, and Christy Coyte of Johnson Controls. Since then, WIFM has experienced dramatic growth in both female and male membership and collocated its annual meeting with the AFLA conference in 2012 under AFLA President Theresa Belding.
In recent years, attendance to WIFM meetings have been standing-room only. WIFM has also spearheaded many industry initiatives, such as a mentoring program for members who are new to fleet management and wish to expand their industry expertise.
The growth of AFLA and WIFM have been very synergistic and beneficial to both organizations. The current WIFM president is Lori Rasmussen, CEO of PARS and a past AFLA president. According to Rasmussen, the mission of WIFM is to provide a resource for women fleet leaders that encourages personal and career fulfillment through mentoring, fleet expertise sharing, fleet and business community involvement and networking.
Milestone No. 5: Creation of a First-Ever Global Fleet Networking Consortium
AFLA’s global reputation as a leader in the advancement of fleet management was solidified by Global Fleet Task Force chairman Mike Antich under AFLA President Michael Bieger with the creation of the world’s first-ever Global Fleet Networking Consortium.
The genesis of the consortium occurred in 2015 when the AFLA Board of Directors created a Global Fleet Task Force to seek and establish partnerships with fleet associations around world. This AFLA initiative represents the first-time ever that fleet associations in different regions partnered for the purpose of sharing best practices.
The first member of AFLA’s Global Fleet Networking Consortium was the Australasian Fleet Management Association (AfMA), which has almost 550 members. Next AFLA and AfMA reached out jointly to the Asociacion Mexicana de Arrendadoras de Vehiculos (AMAV), which translates to the Mexico Vehicle Leasing Association. The fourth member of the Global Fleet Networking Consortium is the UK’s largest fleet group, the 350 member Association of Car Fleet Operators (ACFO), which became the European partner in the consortium.
“Technology is rapidly shrinking the world, and in the developing age of business mobility, connectivity, Big Data, and autonomous vehicles, global boundaries will increasingly disappear,” said John Pryor, the president of ACFO at the time. “Many of the issues confronting fleet decision-makers in the U.K. will be the same as those being tackled in the United States, Australia, and Mexico, so it makes logical sense to pool our collective knowledge, experiences and advice and communicate best fleet management practices worldwide.”
Milestone No. 6: AFLA Creates Strategic Partnerships in Mexico and Canada
AFLA’s strategic vision is to ultimately evolve into a North American fleet organization with membership and strategic partnerships in both Canada and Mexico.
Under AFLA President Dave Durepo, the AFLA Global Fleet Task Force partnered the association with the Mexico Fleet Manager Group in 2018, which itself was founded in 2013. The purpose of the partnership is to create a Mexico Advisory Board to provide AFLA multinational companies an opportunity to facilitate the dissemination of best practices to both Mexican and U.S. fleets.
This voluntary cooperative relationship between the Mexico Fleet Manager Group and AFLA is designed to assist the two associations to better fulfill their respective missions to their members. This includes working together to increase networking opportunities among fleet professionals, the voluntary sharing of non-proprietary fleet information, and to develop educational materials to be shared between the two associations.
The Mexico Fleet Manager Group was co-founded by Jaime Bringas, fleet manager for Teva Pharmaceuticals Mexico, and Rodrigo Monroy, former LATAM JAPAC fleet manager for AbbVie Farmaceuticos Mexico, now with Nestle.
The joint mission of AFLA and the Mexico Fleet Manager Group is to develop open dialogues and positive relationships with other multinational fleet organizations with the goal to foster a better understanding of the regional fleet environments in which each operates.
A second AFLA initiative into the Canadian fleet market has been via the establishment of strategic relationships with the country’s key fleet suppliers and their fleet customers. In February 2020, AFLA will launch a fleet conference in Toronto that coincides with the Toronto Auto Show. The AFLA Canadian Conference will have a two-track focus on the needs of local Canadian commercial fleets and a separate track that focuses on multinational fleets operating in Canada.
Milestone No. 7: AFLA is the Premier Venue for Fleet Management Recognition
AFLA has become the No. 1 industry venue that recognizes and encourages excellence in fleet management. AFLA is the exclusive sponsor of the Fleet Hall of Fame Award. It is also the long-time co-sponsor with Wheels Inc. of the Ed Bobit Fleet Manager of the Year Award. In addition, AFLA provides the venue for the annual Fleet Executive of the Year Award and the annual Fleet Visionary Award.
Supplementing the industry acclaimed educational content presented at its annual conference, AFLA also promotes the dissemination of industry best practices with its online webinar series and the publication of cutting-edge industry white papers.