Author: David Cullen

Damage Control

Tracking collision damage limits vehicle downtime and repair costs.

The larger the fleet, the more complex the repair process and the higher the cost to fix body and frame damage. No one aims to bang up a bucket truck or other fleet equipment, but it does happen.

Once damage occurs and is properly reported, the repair process can begin. Obviously, significant cosmetic damage or damage that interferes with driving the vehicle or using it as a work platform must be dealt with as soon as possible. And while some fleets may back-burner minor dings and scrapes, others have policies that mandate no repair delays to keep on-road equipment looking tiptop.

Either way, the damage must be fixed at some point. But in the meantime, how do you track damage? That may include distinguishing between old and new damage. Which is which and were all incidents reported? On top of that, what do you do about drivers who don’t report damage?

To help answer those questions and smooth the repair process, here’s a look at best practices and tips gleaned from industry experts about how to stay on top of damage control.

Best Practices
Claims management has a significant impact on vehicle downtime, according to Trevose, Pennsylvania-based CEI ( The provider of accident management and fleet driver safety services stated that ensuring a solid workflow “from first notice of loss, vehicle estimate, appraisal, repair, and return to service has a significant impact on vehicle downtime” as well as driver productivity.

Another best practice to consider is training drivers to take photos of damage as soon as it’s spotted. Drivers should be instructed to take photos of all the damaged area(s) and the vehicle’s license plate, vehicle identification number and odometer reading.

According to Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, any damage to an NPPD asset “is reported via our safety reporting and management system.” NPPD is a publicly owned utility and political subdivision of the State of Nebraska. Its service territory includes all or parts of 84 of the state’s 93 counties.

“We then log the damage report in our fleet data management system,” Gilliland continued. “Because some damage is not repaired, it is critical to sort out new from old damage. With each report, we can cross-reference previous reports and/or the fleet database.”

NPPD creates a workflow for the securement of the repair cost estimate, the decision to repair or not repair, and the repair process itself. In addition, the fleet’s external vendors assess and report damage as part of preventive maintenance.

Gilliland noted that drivers not reporting damage has not been an issue for the utility. “That’s due to the overall safety culture within NPPD,” he said. “We take and store photos of each new asset/build. We ask for pictures of damages in the reporting system. And we outsource most of our maintenance, so our inspection process requires vendors to report conditions, and we record those photos taken when assets are reassigned.”

Culture Counts
It’s helpful to create a culture that encourages drivers to take photos of damage, according to the HD Repair Forum ( The organization brings the heavy-duty collision repair industry together for education and collaboration.

Some large fleets have their own repair facilities, others repair light damage and outsource larger damage, while still others outsource all repairs to a trusted facility. If you have a fleet that outsources repair work, the HD Repair Forum recommends reaching some sort of regular agreement with a trusted repair shop. “We even know of fleets that have their new vehicles shipped directly to their trusted shop for a quick inspection, to complete possible upgrades, and to log that truck in the system. That way, any future repairs add to the history of the truck.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

The Power of Body Repair
Holding off on body repairs will take its toll. In downtime, yes, but also in terms of safety concerns, higher costs, vehicle value and company image.

That’s per a blog post by Baltimore Freightliner-Western Star ( Summarized below is the truck dealer’s take on why to stay on top of body/frame damage.

Good looks. Your fleet represents your operation out on the road. Body repair can keep your vehicles looking professional, which helps reflect a positive image for your company.

Safety matters. Ignoring larger body/frame damage can create a safety risk. A damaged frame may prevent a truck from hauling loads and could cause a serious accident. Damaged bumpers are often ignored, yet they can create more safety risks. Handle any safety concerns as soon as possible.

Top dollar. Eventually you may decide to sell some vehicles, whether to make room for new ones or to liquidate some assets. With those sales, ensure you’ll get your money’s worth by taking care of necessary body repairs so that your vehicles are in tiptop condition.

Time hurts. Putting off body repairs risks damage worsening over time, which can drive up repair costs. For example, a minor scratch can make a vehicle more susceptible to rust. It would be quick and easy to fix that right away. As rust grows, it becomes expensive and tricky to fix.

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series June 2022

On the Road to Self-Driving Trucks

The trek to fully autonomous trucks is a journey in stages driven by partnerships – yet the pace of development is quicker than one might expect.

One of the only technological advancements in trucks that sparks as much interest as the rollout of electric vehicles is wondering when fully autonomous trucks will be available.

Your fleet may already be familiar with automated vehicles. At the lowest level of automation (see sidebar), a truck spec’d with adaptive cruise control is a stepping-stone to self-driving. At the high end will be trucks that can be autonomously operated in a limited manner and trucks that are entirely self-driving. Those entirely self-driving vehicles may not even need to have a cab.

Not surprisingly, the development of systems that can fully control trucks – ranging from pickups to Class 8 highway haulers – without human drivers is not a simple task. What is surprising is how far along global truck builders working in partnership with vehicle-automation firms have already come regarding autonomous trucks.

But surpassing engineering challenges is not the only obstacle to self-driving. There is also the need to overcome the public’s concern that self-driving trucks are not safe. That will take consumer education. Then there is the lobbying that will be needed to fund the appropriate infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, such as clear road markings and other, more complex requirements to ensure autonomous driving can take place in all weather conditions.

Still, there is impressive forward movement, thanks to industry suppliers and partners that are willing to invest time and money into this moonshot of a venture. There may be a future shakeout of competitors, but currently the marketplace is bustling with activity, including, in some cases, developers of baseline autonomous technology partnering with more than one traditional truck maker.

Engineers at Work

Here’s a rundown of some of the key truck developments on the self-driving front in the U.S.:

  • Daimler Truck is developing a scalable autonomous platform suited for SAE Level 4 (see sidebar) autonomous driving. The L4 platform is based on the Class 8 Freightliner. The OEM is partnered with autonomous vehicle software developers Torc Robotics and Waymo Via
  • Navistar is partnering with TuSimple, a self-driving tech firm, to co-develop an SAE Level 4 truck, which is targeted for production by 2024. The new Class 8 will be sold by Navistar dealers and operate on the TuSimple Autonomous Freight Network.
  • PACCAR, parent of Kenworth and Peterbilt, is teamed with Aurora Innovation, an autonomous tech company, and FedEx to launch a commercial pilot of autonomous linehaul trucks. The OEM said this is the “first collaboration of its kind between a truck manufacturer, an autonomous technology developer and a logistics provider.”
  • Aurora Innovation is working with platform partners, including PACCAR and Volvo, and with logistics partners like FedEx, UberFreight and U.S. Xpress, to prepare its “premium self-driving product,” dubbed Aurora Horizon.
  • Volvo Autonomous Solutions recently announced that it has reached the “next milestone” in their development of on-highway autonomous trucks in the U.S. A prototype of Volvo Trucks’ long-haul VNL model, integrated with the Aurora Driver system, was revealed in September.

Why and Where?

Arguably, the biggest questions surrounding the advent of driverless trucks are not when and how but why and where. Why are they needed and where will they operate? The answers differ sharply based on how trucks are used.

The most obvious application, and thereby the one being worked up first by heavy-truck makers, is the long-haul Class 8 tractor-trailer running Point A to Point B over interstates or other limited-access highways.

But medium-duty trucks and even pickups and vans that operate over regular routes could be candidates as well. Aside from fully autonomous vehicles with no allowance for an onboard driver, advanced but still partially autonomous trucks could have drivers take over at waypoints where infrastructure for self-driving ends, such as off an interstate ramp. This solution would also apply to large trucks, including Class 8 rigs.

On the other hand, vocational trucks that are more a platform to work from than a mere vehicle might only rise as high as SAE Level 4, meaning a truck would have a system that only drives under specific circumstances.

At this point, the bucket truck fits this example. There would be no need to fully automate the driving of one until robot lineworkers are deployed. And that’s a whole other discussion for another, faraway day.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

Degrees of Automation 

Launched in 2014, the SAE Levels of Driving Automation provide a baseline set of terms for different degrees of vehicle automation, as follows:

  • Level 0: No driving automation.
  • Level 1: Driver Assistance. A vehicle with a single automated system for driver assistance, such as adaptive cruise control.
  • Level 2: Partial Driving Automation. A vehicle with advanced driver assistance systems that can control both steering and accelerating/decelerating. But a human in the driver’s seat can take control at any time.
  • Level 3: Conditional Driving Automation. A vehicle capable of making informed decisions itself, such as to accelerate, brake or steer, under limited circumstances. The driver must remain ready to take control if the system cannot execute the task.
  • Level 4: High Driving Automation. An autonomous system that only drives the vehicle under specific, limited circumstances.
  • Level 5: Full Driving Automation. Only the autonomous system drives the vehicle, under all conditions.


This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series June 2022

EV Decision-Making: Telematics to the Rescue

A utility fleet manager who is considering integrating electric vehicles into their operation faces a range of questions, including how telematics data will be tapped when running a mix of trucks powered by either internal combustion engines or electric drivetrains.

In other words, will it be difficult to blend the data streams from these two vehicle types to continue conducting a singular equipment analysis to gain overall fleet cost/performance insights? Or will the information gleaned from the two fleet segments have to be analyzed separately? Further, is analytical software sophisticated enough to present integrated data for the whole fleet as well as separated by power source?

Tracking brake cost and performance is just one example of this conundrum. If brake wear is less on EVs, thanks to regenerative braking, would the fleet have to analyze EV and ICE brake system separately?

In a recent interview with UFP, Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance design and engineering for Penske Truck Leasing (, offered his perspective. A nationwide truck lessor, Penske is a recognized hands-on leader of fleet electrification in the trucking industry.

Hurdles Ahead
“The integration of electric vehicles, like any other new technology, poses hurdles and challenges,” Hough explained. “New technologies require a different approach and methodologies for successful integration. Telematics and data are ever increasingly more crucial to operating a successful and efficient business.”

He said that Penske is “soundly aware” of the importance of operating an efficient business, and so it continues to make advancements in data collection. “We continue to leverage strong relationships with our OEM and telematics partners to improve the quality and accuracy of telematics data.”

Bearing down on how telematics will play out in a fleet containing EVs, Hough said that “measurements and criteria continue to be developed and vetted before they can be successfully blended with traditional ICE-powered vehicles, so the overall pool is not skewed adversely.”

He added that what makes that possible to begin with is that “every vehicle and transponder ID is mapped, and the data repository storing the data identifies the source vehicle clearly,” regardless of power source.

With that issue resolved, fleet managers might also consider tapping telematics data and analytical software to help them make the decision to go electric in the first place, as well as to help sell the idea to upper management and develop a strategic rollout plan.

Telematics Talks
Such was the case at New Brunswick Power Corp., the primary electric utility in the province of New Brunswick, Canada, as well as a supplier of electricity to other provinces and to New England states.

When NB Power sought to build a business case and strategy for the migration of light-duty vehicles to electric power, the scope of the project had to include several municipal governments and a strategic partner, the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The initiative, dubbed Shift Your Ride, evaluated the suitability of light-duty EVs and undertook a fleet review to help the different municipalities determine a business case for integrating EVs into their fleets.

NB Power needed to understand the benefits of potential cost savings on a per-vehicle basis and obtain realistic fleet-wide estimates on fuel consumption and reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Geotab (, a provider of online fleet management systems and services, including data-driven electric vehicle suitability assessments (EVSAs).

Geotab describes its EVSA as a “blueprint for fleet electrification” as it analyzes a fleet’s unique driving profiles and patterns to identify those vehicles best suited for EV replacement. Recommendations also take into account EV availability in the local market, EV performance in extreme weather and financials related to procuring EVs. The goal is to arrive at a total cost of EV ownership, including the potential cost savings of switching to EVs.

In NB Power’s case, a series of assessments were performed for the utility and its municipal partners across New Brunswick.

Per Geotab, those EVSAs proved critical to the success of the initiative by providing:

  • A detailed account of vehicle usage on a day-to-day basis via remote data collection.
  • The capability of various EV models to service existing driving cycles.
  • The efficiency and operational cost savings of various EV models for the observed duty cycles.
  • The best assignment of available vehicle models to duty cycle requirements.
  • An accounting of the total cost, cost savings and return on investment per vehicle and for the total fleet.
  • A calculation of the total reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

All that critical information was captured by telematics devices that record and transmit vehicle driving behavior to sample vehicle fleet duty cycles accurately. Geotab explained that the collected data was “fed into a patented physics-based electric vehicle modeling software, which made it possible to evaluate the feasibility of electric vehicle adoption based on real-world driving data.”

Big Picture
Through the assessment process, NB Power determined there was potential for a 94% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a fleet-wide savings of over $1 million CAD.

Highlights of the results included the following (*over a vehicle’s typical seven-year service life):

  • 94% of the vehicle duty cycles could be met by the charging time spans of best-matched EVs.
  • 91% of the vehicle range requirements could be met by best-matched EVs.
  • Potential 95% reduction in fuel consumption*.
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 94% (2,123,710 kg of CO2)*.
  • Per vehicle savings estimate of $11,735 CAD*.
  • Potential fleet-wide savings estimate of $1,091,298 CAD*.

It could be said that fleet telematics and EV integration go hand in hand – before, during and long after the integration of EVs into a utility fleet.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series March 2022

Smoothing the Technician Transition to EVs

Once a utility opts to add electric vehicles to its fleet, the fleet manager must determine not only which vehicles are best suited to the operation, but also how best to smooth the transition in terms of shop equipment and – most importantly – EV training for technicians.

Even before EVs rolled onto the scene, techs were getting harder to find and keep. Adding EVs means installing new shop equipment and charging infrastructure as well as upgrading technicians’ expertise to service the vehicles. To keep techs on board with these changes, the fleet manager must successfully communicate why EVs are being added and how receiving related service training can only boost their careers.

So, what can fleet managers start doing now to ease the transition to new shop equipment and added tech training? Chris Hough, Penske Truck Leasing’s vice president of maintenance design and engineering, recently offered his perspective. A nationwide truck lessor, Penske ( is a recognized hands-on leader of fleet electrification in the trucking industry.

 New and Foreign
“The key to smoothing the transition of fleet and technicians into electric truck technology is training,” Hough said. “Conceptually, the chassis and application of a commercial vehicle are the same. But the energy source and powertrain technologies are completely new and foreign to a traditional technician.

“Something as simple as refueling is entirely new [to most techs] and requires a different mindset and approach,” he continued. “Delivering training and a level of understanding to technicians and vehicle operators is crucial to driving success and uptime.”

Hough pointed out that “a great advantage of EV technology is its simplicity.” He said that with an electric drive, a vehicle has significantly fewer moving parts and fewer processes occurring – such as combustion, emission and aftertreatment chemistry – as well as fewer wear-and-tear items to maintain and repair.

“Less complexity should help reduce complexity of repairs and ease the life of technicians,” Hough said. At the same time, the need for less tooling and equipment, coupled with advanced logic incorporated into EVs, “should streamline technician training and bring them to a level of proficiency in less time.”

On the other hand, Hough advised that the technology powering EVs “does require a new approach for safety and OSHA requirements in a service facility.” When it comes to integrating EVs, he said, “A fleet operator/manager should begin to consider safety requirements, tooling, PPE and training – and begin to develop plans and procedures before the technology shows up at their doorstep.”

An example of what may be involved to fully train techs to work on EVs is the comprehensive EV technician training and certification program just launched by Kenworth Truck Co. ( to prepare Kenworth dealerships to service EVs.

To attain this initial EV certification, dealer techs must successfully complete a seven-course curriculum on service systems, electrical principles, electrical systems (two courses), cab and chassis electronics, electric vehicle systems and advanced electric diagnostics, according to Jim Walenczak, Kenworth’s assistant general manager for sales and marketing. Each course runs from two to four days and consists of both classroom and virtual training.

Testing the Waters
The term “integrating” often comes up when discussing fleet adoption of EVs. That’s because it will be a long time before any private or commercial fleet operator, regardless of vehicle application, will bring EVs into service in big batches. A large part of the reason for that is because existing truck OEMs and emerging EV truck builders are slowly ramping up production. The other key reason is that substantial investments are needed to install EV charging infrastructure and certain shop equipment, and to provide for tech and driver training.

Hence, the market is in test-the-water mode. Utility fleets already bringing in EVs tend to do so in ones, twos or threes. What’s more, these purchases are typically supported by government “green” grants. In return for helping fund EV and/or charging infrastructure purchases, these programs may collect real-world operating data on the fleet’s EVs to share with other potential adopters.

Two Trucks
A perfect example of this is Green Mountain Power’s addition of two electric trucks from Montreal-based manufacturer Lion Electric Co. ( Colchester, Vermont-based GMP is the largest electricity distributor in Vermont, serving over 70% of the market and nearly 270,000 residential and business customers.

This year, GMP will replace two operations trucks with two of Lion’s all-electric trucks. One will be a fully outfitted bucket truck for line crews and the other a Class 6 medium-duty truck with a stake body for use by electrical maintenance field crews. The two Lions represent a major step toward the goal of electrifying GMP’s field operations fleet.

“Transportation with fossil-fueled vehicles is the top source of carbon emissions in Vermont, and we’re proud to start the process of converting our line truck fleet to clean electric trucks,” said Mari McClure, GMP president and CEO.

The utility received a roughly $915,000 grant through the Volkswagen Clean Air Act settlement fund managed by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Data about the trucks’ use, performance, charging and carbon reduction will be gathered to help the state learn more about the opportunities electric trucks offer in reaching clean energy goals.

Along with providing for the pair of EVs, the grant will also enable the purchase of two bi-directional fast chargers for the trucks. These provide charging convenience, according to GMP, and the chargers’ two-way energy flow means that when the trucks are plugged in and not in use, the utility can tap into the stored energy in their batteries during peak energy use times on the grid. 

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series March 2022

Power Ahead: The Coming of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Trucks

Even as electric utilities and other fleet operators are embracing battery-electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks to move to zero-emission power, another wave of alternative power is rolling in: the hydrogen fuel cell. Just as a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) delivers zero-emission power, so does a fuel-cell vehicle (FCV).

Thanks to several key advantages of FCV design, expect to see heavy-duty trucks powered by fuel cells arrive on the market in the U.S. within the next five years – and maybe as soon as 2022.

The power drawn from a BEV’s onboard batteries is recharged by plugging in the vehicle as well as by regenerative braking. In contrast, a fuel cell generates electricity via an internal electrochemical reaction. When hydrogen and oxygen are combined, electricity, heat and water are generated. Because of that advantage, fuel-cell power is being developed for a wide range of vehicles, from forklifts to trucks.

Like batteries, fuel cells are a clean, efficient, reliable and quiet source of power. Unlike batteries, fuel cells do not need to be periodically recharged. Instead, they will keep on producing electricity as long as they can tap a fuel source.

To greatly simplify the description offered by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (, a typical fuel cell splits hydrogen molecules into electrons and protons. The reaction to that generates an electric current and excess heat as well as water molecules – the only thing emitted from the tailpipe of an FCV.

As well as not requiring charging, fuel cells have no moving parts, so they operate silently and with extremely high reliability, FCHEA points out. On top of that, an FCV can deliver the greater range that many fleet operators seek, which a BEV cannot deliver without having in place an extensive network for off-site charging. In addition, an FCV can handle higher payloads than a BEV.

Gaining that greater range is a factor of the fuel cell’s internal electricity generation. What makes ranges of 300 to even 900 miles – promised by some upcoming FCV trucks – possible is that multiple fuel-cell power modules can be installed on a commercial truck.

Also, building fueling infrastructure at scale for FCV fleets is more cost-effective than for BEVs, according to Plug Power Inc. (, a provider of hydrogen fuel-cell turnkey solutions.

Green and Global
So, that’s what the excitement is all about. And FCVs being a green solution for trucking is backed up by the emphasis that major global truck makers like Daimler and Volvo, and newcomers like Nikola, are putting on developing these vehicles for multiple markets.

For example, Nikola ( plans in the next several years to roll out an FCV variant of its Nikola Tre cabover, plus a long-range FCV, the Nikola Two sleeper.

The Tre FCV is being developed to provide a range of up to 500 miles, both to allow for fast fueling and quick turnaround. This truck is planned to reach full production in the second half of 2023.

The bigger of the FCV duo will be the Nikola Two sleeper, which the company said will deliver a range of up to 900 miles. This truck will be based on a new chassis custom-designed for North American long-haul operations. Nikola said it plans to launch it in late 2024.

Both of these FCV trucks are expected to use multiple common fuel-cell power modules and scalable hydrogen storage systems. Nikola said both systems are undergoing development and testing, and the company expects to begin road-testing the first prototypes with these systems in 2022.

Underscoring even more sharply the coming dawn of FCV trucks, back in April, two of the largest global truck makers, Germany’s Daimler Truck AG and Sweden’s Volvo Group, inked a joint venture – dubbed “cellcentric” – that will focus their efforts on “accelerating the use of hydrogen-based fuel cells for long-haul trucks.”

Stating that the joint venture is aimed at becoming “a leading global manufacturer of fuel-cell systems,” the partner firms said that cellcentric will develop, produce and commercialize fuel-cell systems for long-haul trucking and other applications. The cellcentric operation is to start up in 2025.

Not a Competition
Interestingly, the two truck makers observed that the choice between battery-electric and hydrogen-based fuel-cell trucks will depend on each customer’s use case. Battery power will be preferred for trucks with lower cargo weights and shorter routes. Fuel-cell power will be preferred for heavier loads and longer distances.

In other words, BEVs and FCVs will complement each other, not compete against each other, as both will against diesel and natural gas power.

As for a neutral take on the potential of fuel-cell power for heavy-duty trucks, consider that scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently observed that, as a viable alternative to internal combustion engines in trucks, “hydrogen fuel cells can provide sustainable, clean energy with a comparable user experience.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series December 2021

How to Retain Technicians in a Tight Labor Market

Exactly when we can state with certainty that America has emerged from the coronavirus pandemic is yet unknown. But much of the country is opening again, albeit cautiously.

Businesses are taking stock of what they must do to get back up to speed. In some cases, that means looking to hire new workers to replace those who were laid off at the peak of the pandemic or who left jobs voluntarily for their health or to care for family members stricken with the virus.

As utility fleet managers know, well before the pandemic roared into the U.S., there was a technician shortage already impacting every type of truck operation, from bucket trucks to highway rigs. A good tech is hard to find, and once they’re on board, keeping them there is a constant responsibility for managers.

So, what can you do now to keep more techs happily employed – working for you, that is? The answer is that, if fleet managers pay attention to the individual concerns and attitudes of all techs in their shops and respond to any issues that arise, it’s highly likely the fleet department will not have retention issues.

Eight-Man Band
Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water, which serves nearly 2 million customers in Northern Virginia, explained that his department recognized the pandemic posed a significant health risk to the seven shop technicians who needed to be on-site to help keep the fleet running.

“Our techs, along with me, make for an eight-man band,” Collins said. “We make a lot of good music.” That jovial comment alone indicates Fairfax Water has come through the worst of the crisis with its maintenance staff fully in place. The eight of them maintain over 320 on-road and 120 other rolling fleet assets operating out of garages in Chantilly and Newington, Virginia.

In response to the pandemic threat, in early March 2020, Collins put together a continuity of operations plan to make sure shop employees stayed safe while maintaining their service performance. “We operated with a huge degree of caution,” Collins said. “And we have retained all COVID-related protocols we established in the shop as they help keep our vehicles clean.”

Pandemic or not, according to Collins, “Retention has not been an issue. We have a great benefits package; health insurance is second to none and there’s also an excellent hiring plan and support of higher education. This helps us keep employees longer.” 

All in the Family
“Our largest driver of turnover is retirements,” he continued. “And we work to fill those spots quickly. Many new hires are second-generation employees, who of course may take up positions across the organization. These prospects are often the best of those we interview.”

Collins said the shop workforce “tends to be relatively young, and they usually stay for a long time. The downside is our retirement program is so good, [that those hired at the same time] often leave at the same time. You could say we are victims of our own success.”

The “hard-to-beat” retirement options are determined by a combination of years of service plus age that allows for fairly early retirement. “Some of our recent retirees now spend their full time with their grandchildren or work elsewhere part time,” Collins noted.

Other things that help make the Fairfax Water shops a draw for techs include single-shift operation (Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and air-conditioning. “I fought long and hard for climate-controlled shops,” Collins said. “With A/C, our techs can finish the day strong, and that helps drive employee satisfaction.”

In addition, the Fairfax Water fleet is appealing to some techs because it is diverse, ranging from Class 1 light-duty vehicles up to Class 8 assets. Last, but certainly not least, Collins said the Fairfax fleet is “young compared to many utility fleets,” with light-duty units being 4.5 to 5 years old and heavy-duty units (Class 6 and up) closer to 7 years old.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.


Top Tips to Recruit and Retain Techs

Know your talent pool. Don’t lump millennial and Generation Z recruits into one category – they are distinctly different. “Both generations [put] a strong emphasis on transparency and authenticity,” however.

Talk up benefits. Benefits matter, especially to younger employees. “Perks can make or break an offer acceptance.”

Keep up with the times. Show that you are committed to being on the cutting edge. “Millennials and Gen Z-ers, aka ‘digital natives,’ are used to everything digitized.”

Reach out. Don’t be shy – always network. “Get involved in the local community. Sponsor a junior sports team … Reach out to high schools and teachers at technical colleges. Join the technical school’s advisory board.”

Look sharp. Your shop should be safe, professional and comfortable. “Is your service bay temperature-controlled? Do you have reliable Wi-Fi? How about an employee-only bathroom?”

Money talks. Show employees you value their worth. “Being a mechanic is hard work. You can pay your workers with compliments, but that will go nowhere if they feel underpaid.”

Always be open. Keep prospects on file.If someone reaches out to see if you’re hiring, never turn them down, especially with hard-to-find techs.”

~Adapted from “How to Recruit and Retain Better Mechanics in a Talent Drought” (

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series October 2021

PG&E: Data-Driven Shop Operations

In his role as senior director of shared services: transportation for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), Michael Glover is responsible for everything from field operations and strategic planning to purchasing, telematics and information technology systems for the largest and most diverse utility fleet in the U.S.

The San Francisco-based utility provides natural gas and electricity to 5.2 million customers in an over 70,000-square-mile territory covering the northern two-thirds of California. Its operations are supported by more than 15,500 fleet assets, which are kept rolling by over 350 operational and maintenance employees working out of 63 locations. The asset count includes 10,000 Class 1 through Class 8 over-the-road trucks as well as construction and off-road equipment.

Business Intelligence
Running such a large and varied fleet safely and cost-effectively requires smartly leveraging the data captured, day in and day out, from PG&E’s array of asset management and telematics systems. That information is then transformed into actionable insights through the utility’s business intelligence (BI) platforms.

“For roughly the past 10 years,” Glover said, “most major fleets have utilized fleet management systems” to process data for improving maintenance and fuel economy, lowering operating costs and complying with regulations.

“That’s been the case until the last two years or so with the advent of business intelligence as well as visualization tools,” he continued. “The idea is to deploy these tools system-wide to make better decisions. For example, with BI, we’re able to leverage vehicle information across all our truck orders.”

Glover explained that the fleet started to move information out to the field with a “monthly reporting cadence.” He said that “now we can visualize it and move from a monthly to a daily view for managers, and a lot of traditional and nontraditional users are comfortable accessing the BI platform.”

PG&E’s fleet BI platform is running smoothly and increasing efficiencies daily, but it was developed over several years by layering on new electronic capabilities as they became available.

In addition to tapping fleet management systems for data to process, telematics comes into play. Along with helping improve operator and public safety, such as by reporting unsafe driving and delivering in-cab driver coaching, onboard telematics enables tracking vehicles to reduce the time it takes to locate them for periodic preventive maintenance inspections. Telematics also speeds servicing by allowing mechanics to retrieve diagnostic trouble codes before heading out on a road call.

On the Fly
“Four or five years ago,” Glover said, “you could create an Excel spreadsheet for visualizing data, but large suppliers could offer services to convert that data to be more useful. Now, a major software provider has made it easier for us to do this in-house.

“That means we can work internally to make changes on the fly,” he continued. “Where Excel is static, a BI platform is proactive and flexible and a faster way to leverage data. These platforms are connected to the fleet’s data flow and allow updating daily. And they connect to the database with far less coding.”

Glover pointed out that “fleet information system providers are now integrating into BI platforms, but with less flexibility than having it built to our specs. Here, we’ve approached it with a data scientist on staff who’s an expert on processing information.”

He said the fleet “unlocked the secret sauce in an ‘aha moment’ when we could see that pairing a data scientist with senior and operational managers would lead to capturing and translating the data that they needed to see and act on.”

The upshot is that managers throughout the fleet operation are gaining sharper insights to monitor operational efficiencies in real time as well as greater visibility into the cost and time allocation for preventive maintenance, unscheduled repairs, road calls and so forth. 

At Your Fingertips
Of course, having “information at your fingertips goes both ways,” Glover pointed out. “On the one hand, it can be a challenge to get a vehicle in for a preventive maintenance inspection, especially as we want to pinpoint that before it becomes a compliance issue. On the other, with a BI platform, I can report up to PG&E’s leadership on the level of our PM compliance.”

Turning to specific metrics, Glover said the key performance indicators that PG&E keeps tabs on via its BI platforms include (1) mechanic productivity (“the hours actually wrenching”) and (2) ensuring repair and preventive maintenance quality and compliance, including adhering to regulated compliance requirements.

He also advised that visibility into compliance must take into account that “we are working with in excess of 30 different vehicle maintenance plans as well as that all our mechanics are journey-level, but with different sets of specific skills.” With those variables in mind, Glover said the idea is to track over time the average performance in hours. “Then we can see if added training or tools are needed to shorten the time spent. Or, on the other hand, might the mechanic be doing maintenance faster than they should?”

Glover suggested that any utility fleet that moves to leveraging BI systems should start out by “going on a listening tour and talking to those who use the equipment and those who repair it. For example, you might pull a number on asset availability that may feel good yet not reflect daily operational realities. With better data, you can report out numbers that reflect the actual situation.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.


How Leasing May Smooth the Electric Transition

It may be too early in the game for fleet operators to factor in the impact of battery-electric trucks on maintenance costs and resale values.

Some experts hold that the cost of maintenance may be lower thanks to fewer moving parts on electric vehicles, yet it may be higher for other aspects, such as future battery replacements. But they also contend that the savings generated from not consuming diesel fuel may make maintenance costs a wash initially, and then they will improve in favor of battery-electric vehicles as rising demand brings down acquisition costs. Another factor to consider is fear over accurately predicting future resale values for battery-electric trucks.

Will all that in mind, a utility fleet may want to consider leasing versus buying their first batches of medium- to heavy-duty electric vehicles, such as bucket trucks and Class 8 on-highway haulers.

Of course, then there are the costs around engineering and installing the correct type and number of charging stations for these trucks as well as perhaps those for outside customers. The charging requirements of battery-electric trucks are lessened by the power of regenerative braking, which refers to the electric motor acting as a generator to convert much of the kinetic energy lost when decelerating into energy stored in the vehicle battery. It helps, but it won’t be enough to avoid installing charging infrastructure by a long shot.

A Numbers Game
Leasing versus buying trucks is always a numbers game. And when electric drive is thrown into the mix, more players are involved – truck makers, body upfitters, perhaps separate electric-drive suppliers, and engineers/installers of on-site charging infrastructure. As a result, the number-crunching becomes more complicated.

What’s more, in the medium- to heavy-duty vocational truck segment, the specialized nature of several types of utility company vocational trucks has historically made some leasing companies hesitant to enter this niche market.

However, the handwriting is on the wall for utility fleets to stand out among early adopters of electric trucks. In turn, that movement may compel more vehicle lessors to quote on battery-electric trucks for utilities.

There is also the strong possibility that some providers of truck-charging infrastructure may offer to lease such installations to truck fleets, which would enable scaling up (or down) without needing to seek out new financing.

And if a fleet buys electric trucks instead of leasing them, there are still other companies that will separately lease the replacement of onboard batteries as trucks age in the fleet.

Finally, there is the multifaceted role that a full-service truck lessor may play. They could offer packages that roll in the leasing of charging stations as well as battery replacements with the vehicle lease and complete maintenance services in a one-and-done deal.

Such packaging is getting very creative in the electric arena. For example, on the light-duty truck end, electric vehicle maker Lordstown Motors announced in March an expanded alliance with ARI, Holman Enterprises’ leasing and fleet management division, and an upfit services agreement with Auto Truck Group, Holman’s vehicle fabrication and upfitting division. The aim of the overall deal is to more easily integrate the Lordstown Endurance all-electric commercial pickup truck into the vocational fleet operations of ARI customers, including utilities. According to the two partners, the vehicle procurement agreement addresses terms for the order and delivery of a set number of Endurance trucks over a three-year term.

Resale Value Fears
One of the major factors holding back the electric truck market is fear over future resale values. That’s not because there are expected to be unknown flaws exposed on these trucks down the road; it is simply caution being expressed over how much they might rise or fall in value due to market forces.

This happens with all transformational technology that comes to trucking and is often a major selling point for selecting leasing over buying, especially for a fleet’s initial foray with new alternative vehicle power choices.

To further ease the minds of customers, most leasing companies offer a choice of open-end or closed-end leases to take much of the guesswork out of factoring in resale values at the end of the lease, which may be five or more years in the future.

Here’s how it works, edited from information issued by ARI: With an open-end lease, the fleet assumes the risk of where a vehicle’s future resale value may land. If it is worth less than book value upon termination of the lease, the fleet pays the lessor the difference. If the vehicle is worth more, the lessor remits the difference to the lessee as a depreciation adjustment.

By contrast, with a closed-end lease, the lessor assigns a guaranteed resale value to the vehicle before the lease is initiated. This is based on the lease term plus allowable mileage. If at the end of the lease the vehicle is worth less than the guaranteed resale value, the lessor loses the difference. If the vehicle is worth more, the lessor keeps the difference.

A November 2020 report co-developed by the Environmental Defense Fund on financing the electrification of truck and bus fleets makes the point that the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle market is “on the cusp of an electric transformation” that will “deliver massive societal and economic benefits… [including] achieving a zero-emissions future by 2050.”

To get there, the Environmental Defense Fund states that there must be nothing less than “a new level of collaboration among all stakeholders including policymakers, fleet owners, utilities, financiers, vehicle manufacturers and communities overburdened by air pollution.”

Yet the electric truck market is already jumping, including for bucket trucks. Case in point: Earlier this year, Con Edison announced it is working with vehicle maker Lion Electric and its partner Posi-Plus to develop the country’s first all-electric bucket truck on a Class 8 Lion8 all-electric chassis with aerial equipment drive.

“Medium- and heavy-duty trucks are more challenging to electrify than cars, but the purchase of our first all-electric bucket truck shows the market is real today and it will only accelerate from here,” said Con Edison CEO Tim Cawley in a statement.

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.


SoCal Edison: Taking a Hands-On Approach to Running Battery-Electric Trucks

Even for an electric utility, converting to battery-electric trucks is no flip of a switch. At Southern California Edison, changing over from diesel to electric is a step-by-step process to determine how best to reduce harmful exhaust emissions from its commercial vehicles.

Rosemead, California-based SCE is steadily working toward the goals set by its parent, Edison International, to electrify 100% of its light-duty passenger vehicles, 60% of its forklifts, 30% of its medium-duty vehicles and pickup trucks, and 8% of its heavy-duty trucks by 2030.

Edison International estimates that by “pursuing its fleet electrification goals, it will save more than 620,000 gallons of fuel annually and eliminate close to 6,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.”

To electrify its fleet, SCE has installed more than 370 charge ports at its facilities and expects it will need some 1,300 more chargers to achieve the electrification goals by 2030. 

SCE is also installing charge ports for businesses to provide charging to cars. And it’s keeping the commercial-vehicle customer in mind as well. The utility plans to construct as many as 870 charging sites to serve medium- and heavy-duty truck and transit fleets.

A Three-Month Trial
To help hit its electrification goals, last November SCE took in a pre-production Freightliner eCascadia Class 8 battery-electric tractor from the truck maker’s Customer Experience (CX) Fleet to begin a three-month trial in the utility’s material-transport operations.

“SCE’s testing of the eCascadia is a major step down the path of achieving our company’s recently announced fleet electrification goals,” said Todd Carlson, principal manager of fleet asset management, who manages the company’s fleet of over 6,200 vehicles.

He said a Class 8 battery-electric truck could, over time, replace from 15 to 18 diesel-powered tractors used by SCE for heavy-material hauling. The trade cycle for this set of trucks is currently set at eight years. Other medium- and heavy-duty units that are candidates for electrification include crane, derrick and bucket trucks.

Carlson pointed out that SCE has served on the design team for the eCascadia for the last several years. “It’s nice to see our work and Freightliner’s work come to fruition with this product. One of our engineers was on the [design] committee, and we had input on such factors as battery location, wheelbases and whether to have an ePTO developed for outfitting work trucks.”

He noted that “it’s our privilege to test this pre-production unit, and it helps us with our planning.” The utility plans to test other electric heavy- and medium-duty trucks along with electric pickup trucks.

The eCascadia model is slated to enter production in 2022; the test units in the Freightliner CX Fleet are “early series development” trucks meant to test the integration of battery-electric vehicles into large-scale fleet operations, according to the truck maker.

Freightliner has stated that when the eCascadia enters full production, it is planned to provide up to 730 peak horsepower. Its batteries are expected to provide 550 kWh of usable capacity, which in turn would support an operating range up to 250 miles. Also, the batteries are expected to have the fast-charge capability to charge up to 80% – providing a range of 200 miles – in about 90 minutes. 

Hauling Heavy Equipment
At SCE, the test tractor is hauling heavy equipment, such as transformers, wire reels and switch gears, from the utility’s Irwindale, California, warehouse to its service centers and laydown yards. The 80,000-pound-GVW-rated tractor has a range of up to 250 miles per charge while towing typical loads for SCE.

Carlson said SCE is “seeing the quoted range of up to 250 miles is pretty close to our real-world experience, which for these trucks is a heavy load uphill, and an empty one downhill.”

To support the conversion of SCE’s material-transport fleet, a high-amperage DC fast-charging system has been installed outdoors at the Irwindale facility. “Most of our chargers will be low-amp,” Carlson advised, “to provide overnight end-of-shift charging.

“We’ve also already built the infrastructure needed to handle a dozen trucks charging at the same time,” he continued. “Overall, our plan is for most trucks to be charged overnight with low-amp chargers. The DC charger is to quickly charge a truck for a second shift. A fast-charging system is more expensive to install, and the charger itself is more expensive.”

Battery-electric trucks also boast the power of regenerative braking, which refers to the electric motor acting as a generator to convert much of the kinetic energy lost when decelerating into energy stored in the vehicle battery. As Carlson pointed out, that benefit comes most into play for trucks run in stop-and-go operations, such as refuse trucks. 

Training and Maintenance Considerations
Along with installing charging infrastructure, Carlson said it’s “safety-critical to provide drivers with training on how to operate these vehicles. The training is not time consuming for us, but it’s necessary to show there are some differences in how a battery-electric [truck] operates compared to a diesel-powered one.”

As for projections on the potential impact of battery-electric trucks on SCE’s maintenance operations, Carlson indicated it’s too early in the game to make any predictions. “We look forward to seeing how maintenance costs play out over the next decade,” he said. “To look at it conservatively, we assume those costs will be equal to those of a diesel truck.”

Carlson said that how often a truck’s battery pack may need to be replaced will be a key cost factor. “Would there be, say, one battery replacement on one out of 10 trucks?” Given such unknowns, he added that, “As of now, we want to give ourselves some room to move on maintenance costing.”

About the Author: David Cullen is an award-winning journalist who specializes in covering the trucking industry. Based in Connecticut, he writes for several business publications.

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