Author: Fiona Soltes


Charging Ahead: Integrating Telematics in Electric Vehicles

Over the last decade, Southern California Edison has worked with a handful of telematics providers. That’s meant plenty of learning opportunities with both traditional and electric vehicles. The utility company’s fleet has roughly 6,300 units; about 10% of those are electrified. And it’s an ongoing challenge to be able to report the data that the company desires.

“The ability of telematics providers to provide data on EVs has increased, but the complexity of EV software and frequency of software updates can leave the telematics providers chasing data,” said Todd Carlson, principal manager for fleet asset management at SCE. “It’s a constant effort to keep providers current with what is offered in the EV space, and there’s generally a lag.”

Randy Scodellaro, technical specialist in telematics at SCE, is tasked with overseeing the telematics hardware performance across the utility’s fleet and providing technical assistance to field personnel for diagnostics and repair, among other things. He likened the transition of a telematics provider from a gas-powered vehicle to a plug-in hybrid or EV to a computer upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 10: It may be more powerful and have better functionality, but more learning will still be required – every time.

Almost a decade ago, when SCE did its first full telematics installation, it didn’t take long to discover that the new system didn’t work with a number of the hybrid units in the fleet. SCE rose to the challenge and solved the problem, and that lasted for a few years, Carlson said. But then, a significant safety issue arose: A telematics system caused battery issues in a plug-in hybrid; the vehicle ended up powering itself down in the middle of a highway. The driver was fine, but the provider had to come up with a programming update.

“It’s this iterative process of constantly managing, fixing, solving and mapping software on the vehicle to the telematics providers,” Carlson said. Ongoing telematics hardware changes complicate the issues. And that doesn’t even take into account ongoing software updates from brands like Tesla, which may not come through an OBD2 port at all. SCE doesn’t have Teslas in its fleet yet, but the company has tested some and currently has reservations in place for future vehicle testing.

SCE projects that 75% of the vehicles on California roads will need to be EVs by 2045 in order to meet state climate goals. In an effort to lead that transformation by example, the utility wants to optimize electrification within their fleet through the continued use of telematics. Over the last year, SCE has been in an extensive request-for-proposal process for a new telematics provider, evaluating roughly 20 vendors. The company declined to say which one they landed on for the next decade, but they have wisdom to share when it comes to selecting and integrating the right solution.

Kevin Tovar, manager of fleet planning and strategy at SCE, spoke of the big picture of telematics integration. Conventionally, he said, telematics will relay how gas is used per driving segment but not necessarily how many kilowatts of power are being put into the vehicle battery. The desire, then, has been not only to measure fuel consumption across the fleet but to measure overall energy consumption.

“In the long run, we’ll need to know where we’ll need charging stations,” Tovar said.

SCE also included reporting requirements and service expectations in its scope of work for current and future EV models. Not all telematics providers have been willing or able to play, even if they agree the functionality should be there.

In the meantime, experts at The Motley Fool – a private financial and investing advice company based in Alexandria, Virginia – recently pondered whether 2020 would be the year of the electric vehicle (see The reasoning? Options are abundant, with numerous OEMs upping their game; EVs are “more attractive than ever”; and range anxiety is almost gone. That last point is one that SCE has linked to telematics. Data can be used to reduce range anxiety by showing, for example, how far most vehicles actually drive. Still in the works, however, are solid solutions for storm support, such as options for portable charging when electricity isn’t available.

As a whole, the telematics category includes numerous providers with varying levels of product capability. It remains a moving target as vehicle software, vehicle hardware and telematics supplier functionality change and evolve.

Each provider decides how much complexity they want to bite off, Carlson said – and fleet professionals must decide the same.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Standards for a New System
Is your fleet evaluating a telematics system for EVs? Randy Scodellaro, technical specialist in telematics at Southern California Edison, recently offered these four standards against which to assess a system.

  • Regardless of whether the solution will be installed internally or by a contractor, it has to be done in a safe manner, Scodellaro said. He has come across installers who have cut corners in the name of speed, and it just won’t do.
  • Relevant functionality. Telematics solutions typically are not “set it and forget it”; integration takes work, he said, and that goes beyond just hardware to include programming.
  • Minimal vehicle damage. Installing a system is “very, very intrusive,” Scodellaro said. Not to mention, it’s also quite a delicate process.
  • Serviceability. “There are third-party installers that are absolutely fantastic,” he said. “But then something goes wrong, and trying to find the thing is like the greatest Easter egg hunt in the world. With our model, we repair these things. Even if you hire someone else, the more they have to look, the more they put the vehicle at risk for collateral damage.”

Improving Ergonomics through Better Truck Specs

Small adjustments can sometimes make a big impact. For those who work with utility trucks, details like properly placed steps, strategically placed handles, appropriately grippy surfaces and convenient storage can mean the difference between safety and injury. A careful eye toward work truck specs, then, can aid in ergonomics – and result in a happier, healthier workforce.

Chris Jolly, director of operations, fleet services, for Duke Energy Carolinas West Region, said that at one point, some of the utility’s trucks didn’t have appropriate storage locations for orange safety cones, and other storage locations weren’t working due to company-mandated changes in cone sizes. So, cones often were picked up and thrown in the bed of a truck. Workers who did this job after job, day after day, could have been exposed to stress injuries in the shoulder and back. But now all of the trucks have cone storage capabilities on or near the front bumpers, and the next generation of trucks will include further improvements.

Jolly also reported that as of late September, his entire region – including nine garage locations – has been injury-free for five years. That kind of accomplishment takes a decided focus on the company safety culture, and proper truck and equipment specs play a role as well.

Every year at Duke Energy, fleet services schedules a “Road Show.” These meetings, Jolly said, are intended to serve as places to gather ideas and improvement recommendations from customers, customer delivery (distribution), transmission, fleet services, health and safety, and OEM representatives. There’s classroom time, trucks on hand to inspect and touch, and opportunities for everyone to provide input. Jolly takes part to better understand what his customers are saying, and to be able to support them once trucks arrive and throughout the lives of the vehicles.

“We’ll go through line item by line item,” he said. “We get so many different ideas, and each idea is addressed and considered.”

Jolly has learned, for example, to consider the height of steps used to get in and out of a truck. Grab handles – including those for getting into and out of an aerial device – should allow operators and passengers to follow the three-points-of-contact rule, which states that with two hands and two feet, three of the four should be in contact with the ground or equipment until stability is established. Duke Energy has experimented with different surfaces on steps and the like, working to find solutions that are aggressive enough for boots to “stick” in adverse conditions but not so aggressive that they may catch pant legs and create a hazard.

Jolly also has gained a greater understanding of the importance of housekeeping in the backs of trucks – and around pedestals – with items properly stowed to avoid anyone tripping over them. In addition to helping prevent tripping, this allows technicians to better position themselves ergonomically when making repairs around the pedestals, torqueing bolts or making hydraulic repairs. One Road Show uncovered the importance of the truck’s toolbox configuration and placement to prevent line technicians from having to crawl under the boom or over material to access the toolbox, creating a safer overall work environment.

The Awareness Challenge
At Element Fleet Management (, meanwhile, Ken Gillies, senior truck consultant, said that – in terms of ergonomics – he’s been hearing about reduced seat travel, the adjustment that allows for proper driver positioning and back support. Positioning and back support can be put at risk in certain circumstances, particularly when full-sized vans are replaced with smaller cargo vans.

“As the vans have gotten smaller, the driver compartment also has shrunk, especially when there’s a need for a partition in the vehicle,” Gillies said. “The problem with that is that a driver taller than 5’10” will be pretty cramped. The other challenge is that seats have gotten narrower along with the reduced seat travel. What you end up with there is that drivers have weight borne by the side of the seat rather than the cushion inside. That can lead to pinched nerves and numbness in the legs. I’ve had specific interactions with customers where this has been a problem.”

The good news is that Gillies is seeing more collaboration between company leadership and end users of equipment in general, including the use of on-site visits so that leaders can observe not just how a vehicle is being used, but also how the employee interacts with the vehicle.

“Awareness is a challenge for many fleet managers,” he said. “You can’t possibly know everything about everything. Some things just don’t hit their radar until they’re forced into it because of an unfortunate accident.”

In sharing what he’s seen work for others, however, clients have told Gillies they’re glad they’ve been made aware. In addition, input from the field “has to be taken to heart and analyzed,” he said. “Drivers may ask for the sun, moon and stars, but in my experience, they’re appreciative of someone taking an interest.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Reducing Injury Statistics
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) make up one in three cases of worker injury across the nation. The service sector – including the utility industry – accounts for one in for four work-related MSDs.

So, how can fleet work to reduce those statistics? Chris Jolly, director of operations, fleet services, for Duke Energy Carolinas West Region, said creating a safety culture requires making things “personal” with employees. “I always want to set the expectation that we work safely,” he said. “That’s our number one priority. But number two, we actively care about you as an employee. I want you to have that same philosophy for yourself, and that same caring attitude about your teammate. We want you to go home to your family every day the way you came in.”


Bucket Trucks, Powered Up

New Jersey-based Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) has a little over 500 bucket trucks in its fleet. Of those, 327 have some degree of electrification. That might mean an original Bohlinger electric drive system from decades back, or perhaps a more current and elaborate work-up that operates the boom and provides climate control of the cab and exportable power for the crew.

“A lot of the technology [crews were] using, years ago, it would have been very hydraulically driven,” said Jay Marchitello, PSE&G transportation supervisor. “For instance, up at the pole top, they would use hydraulic tools to drill holes, screw conductors together and what have you. Now, however, that’s changed to battery-powered tools; they’re lighter, there’s less impact on the people, and less impact on the truck.”

The exportable power of the complete system, then, allows the crews to charge and use these battery-powered tools at the top.

It’s a long way from where they began.

Back in 2007, PSE&G became one of the first utilities in the U.S. to use hybrid aerial lifts, installing electric drive units in its traditional lifts. The lifts could operate on battery power, reducing idling time as well as carbon emissions. Even before that, though, the utility implemented the Bohlinger electric drive systems, powering hydraulic systems through batteries driving a DC motor pump combination. That early-generation option was “really just a forklift-style battery, a separate switch that turned the system on and let you use the bucket truck electrically,” Marchitello said. “But as hydraulic demand of the trucks became greater, more robust systems had to come out to support this.”

PSE&G was heavily into the movement for the electrification of booms and the use of electric power takeoff systems (ePTOs). Then anti-idling legislation spurred the utility to look for further options, moving more toward idle reduction as its emphasis.

Of course, needs vary among different utilities, and a variety of options have surfaced as batteries have gotten lighter and as chassis manufacturers are moving toward offering idle-mitigation solutions and engine-off cab comfort themselves.

At Terex Utilities (, for example, the conversation a decade ago was focused primarily on providing ePTOs for extended use, said Ted Barron, vertical market manager. The original HyPower Hybrid System, which came out in 2007, was a ready solution for lengthy work to be done while the vehicle was sitting still. The Terex HyPower system evolved and expanded across the product line over time. In 2017, Terex introduced HyPower IM.

“The ‘IM’ stands for ‘idle mitigation’ and offers a lighter-weight and lower-cost system that is made for trouble truck service work, where the aerial lift is deployed multiple times in a day for short periods of time,” Barron said.

What’s Needed?
As ePTO and anti-idling options abound, it begs the question: How are utility fleet professionals supposed to know what’s needed in their fleets?

Barron, who also is chairman of the Green Truck Association’s board of governors, said the first questions to ask when spec’ing an ePTO system have to revolve around the truck’s duty cycle.

Questions also must focus on reliability. Systems have improved over time, Barron said, but fleet professionals looking for solutions should still seek out other users for stories about their experiences. Despite customer desire for products that save fuel and are more environmentally friendly, such systems remain a small percentage of overall sales for Terex Utilities, at less than 10%.

Marchitello, meanwhile, said it’s important to know how quickly a system’s battery pack can replenish itself after being used in driving; the longevity of the battery can still be an Achilles’ heel.

“As battery technology has gotten better over the years, we’ve seen an increase in longevity, and that’s going to keep getting better, because batteries are becoming lighter and lighter,” Marchitello said. In years past, he noted, a large forklift battery might have weighed 2,000 pounds, chipping away at payload and fuel economy. “Now, the battery might weigh a few hundred pounds and have the same capacity as that 2,000-pound battery had. With some trucks, we now see three or four years before they need any kind of major maintenance on their battery systems.”

Fleet professionals also should ask about the infrastructure needed to charge the systems at their home bases.

One other consideration? There might be concern about what the operators will think. Marchitello, however, said he’s seen many come to enjoy the quiet environment electrification – at any level – can provide.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


By the Numbers
There’s no doubt that electrification during idling saves fuel. As for the environment? Jay Marchitello, transportation supervisor at PSE&G, estimated that his utility’s bucket trucks sit three hours per day running on battery power rather than fuel, “which equates to a lot.” With an average of 22.38 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per gallon of diesel burned, that means a reduction of over 4.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year by PSE&G alone. 

“You’ll always have your naysayers, the people who say that these things won’t work,” Marchitello said. “But then you see the confidence of the users, and how these trucks perform, and that doubt starts to shift on its own.”


Technology Tools to Ensure Proper Fuel Use

Remember the days when fuel consumption was likely to be documented on a clipboard near the pump?

Chris Lindquist does, too. Lindquist, who spent almost 30 years managing fleet and fleet operations for Colorado Springs Utilities before other opportunities, said vehicle numbers and gallons used were marked, “but reconciling those wasn’t very accurate.”

Times have changed.

Fleet professionals now have access to telematics, employee and vehicle tracking technology, fuel card controls and more. Data is there for the taking – but a careful eye is still required to ensure proper fuel use.

“Fuel is the largest-volume operations and maintenance expense a fleet manager has,” Lindquist said. “It represents the most transactions in the month. It takes a tremendous amount of time to reconcile, but when you consider the amount spent on fuel in the overall budget, you have to allocate the associated amount of time to manage it.”

It’s no surprise, then, that telematics and other systems have become commonplace: Budgets continue to tighten and accountability to stakeholders continues to rise.

Added Benefit
Improper fuel use typically isn’t the primary reason why fleet professionals seek out a solution from a provider like Geotab or Verizon Connect. Rather, detecting discrepancies is an added benefit.

Jason Walton, segment marketing manager at Verizon Connect (, said the company’s platform really shines in areas like efficiency, such as helping fleets improve response times and matching the right driver to the right equipment to the right job. But Verizon Connect also integrates with a variety of fuel card providers, increasing visibility and turning the information into valuable metrics.

Jordan Guter, associate vice president, solutions engineering at Geotab (, said many come to the company seeking solutions for predictive maintenance, compliance, safety and security. With its open platform, Geotab is a “one-stop shop” for all things fleet management and transportation, added Sherry Calkins, associate vice president, strategic partners at Geotab.

“One of the interesting things about utility fleets is that they don’t tend to hire drivers,” Guter said. “They hire people who do their job but also happen to drive.” That, in turn, can lead to less experienced drivers on the road. Improper fuel use might be discovered while utilizing data to increase efficiencies by, say, reducing idling, harsh driving and speed.

“A lot of times, what will end up happening is that when you see the driver makeup, you can see who wastes fuel versus who doesn’t,” Walton said. When two drivers do similar work, yet Driver A regularly spends more than Driver B, “you’re able to make that correlation and work with those drivers to figure out why.”

It used to be that companies specified the fueling stations to be used by their drivers, on-site or not, but today fuel card usage has added complexity along with convenience. Data, however, can show the typical number of gallons used per hour by an individual vehicle, the typical number of fuel purchases per month, the number of gallons per transaction and more.

With rules in place, most systems can flag discrepancies, Lindquist said. “But once there are exceptions, you’ve got to dig in.” He has been fortunate, he said, to have an analyst dedicated to fleet operations.

The biggest challenges Lindquist sees are related to setting proper baselines and getting the correct meter into the system. “Telematics has made things better,” he said. “But it’s still not 100%. It’s a heck of a lot more accurate, though, than an employee putting in the data.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


4 Ways to Prevent Improper Fuel Use
There are numerous ways to help ensure proper fuel use within your utility fleet. Here are four to consider:

  1. Allocate fuel cards and PINs. Allocating fuel cards gives you more control over the purchase of fuel, but it’s also worth prompting drivers to enter a personal identification number when using them.
  2. Implement fuel limits. Many fuel cards have the option of setting purchase limits so drivers can only buy a certain amount of fuel at one time.
  3. Conduct manual cross-checks. It’s important to cross-check all fuel purchase receipts to verify that drivers are providing you with the full picture.
  4. Highlight consequences. Ultimately, you should make the consequences of improper fuel use clear to your drivers. Some may not understand just how serious it is.

Source: Chevin Fleet Solutions


The Fleet Manager of the Future

Being a utility fleet manager today can be tough. How much tougher will it be tomorrow?

With the constant advancement of technology, the increasing need for communications savvy and leadership acumen, ever-decreasing budgets, and an aging workforce being replaced by a younger cohort lacking institutional knowledge and experience, it’s a nail-biter of a time.

So, how does a utility fleet manager prepare for the future?

Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet manager for the Eugene Water & Electric Board in Eugene, Oregon, said that people skills are huge, especially when it comes to the ability to “hold yourself accountable and focus on the things that matter most to the operation.”

Times have changed a lot since Lentsch started in fleet almost 40 years ago, and they’re only going to keep changing. It used to be that a fleet manager started as a mechanic and worked his or her way up. Today, however, with educational programs specifically aimed at the career and companies increasingly expecting relevant certifications and training, there can be additional emphasis on the “professional” side of being a fleet professional. That can mean higher-level presentations to management, greater participation with regard to company objectives and an elevated need to manage “up,” as well as manage down.

In addition, Lentsch noted that it is essential for a fleet manager to have the ability to use basic technology tools like Microsoft Office to create PowerPoint presentations and incorporate formulas into Excel spreadsheets.

“Excel is one that I see a lot of folks struggling with,” he said.

Paul Lauria, longtime fleet management consultant and president of Mercury Associates (, took that a step further. The utility industry as a whole, he said, remains behind the curve when it comes to the application of data analysis to decision-making, forecasting and planning as it relates to managing a fleet.

Microsoft Excel is a very powerful and often-used tool, he said, “but the future is going to be about the Internet of Things and the integration of data from a wide array of sources – from your work order management system, your fuel management system, from National Weather Service, from a workforce management system, from a financial management system – to create much more of a real-time view of what’s going on with the fleet. That’s something that, I think, most utility fleet managers are not prepared for.”

Lauria sees three challenges bearing down on fleet managers that he often terms, collectively, as “the perfect storm”: ongoing advances in automotive technology, like the electrification of vehicles; advances in information technology, such as the Internet of Things; and the present and coming loss of institutional knowledge as the current aging workforce retires.

“Most utility companies today are highly dependent on the practical experience of fleet professionals, who, in many cases, worked their way up through the ranks,” Lauria said. “These are folks that often have strong qualitative skills. They don’t have good Microsoft Excel spreadsheet skills, but they have a very strong, intuitive grasp of what it takes to keep vehicles and equipment in service. They’ve built up relationships with business unit representatives, with suppliers, with mechanics, with operators, over decades. And much of that knowledge is in the process of being lost. These professionals are being replaced by a new generation of professionals who are more comfortable working with numbers, who are not afraid of being more transparent, more accountable and more objective in the measurement of performance. But they don’t have the practical experience of having turned a wrench or worked on a shop floor. For the next 10 to 15 years, in my opinion, industry after industry after industry is going to have to navigate this change that’s underway. … We’re seeing a lot of storm clouds gathering in a lot of the organizations that we’re working with. And it’s that human resources component that’s getting the least attention.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Organizational Prep
At the same time individual fleet professionals are ensuring they have the skills needed for a successful future, organizations may need to take steps to guarantee they’re ready, too. Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates, said that includes several components.

First, although it may not be as much of an issue in utility fleets as elsewhere, a robust replacement program should be in place. This can help reduce demands for corrective maintenance and repairs, move toward more predictive repair and preventive maintenance, and reduce pressure on in-house maintenance and repair programs.

Next, fleet management practices must be institutionalized. All too often, Lauria said, knowledge about what needs to be done and the way it should be handled resides solely in the fleet professional’s head. The development of formal policies and procedures, awareness of key performance indicators and the process for benchmarking those KPIs should be considered. In addition to helping prevent the loss of institutional knowledge – especially after the retirement of a longtime fleet professional – the gathering of this information can help uncover and address any weak links in the chain, Lauria said.

And lastly, organizations must think about the employee skills that will be needed to complement technology in the days to come. The addition of new technology solutions such as telematics doesn’t lead to better decision-making on its own, Lauria said. Rather, software is simply an enabler; employees must be able to use it effectively. “At Mercury, we see organizations that have invested millions of dollars in information technology, but their decisions are not much more data-driven than they were 30 years ago,” he said. “They’re using the systems, essentially, as very expensive electronic filing cabinets.”


Making the 5G Connection

In late 2018, AT&T announced a standards-based, mobile 5G network in parts of 12 U.S. cities, with seven more areas to follow. The company also said it was on the verge of bringing 5G Evolution technologies to 400 markets, enabling faster speeds, wider coverage and lower latency, which improves streaming capabilities. Verizon, meanwhile, has been making strides of its own, announcing Verizon 5G Home – billed as “the world’s first commercial 5G broadband internet service” – last fall.

Some have eagerly awaited these advances and their impact on connectivity, communication and possibility. Others? They may be impressed that what’s long been talked about appears to finally have arrived.

Lou Vella, telematics product development manager for fleet management company ARI (, said it’s still difficult to say how 5G will impact operations for utility fleets. But possibilities are beginning to emerge – and not just in terms of autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles.

“As the technology continues to evolve, companies are finding new, innovative ways to leverage increased network speeds,” Vella said. “These higher speeds make it viable and affordable to implement technology, such as in-cab video, as a means to supplement traditional telematics data and provide further insights into driver performance. As 5G networks become more widely available, I believe the immediacy of data, combined with the amount of data available, will fuel further innovations that will be leveraged to improve performance of both the vehicles and their drivers.”

Mobeen Khan, assistant vice president of IoT Solutions for AT&T (, also speaks of the possibilities of near real-time video feed, akin to video surveillance. In addition to providing almost immediate feedback about routes, driver behavior, and safety of the driver, vehicle and any cargo or auxiliary equipment, he said, it could help with accident information or reconstruction. “That can happen and can be deployed at a high capacity with the 5G introduction.”

Because 5G has a wider bandwidth for data, the connection between driver and equipment can be much more seamless.

“We are deploying the carrier services, the network services, at a pretty aggressive rate,” Khan said. “However, to utilize all of these capabilities, you will need the cameras and vehicle devices to utilize the 5G capability, and then the software to be able to deploy these services.”

Some of these applications are already in beta testing, Khan said, and with video feeds in particular, he anticipates the introduction of video-based analytics for fleets supported by 5G in the near future. “Now, in terms of actual proliferation of this into fleets, especially public, that’s more complicated,” he said. There’s the life cycle of the fleet to consider, for example, in addition to regulatory and insurance structures to work through.

“It’s going to be a journey over the next few years to start to get the real benefit of 5G into the fleet world,” Khan said.

Keep an Eye Out
So, does that mean the forward-thinking public fleet professional should simply put off further investigation? Not so fast. Khan suggested utility fleet professionals keep an eye on two things: integration and augmentation of the fleet with video services. “That is a must-do,” he said. “It does really provide additional benefits to you.”

Where applicable, Khan also suggested watching the way 5G is incorporated into asset-tracking devices. The high-speed, low-power wide area networks of 5G will mean longer battery life and lower costs. In retail, for example, this could translate to a tracking device on every pallet; possibilities for fleets and auxiliary equipment are up for grabs.

At ARI, meanwhile, Vella advises utility fleets to “ensure that their preferred telematics service provider is ready to quickly adopt the 5G technology. We also recommend that utility fleet professionals themselves prepare to embrace the enhancements 5G is poised to deliver and begin considering the opportunities – and challenges – that will accompany this increased operational insight.”

As with previous evolutions in telematics communications, Vella said, ARI is doing its part to prepare for what’s on the horizon.

“With 5G technology very much top of mind for many in the industry, we’re working to optimize our ability to integrate the increased flow of data along with our capabilities to transform that data into actionable information,” he said. “We also recognize that some of the critical operational data captured by a comprehensive telematics program is best leveraged directly by our clients, so we’re also ensuring that our user interfaces are capable of providing access to this data quickly and easily.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Up to Speed: A Primer of 5G Terminology

  • Bandwidth: The measure of data that can be transmitted in a particular amount of time.
  • Low latency: A computer network optimized to handle a lot of data with minimal delay; useful in, for example, streaming and providing real-time access.
  • 5G: The fifth generation of cellular mobile communications; benefits include the ability to support higher data rates, increase system capacity, provide greater connectivity, reduce delays and cut down on costs.
  • Edge computing: The ability to process information at the “edge” of a network, near its source, such as on a smart device, rather than in the cloud or at a centralized data center.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Still Packed with Promise

In the transportation sector, fuel cell technology has long been on the brink of breaking through for a variety of medium- and heavy-duty applications. We’re still not quite there yet, the experts say – but the promise continues.

“Increasingly, the toughest remaining challenges for heavy-duty fuel cell trucks relate to the hydrogen fuel they run on,” said Jon Leonard, senior vice president at Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (, a clean transportation and energy consulting company. “Like compressed natural gas vehicles, most fuel cell vehicles run on compressed hydrogen [CH2] that must be carried onboard the vehicle using heavy, expensive, high-pressure tanks. Although this presents tradeoffs on cost, range and other factors, onboard CH2 storage is robust and proven.”

Other challenges include the high cost of the hydrogen fuel and its limited availability due to a paucity of hydrogen fueling stations. “Moreover,” Leonard added, “the limited number of existing hydrogen stations are largely geared for light-duty vehicles like the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, etc. The only hydrogen stations that can accommodate heavy-duty vehicles are mostly found on transit properties.”

All the same, there is forward movement. Light-duty fuel cell vehicles manufactured and sold by the likes of Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are proving their worth – and inspiring the promise of other, heavier-duty applications in the future.

Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (, sees medium- and heavy-duty applications as a “sweet spot” for fuel cell technology. First, he said, fleet applications can help provide efficiencies in the buildout of infrastructure. And second, fuel cell technology is similar to current systems, in which the size of the fuel cell can be scaled to meet power requirements. According to Markowitz, many business customers and policymakers see it like this: “Fuel cells for medium- and heavy-duty trucks seem to be the only solution that can replicate the current operator’s experience for range and fueling/refueling time of the fleet.”

Markowitz also often comes across the misconception that battery electric vehicle technology is more mature than fuel cell vehicle technology, he said, but that’s just not the case. As a zero-emission vehicle application, “it’s actually moving at a more rapid pace.”

A Potential Game Changer
Leonard, for his part, points out Toyota’s recent announcement that it will build heavy-duty truck fuel cell systems for Class 8 trucks as a “potential game changer.”

“Toyota is now in the beta (‘2.0’) stage of building, testing and demonstrating this system,” he said. “Notably, Toyota does not seem likely to manufacture Class 8 trucks (of any architecture). Instead, it appears likely to supply fuel cell drivetrain systems to heavy-duty truck OEMs. Still, for a major world-class automotive OEM like Toyota – which owns medium-duty truck OEM Hino – to make major investments in heavy-duty fuel cell drivetrains is a major step forward.”

In addition, Leonard noted, other heavy-duty truck OEMs like Kenworth are working on fuel cell architectures for Class 8 trucks, too, collaborating with innovative electric-drivetrain providers like TransPower and US Hybrid to advance the technology. And Ballard Power Systems will likely bring its PEM fuel cell stack for use in heavy-duty applications to market in 2019. “The company has said that this new stack will reduce total cost of ownership, has a longer operating lifetime and has a higher power density, among other benefits,” Leonard said.

When it comes to use in, say, bucket trucks and digger derricks, Leonard said that most of these types of applications require power takeoff capability. The value proposition here would likely be similar to hybrid-electric architectures, he said, but until there are demos of near-commercial products, unknowns remain.

“As with broader applications, much of the answer relates to the cost of hydrogen fuel,” Leonard said. “Right now, hydrogen costs $10 to $15 per kilogram, which translates to about $12 to $18 per diesel gallon equivalent. … The fuel cell system’s higher efficiency helps offset the much higher cost, but this still has significant cost impacts on end users.”

Without proportional government subsidies, no alternative fuel platform makes economic sense to end users if it imposes both higher capital costs and higher fuel costs, he said. “In many trucking operations, fuel costs are, after labor costs, the leading determinant of total operational cost.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Keeping an Eye on the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Horizon
Those interested in the advance of fuel cell technology can hone in on several different areas.

First, according to Jon Leonard, senior vice president at Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, utility fleet professionals should monitor progress with light-duty fuel cell vehicles and the extent that such progress appears to be transferring upward to medium-duty trucks. In particular, they can keep an eye on close relationships between light-duty and medium-duty OEMs, such as Toyota’s relationship with Hino.

Second, utility fleet professionals should monitor whether the buildout of hydrogen stations “at least meets the announced expectations and magnitude,” Leonard said.

Third, Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, expects to see “more and more truck manufacturers and outfitters looking at fuel cells,” increasing both awareness and availability.

And finally, Markowitz said, “We’ll most likely see greater demand by policymakers toward zero emissions in fleets in the medium- and heavy-duty range.”


The Search is On for Quality Technicians

Dale Collins, CAFM, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia, faces an increasingly disturbing and familiar scenario in the next handful of years: Five of the eight people working in his two repair facilities will retire.

The good news is that his organization is “pretty attuned” to the so-called Silver Tsunami of aging baby boomers; a quarter of the organization will retire within the same time frame.

“So, we’ve been challenged to create some kind of succession plan,” Collins said, “to figure out the best way to approach this, so we can capture and transfer our institutional knowledge and technical expertise. Then have a good recruitment plan and hire top-notch technicians.”

Ask anyone in literally any industry today, and the story is the same: There simply aren’t enough willing and able workers to handle the roles currently filled by the older set. It’s particularly tough in skilled labor; there can be misconceptions about salaries, opportunities and advancement possibilities. There also can be lack of awareness about the need to attract and train students long before they graduate high school. Due to the dearth of candidates, companies are having to take on employees at ground level – and bump up salaries and benefits.

“There’s been a complete shift,” said Lucas A. White, interim associate dean at Madison Area Technical College School of Applied Science, Engineering & Technology. “Organizations are desperate and can’t be as selective now. The industry has had to increase wages, knowing that they aren’t going to find somebody for $10 to $12 an hour. The students know they can get that in fast food, without a skill.”

The school, then, has worked with partners in various industries to help students gain appropriate knowledge. Industry contacts work with the school’s faculty and career and employment center on both curriculum and internship opportunities. And White encourages anyone with skilled labor holes to fill to look for a chance to do the same.

“With the skilled labor gap, the partnerships between industry and higher education become more crucial,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us to overcome this shortage.”

On His Radar
Collins has this on his radar. He serves on the diesel advisory board of a nearby community college. He’s aiming to host a career day, and to hopefully set up an apprenticeship program. A summer internship already is in place at Fairfax Water, so there is precedent. Along the way, the department also is working with management and human resources to develop current technicians for advancement opportunities, reviewing job descriptions and adjusting as necessary. Current technicians are maintaining notebooks of details that might answer questions for future staff.

One of the challenges for utility fleets, Collins said, is that “you have to be so well-versed in so many areas.” It helps to have someone with a basic skill set – but technicians also must be willing to branch out with less-than-familiar equipment or systems.

“I think you’ve got to find the right fit, from the time they come in the door,” he said. And once they’re in, they may need additional incentive to stay, since the market is so competitive. Benefits at Fairfax Water include health, dental and vision insurance, retirement, federal holidays, annual leave and income stability. There also are in-house training opportunities and a generous education reimbursement plan.

“We’re great for people who want to find a home, a career, and be there for a long time,” Collins said.

Workers are encouraged to take training courses during the day if possible, rather than in their time off at night.

“We start early,” Collins said. “And when they have to go to school at night, after a long day of work, they’re not going to learn then. Coming in the next morning will be tough. We try to make it easy for them.”

“Easy” is not typically the word that comes to mind with recruiting and retaining quality technicians. But Collins, like many, is keeping one eye on today’s staff – and the other watching for tomorrow’s.

“We’ve been discussing this for some time,” he said.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Big-Picture Recruiting
It’s one thing to maintain a small staff of technicians; it’s another to maintain 165 in 42 garage locations.

At Southern California Edison (SCE), the hiring strategy is to recruit high-caliber talent, which has led to “success, stability and less turnover,” said Robert Ruiz, principal manager, fleet operation and maintenance, transportation services.

So, how does that happen, while so many other organizations are facing challenges in recruiting and retaining quality employees?

  • SCE seeks out employees who have a good work ethic, in addition to strong diagnostic skills, the ability to work well with others, and a willingness to learn beyond what they already know and to work safely.
  • The majority of SCE’s newly hired technicians come from local auto dealerships and independent shops, Ruiz said. “We also try to recruit from local community colleges and trade schools.”
  • SCE promotes from within. In addition, compensation includes health benefits, an inclusive work environment and compressed work schedules that candidates find appealing.
  • SCE uses job employment websites and social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor and LinkedIn to reach candidates, and recently launched the SCE Talent Network at to help “track and nurture” prospective workers, Ruiz said.

In addition, Ruiz said, SCE offers wages and incentives that often are superior to those offered by other local companies in Southern California. Respect, he said, is one of the foundational values of the company, and it extends to all employees.


Collaboration is Key When Rightsizing Your Fleet

For organizations contemplating a fleet rightsizing effort that won’t anger end users, here’s some advice: use solid data, convey information clearly and seek understanding.

“At the end of the day, it’s ultimately about communication,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI ( Prior to a rightsizing initiative, operators won’t necessarily be saying that the fleet has extraneous equipment, while others in the company may be focused on budget. But when fleet professionals get to know their internal customers and their needs, Guthro said, greater collaboration is possible.

“When you rightsize a fleet, it gives organizations more opportunity to hold on to their most critical resource: their people,” he said. “You have to approach it from, ‘We’re not here to do things to you, but for you, and we want you to be involved.’”

That’s easy enough to say, but it can be challenging to deliver, especially with new management – those who want to make a definitive mark through changes without perhaps fully surveying the landscape or considering long-term impact. This can affect productivity and diminish employee buy-in.

Imagine, for example, a utility fleet that cuts back on lesser-used equipment, believing it will be available as needed from external rental providers.

When discussions begin with a rental company, Guthro said, “those outsourced parties are cooperative, and say, ‘Yes, we can provide that for you, and here’s the price point.’ It’s a nice, pretty picture. But when you have to get that equipment, you have to understand that you’ll likely be competing with others who have the same expectation, and demand may outpace supply.”

When needed equipment is not available, challenges go beyond the immediate situation; employees have negative feelings because workflow is disrupted, which can disintegrate trust over time.

Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, said there have been times he’s seen rightsizing efforts engender some pushback. But fortunately, NPPD is not an organization that “lends itself to pouting and complaining” once changes are made. The key, he believes, lies in having information readily available to back up what needs to be done, as well as sharing it with business leaders.

“It all boils down to access and readiness of the assets,” Gilliland said. “A lot of times, with rightsizing, you’re asking business units or end users to share assets or pool assets, and sometimes their work causes them to go in two different directions.”

The right data, however, separates reality and perceptions. But when considering that data, “you have to be ready to be wrong,” Gilliland said. “In general, the fleet person wants the contingent of vehicles to be as small as possible, whereas the end user wants it to be as large as possible. Somewhere in the middle is what’s right.”

He also said his first thought with any effort is the idea of “doing no harm,” which helps ease communications with business unit leaders and end users. Quite often, Gilliland said, when GPS or other measuring points are introduced to business leaders to support a cutback, the response is, “Yeah, we’re seeing that, too” or “We’re not surprised by that.” With proper evidence in the picture, he said, “they’re generally pretty supportive. At the end of the day, they’re trying to run a business unit, and just like our unit needs to run affordably, so does theirs.”

Proper language and phrasing also help. Gilliland is fond of the term “optimizing” to cast things in a better light. And this last suggestion is something Gilliland said he learned from his colleagues, such as fleet support specialist Rob Barbur: “One thing we’ve done – and Rob has done this consistently – is to also talk to the end user about what they need that they don’t have.” That way, Gilliland said, it’s not a one-way conversation of having to defend what’s already in place; fleet professionals and end users can work together on what could be.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Making the Case for Rightsizing
Are you ready to back up your rightsizing argument but unsure how to do it? Consider these three tips.

1. Know what information to collect. Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, said utilization rates from miles, hours and power-takeoff standpoints can be helpful. “And look at those over a particular term or period, whether nominalized by day, week, year or however else you want to do it.” In addition, he said, “reach out to other organizations that are like-minded and like-sized, and do some benchmarking and comparisons. I’ve found benchmarking to be a tremendous tool when it comes to having the right assets.”

2. Ensure the fleet is properly categorized in its utilization. “You can’t have an expectation that all equipment will be used 40-plus hours a week,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI. “You have to understand the uniqueness of your fleet. You can’t broad-brush it based on what’s worked for another organization.” 

3. Get help if you need it. Fleet management companies such as ARI can assist in gathering and preparing data that will help fleet professionals “move from anecdotal to evidence-based decisions,” Guthro said. They also can help provide a window into the best practices of other companies.


Flat Fees for Fleet Asset Flexibility?

As drivers and fleet professionals explore the possibilities and realities of vehicle subscription models, they’re in good company. Fleet management organizations also are kicking the tires of the concept – including how it might eventually apply to utility fleets.

Under the subscription model, subscribers have access to vehicles on demand, often with insurance and maintenance included, and can switch out vehicle models, too.

Eric Schell, product manager for driver tools at Element Fleet Management (, and Jayme Schnedeker, Element’s director of fleet products, said they are in discovery phase with the idea and looking to Element’s experience with car sharing for cues.

“For companies like us, as well as for manufacturers, the question is, where do we fit into all of this?” Schnedeker said. “How can we provide services for our core customers that make financial sense for them?” The subscription model provides flexibility in areas where there hasn’t traditionally been any, he added, and with individual consumers increasingly using services such as Uber and Lyft, those expectations of convenience are being transferred to work life.

Traditional fleet pools and micro car-sharing markets give fleets a taste of multiple drivers using one vehicle fractionally, Schell said. Even so, he believes, adoption of the subscription model in a broader sense would require “a fairly significant cultural change of how our customers are looking to do business today.”

In addition, a variety of questions are yet to be answered: How long would a fleet need to keep a vehicle before swapping it out? What if a fleet needs immediate access to a particular type of vehicle, but it’s unavailable? What type of maintenance should be included in the service fee, and who would perform it? What about insurance, mileage limitations and/or usage limitations? And could the subscription model work as well for, say, a bucket truck and a lightly upfitted pickup?

So far, subscription models on the market generally involve higher-end vehicles. Brands like Porsche, Cadillac, Volvo and BMW offer options that are more accommodating than long-term leases. Programs like these allow drivers to use, for example, a sedan during the week but switch to an SUV for a trip. Porsche lets drivers switch as often as they like; BOOK by Cadillac lets subscribers rent different vehicles as often as 18 times a year. Currently these services are not available nationwide but could be in the future.

In the meantime, when it comes to fleets, there’s still much to be figured out. Schnedeker, for example, brought up the topic of safety related to driver behavior.

“The driver has to make sure they’re driving the vehicles safely, and that they’re not distracted,” he said. “That can have big implications on the cost of insurance. As we think about these models, it’s important to think about what role the driver plays and how that might impact either the price of the subscription or the type of vehicle that is available for that driver to use.” That also brings up questions about training for drivers on specific types of vehicles and equipment.

“What would make the subscriber eligible to participate?” Schell asked. “We’re potentially looking at a world where we might be giving traditionally non-fleet drivers access to fleet vehicles. There’s a certain level of vetting we do to ensure that the driver getting a vehicle is going to be responsible with that vehicle. Do these same rules apply to this new generation of subscribers or will adjustments need to be made? That’s another item that needs to be fleshed out.”

Finally, Schell and Schnedeker said, there’s a need to ensure vehicles and equipment would always be available at a standard the subscriber would expect, especially as those assets travel from fleet to fleet. It’s one thing with a luxury car that can be detailed, but what about a work truck that typically would see harsher use?

“It’s certainly going to be a challenge with the subscription model,” Schnedeker said. “Some asset types might not fit the model as well, just because of how they’re used.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


BOOK by Cadillac Shows How It’s Done
It’s easy to see why a subscription offering like BOOK by Cadillac ( would be attractive to users: They can switch between a variety of vehicles without a long-term commitment, drive up to 2,000 miles per month, and have maintenance, insurance, registration and detailing included in the flat fee. Since its launch in early 2017, more than 8,000 people have expressed interest.

The service also provides benefits for the OEM. For one thing, it exposes the Cadillac product line to a wide range of potential buyers who otherwise might not have considered the brand.

“In an early pilot in New York, a number of BOOK by Cadillac members ultimately decided to buy or lease a Cadillac from a dealer,” said Melody Lee, global director of BOOK by Cadillac. “We feel strongly that the program will have a positive overall effect on Cadillac, perceptions of the brand and, ultimately, the sale and lease of Cadillac vehicles.”

So far, the majority of program users have been “a younger demographic than the typical Cadillac buyer,” Lee said.

In the U.S., BOOK by Cadillac focuses specifically on the Cadillac portfolio. “That said,” Lee added, “we are exploring how to evolve this model based on what the market and consumer demand. For example, BOOK is in a pilot stage in Munich, Germany, and under that current model, Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette performance cars are included in that fleet.”

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