Release date: 1/2/2020
We asked two NAFA Board of Directors Members to weigh in on the key issues affecting their work. What we found are the following game-changing advances and gradual iterations in technology that fleet managers are facing in 2020:
- Electronic logging of vehicle usage
- Data for preventive vehicle maintenance
- Autonomous vehicles
- Electrification of fleets
- Emissions standards compliance
These six issues ultimately feed into operating costs. Technology is an effective tool (not a silver bullet) to help control costs as well as an asset to gain better insights for logistics optimizations. Fuel efficiencies and standards, along with emerging technologies, are top of mind in our field report.
The front lines of November 2019’s rapidly spreading California wildfires were less than 30 miles away from Richard Battersby’s doorstep. Smaller fires (relatively speaking) seemed to scatter everywhere around the landscape. But the assistant director of public works for the City of Oakland, whose commute to work from home in nearby Fairfield, California, was at times blocked by some of those fires, kept his eyes on fleet operations.
We caught up with Battersby, a NAFA Regular Member, in between rolling blackouts affecting hundreds of thousands of California households. "You end up doing business the best way you can," says Battersby. "It’s doing what you’re trained to do."
Emissions are particularly relevant to Battersby, as California leads the charge in aggressive emission standards in the U.S. Battersby came to Oakland from the University of California, Davis about six years ago. His total operating budget is close to $22 million, with an additional $6 million for equipment purchases. He estimates his 1,500 vehicles, "a little bit of everything, except for transit," rack up more than 800,000 miles each year at a fuel cost totaling approximately $2.4 million. Emissions standards have resulted in more miles-per-gallon for most of Oakland’s vehicles, but Battersby has not seen significant or dramatic fuel savings in recent years.
Another big hurdle for Battersby is electrification. "This trend toward zero-emissions — hydrogen technology is coming through the door, too — it’s something we need to address," he says.
Ernst & Young estimates that maintenance costs, the physical price of keeping a vehicle running, account for 30% to 50% of the total cost of fleet ownership. Battersby stresses that there’s not a lot of room to play with error or missteps there.
In moving toward the goal of improving maintenance and fuel costs, Oakland started with Ford hybrid utility vehicles for its law enforcement operations. Up front, it cost approximately $6,000 to $7,000 more per vehicle than the standard-fuel models. But Oakland, which also has invested in charging stations for electric and semi-electric vehicles, estimated it recouped the extra cost in fuel savings in just the second or third year of ownership. Tech is a tool that adds value to the department.
"We’re embracing that technology whole-heartedly," Battersby says.
At Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Director of Transportation Services Kathy Wellik runs her own maintenance shop with three technicians servicing a fleet of roughly 600 cars and trucks, most of them light-duty vehicles. She feels one of her most important mobility performance strategies is to keep a close eye on how complicated computer systems in modern-day vehicles are becoming.
"We keep our vehicles in good shape; it’s mostly oil changes and brakes, mainly pre-emptive treatments," Wellik, a NAFA Regular Member, says. "But as the vehicles get more technology in them, it’s harder to diagnose. A warning light can go on for anything these days."
While Wellik and Battersby both advocate investment in charging stations for semi-electric, fully electric, or alternative-fuel vehicles, Wellik faces something Battersby doesn’t: distance. On the East and West coasts, she says, a two-hour drive in a light-duty vehicle could amount to 20 or 30 miles, much of it spent stuck in traffic. In Iowa, that same drive could exceed 120 miles. Fuel efficiency, then, is always important. And so are fuel standards.
Wellik, who also serves as Secretary/Treasurer on NAFA’s Board, doesn’t see the advance of self-driving vehicles having an immediate impact on her $4 million annual operating budget or $1.5 million annual vehicle spending estimates … not just yet.
She has some of those autonomous bells and whistles, though, in the RAV 4 she drives in her personal time. "I mean, you can literally take your hands off the steering wheel, and it will go down the road just fine," she laughs. "We’re almost there. But there’s a lot of work left to do with that technology in fleet infrastructure and security. It’s definitely coming."
Iowa State purchases vehicles as part of a consortium with the Iowa State Transportation Department, typically eyeing anywhere from 50 to 75 vehicles per bid cycle. But she wonders what will happen when the technology outpaces the people in charge of maintaining it.
"Yes, we still do the oil changes and brakes, but when you’ve got this increasing technology presence, we’re going to need to update our shop," she said. "Will the money be there?"