Ways to increase efficiency — of vehicles, of drivers and of fuel — will continue to be a priority of fleet managers nationwide in 2017. Two things that are driving this continuing trend are finances and the environment.
Telematics will continue to be a priority and those who have not yet embraced this field of vehicular technology and telecommunications probably soon will, according to most fleet experts. In fact, with the reported consolidation of several telematics vendors in 2016, this may be a great year to incorporate this technology into your fleet.
The consolidation of telematic companies like Verizon acquiring Telogis and Fleetmatics this past summer is expected to bring more features, more standardization of features and personnel to analyze the data.
Some of the benefits of incorporating telematics into your fleet, according to Fleetmatics, include:
• Increased profits by real-time fleet monitoring: Always know where your vehicles are.
• A decrease of fleet expense: Reduce breakdowns by being able to better monitor vehicle maintenance.
• Improved fuel efficiency: The fuel tracking app can improve fuel efficiency by reducing vehicle speed, decreasing idling and improving routing and dispatching.
• Reduced labor costs: The “hours worked” report shows a daily actual start to finish time, hours worked and days worked.
• Increased safety: Telematics also keeps fleets safe and secure by reducing unauthorized vehicle use and the ability to quickly recover vehicles that are stolen.
• Improved customer service: It allows the ability to respond quickly to customer calls and emergencies.
Also creating more demand for telematics are the federal regulations going into effect, one of which is the ELD, or electronic logging device, mandate. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems are expected to continue to double every year.
Electrical vehicles and alternative fuels
Electric vehicles may finally be gaining ground — if not for the general public at least in fleet management.
Doyle Sumrall, managing director of National Truck Equipment Association, said there are many possibilities and opportunities in technology.
“To name a few, electrification of systems, electric vehicles and renewable diesel, stop-start systems, extended-range EVs, propane and natural gas,” Sumrall said.
He added that the longer range fuel cells will likely make electric vehicles more widespread and added that driver training and electronic control to help regulate fuel usage may be at the top of priorities.
“With these advancements comes the need for careful analysis and consideration,” Sumrall said.
The city of Columbus, Ohio — which had its fleet manager Kelly Reagan named Fleet Manager of the Year for 2016 — has a Smart Cities Electrification Project, that will be a top priority for 2017.
“We are working to identify vehicle usage that has a duty cycle where a like electric vehicle could be put in its place. We also are working with our team to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” John King, fleet operations manager for Columbus, said.
Other alternative fuels are being more widely used, too, as municipalities are taking a proactive stance to the inevitability of fuel costs rising again. King said Columbus continues to increase its compressed natural gas infrastructure. He said the city is building its third CNG station for city and general public use.
“We continue to purchase heavy-duty vehicles that run on dedicated CNG and look to have close to 300 CNG-dedicated vehicles by the end of 2017,” King said.
Some of Columbus’ other priorities for 2017 include “vehicle right cycling” to appropriately fund and replace vehicles appropriately in addition to training and testing technicians to learn the new technologies and gain certifications such as ASE, EVT and CNG tank inspectors.
Christopher Lyon, NTEA director of fleet relations, said, “In the current climate of low conventional fuel prices, many fleets find it difficult to justify the increased costs of alternative fuels. Those that haven’t already made such commitments are often reactive to the fuel market — meaning, they will take action when the market dictates substantial savings. Fleets that are using alternative fuels and those that put a value on reduced emissions continue to invest in this area.”
The Department of Energy is funding the EV Smart Fleets Initiative through the Clean Cities Program. EV Smart Fleets strives to address the need to accelerate electric vehicle adoption by public fleets. It also seeks to lower the purchase price of EVs by 15 percent through volume purchasing and creative financing and increase access to a wider range of EV models.
The Environmental Protection Agency, working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California — plus input from major automotive manufacturers — devised regulations to create a “zero emissions” policy. Phase II of the policy relates to greenhouse gases and aims to reduce CO2 emissions.
When asked if zero emission was a realistic goal, Sumrall responded that it was. “Today there are many viable options to move toward an envisioned future of zero-emission commercial vehicles. With collaboration between key stakeholders, industry and government, we can continue to identify ways to significantly reduce greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant reduction.”
Sumrall said events like the NTEA’s sponsored Green Truck Summit, which is held annually in conjunction with The Work Truck Show, provides an international forum on strategies to move toward achieving the clean energy objectives.
In a press release for the Green Truck Summit, Sumrall was quoted as saying, “Selecting clean technologies and fuel investments are challenging long-term commitments and many operation decisions have to align with these decisions. When you factor in the unknowns of the longevity of low fuel costs and a new U.S. administration, this year’s Green Truck Summit will be more impactful, informative and fascinating than ever.”
He also noted, “NOx reduction may be the next issue the industry will need to address, as California and other states have zero-emission (or all electric) objectives. However, although electrification of systems on work trucks are gaining ground and showing great benefits in idle reduction, traction drive is not a viable plan yet for most vocational trucks.”
Sales of small sports utility vehicles and crossover vehicles increased by 4 percent in 2016 to 2.73 million, and they are finding their way into commercial and municipal fleets as well because of the increased fuel efficiency and greater cargo space this type of vehicles provide.
Other notable concerns
Regulations and the cost to comply with those regulations are the biggest concerns for fleet managers, according to Lyon.
“Although government and society have called for decreased emissions, fleets feel more pressure as this normally correlates with substantial cost increases. Fuel price volatility is also a key concern,” Lyon said.
He said the new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 111 rear visibility field of view regulations — applicable for vehicles with a 10,000-pound gross vehicle weight or less — will phase in for vehicles starting May of this year and be required for vehicles manufactured beginning in May 2018.
“Cost control is a top priority for fleet managers,” said Lyon. “During the economic downturn, many were forced to find ways to cut costs simply because resources were not available. Moving ahead several years, this took a toll on equipment as replacements were deferred.”
Lyon said for many fleet operators it caused a “cascade effect” for capital improvements and increased maintenance costs and many are still in a “catch-up phase.”
When asked how fleet operators justify the rising expenses, Lyon replied that it is a challenge.
“Although fleet managers continue to streamline their operations, it comes down to services provided, especially in government settings where most fleets have become substantially leaner,” Lyon said. “To continue cost cutting would require a reduction in services. Citing increased emissions regulations often helps justify cost increases. It is widely agreed that conventional fuel prices will rise in the future, so fleets that have adopted alternative fuels continue to rationalize added expense for future savings.”