For the past several model-years, order-to-delivery (OTD) times for high-volume work trucks and vans have increased due to strong demand in both the fleet and retail markets. Vocational trucks are vulnerable to OTD delays because fleet orders are usually concentrated among a handful of models with limited secondary choices. With truck assembly plants running at near capacity, lead times can increase for a variety of reasons, such as component constraints, quality holds, or transportation bottlenecks. Likewise, with upfitters operating at capacity with a backlog of jobs, fleet managers need to be extra careful when planning upfit specifications because any after-the-fact engineering change will further delay OTD.
Ways to Minimize Upfit Lead Times
Typically, senior management does not understand the length of time needed to transport the chassis to the upfitter, wait in line for the build, complete the upfit, and then wait in line for delivery to the end-user. Despite this, there are many actions that can improve OTD for vehicles requiring upfits.
Advance Planning is Crucial: There are a multitude of specialized fleet applications that require the installation of auxiliary equipment on a truck or in a van. What complicates planning is that there are as many ways to upfit a truck as there are truck and body configurations. Since no two fleets are alike, auxiliary equipment needs will vary depending on the application. Planning is critical because each fleet is specialized to its own needs, and what works for one may not work for another. There are many moving parts in upfitting a vehicle, which makes early planning essential for completing an upfit in a timely manner.
Order as Early as Possible: Fleet managers should place new vehicle orders as early as possible to buffer against possible production or transportation delays. In addition, OEM production timeframes will vary especially around start-up and build-out dates. Sometimes, OEMs will move build-out dates forward. This can result in the inability to place needed orders, leading to delays as you search for out-of-stock units.
Anticipate Lead Time: Lead times for add-on equipment and bodies can be very long and they need to be coordinated with anticipated chassis deliveries to an upfitter. One good practice is to order service bodies at the time the chassis is ordered or in transit when scheduling upfits. Use of a bailment pool is another alternative when deployment of the upfitted asset is time-sensitive.
When Possible, Standardize Upfits: Standardization increases operational efficiencies, helps expedite order-to-delivery times, and enhances employee familiarity with equipment, which can translate into increased safety. In addition, standardization allows for volume price discounting from the manufacturer — not just to the vehicle, but in volume discounts for every upfit component — as well as reduced lead times, improved quality, and a more consistent build. Standardization also supports the quality assurance and minimizes the need for individual inspections and quality control. In addition, the ability to stock equipment at the installer can shorten upfit lead time, provide flexibility if a vehicle needs to be transferred between branch locations, and facilitates quicker new-hire training.
Despite these benefits, many fleets continue to use too many specs or options, which needlessly complicates fleet ordering and operations. Without a certain degree of equipment standardization, the ability to move vehicles from location to location without impacting operations becomes more difficult. When possible, it should be a priority for vocational fleet managers to focus on standardizing upfit packages. When a fleet manager conducts a detailed examination of equipment used across the fleet, it will usually yield a set of specifications that can fulfill the work application in all but a few circumstances.
Advance Planning and Early Ordering are Key to OTD
Upfitting a vehicle to perform a specific task is one of the more complicated aspects of fleet management. As such, it is an area fraught with pitfalls to make mistakes and delay deliveries. It is essential that fleet managers and all suppliers collaborate on upfits to ensure the job can be efficiently completed. It is important to start the planning cycle early to leave adequate time for production, upfitting, and transportation. Upfitting a vehicle is a process that requires thought and consideration. In the final analysis, the most effective strategies to expedite the upfitting OTD process are advance planning and early ordering.
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