Author: Grace Suizo

Spec’ing All-Terrain Utility Vehicles for Fleet Applications

Industry experts share important factors to consider before ordering an ATUV.

One of the most common mistakes utility fleet managers make when it comes to all-terrain utility vehicles (ATUVs) is purchasing machines that are either too heavy or too light for the work they most commonly perform, according to Tavis Renglich, sales representative for UTV International Inc. (

“If you don’t have the right tools for the job, you take a financial loss by having to replace the equipment you bought with the right equipment. In the meanwhile, until you can get this done, you may have to pay an outside contractor with the right equipment to do it,” he explained.

Marie-Élaine Dion, marketing manager for tracked vehicles at PRINOTH (, agreed.

“It ends up bringing down their productivity,” she said. “They won’t be able to power the machine to its full potential, or the weight will bring the machine’s power down.”

So, how do utility fleet managers make sure all their bases are covered when it comes to finding the right ATUV? Renglich and Dion shared the following considerations that should be on your checklist before placing an order.

Identify Your Needs
Dion emphasized the importance of knowing what is needed as far as your optimal end result is concerned. This holds true for ordering any vehicle or piece of equipment.

Renglich advised asking vehicle operators what should be considered since they are the most familiar with what their needs are, plus what they currently have and don’t have.

Other considerations include the terrain the ATUV will operate on; vehicle size; gross vehicle weight rating; payload capacity; trailering requirements; safety for operators and passengers; total cost of ownership; and service and reliability.

What is the condition of the terrain? Is low ground pressure required to avoid the machine sinking or damaging the ground? Will you be climbing hills? What is the fording depth if you expect to encounter water? If the vehicle will be operating uphill and side-hill, how much power and traction are needed?

“Depending on the terrain – hills, valleys, mountains, rights-of-way, mud, snow, loose gravel, swamps, etc. – of your job site, having insufficient power or traction may prevent you from accessing that job site,” Renglich said.

Size, GVWR, Payload Capacities
Fleet managers should also consider how much weight the machine can take on and how much payload it will be left with.

“Say the OEM needs to put something like a man basket or a digger derrick on the machine to deliver to the utility fleet. More or less, the [gross vehicle weight rating] gives you the size of implement that you can match to your machine. Each machine is different and has specific needs depending on the needs that the customer will choose. For utility companies, the payload gives them the requirements of how much they can lift, like a crane, for example,” Dion said.

Trailering Requirements
If you don’t consider what type of trailer you’ll need to haul your equipment, you may find yourself unable to use a trailer you already have, Renglich warned.

“If the truck required to pull the trailer needs to be heavier than 26,000 pounds, the driver has to have a commercial driver’s license,” he said. “Those drivers and trucks cost more money and may not be available on short notice when you need to haul a machine to a job site.”

Safety and Available Options
Is the ATUV equipped with a rollover protective structure and a falling object protective structure, if applicable?

“If the machine were to fall or roll over, you need to be able to protect the operator,” Dion said.

Additionally, after garnering operator input, Renglich suggested requesting available options from all the equipment vendors being considered. These can include options for cold/warm weather applications, such as air-conditioning and block heaters.

Total Cost of Ownership
When looking for an ATUV, don’t shop just based on cost, Dion recommended. Instead, she said, consider the total cost of ownership because purchasing an ATUV is a long-term investment. Think beyond the vehicle purchase to technical support, parts availability and the service network.

“These machines do hard work and sometimes they break,” Dion said. “Even if we work really hard to make sure it’s as reliable as possible, eventually you’ll need some sort of support. That is why PRINOTH developed a series of tools like an online parts shop, an online training program for mechanics, and other service-oriented tools to support customers in the field and in their shops.”

Renglich suggested that fleets request a demonstration unit so that they can try out the vehicle they want to buy.

“They really only need a few hours to a day to try it out on a job they’re currently working on that requires this type of equipment,” he explained.

Dion said that fleets “can also look for companies with similar equipment, go to trade shows or rent units to see it working and get a feel for its capacities.”

Service and Reliability
You’ll want to consider the company you’re thinking of buying your ATUV from. Not having to wait for parts or service means fewer delays on job sites.

“We build both the carrier and the digger derrick boom, so we are not at the mercy of suppliers of carriers and booms,” Renglich said. “We also buy the parts we need way in advance to make sure we can keep production going. The more vehicles we build, the more improvements we can make to the process.”

PRINOTH offers an online parts shop, training videos for operators, and a computerized system for mechanics to learn how to troubleshoot, fix problems and repair the machine.

Another thing to think about: The customer should be able to have someone to fall back on if there are problems with the machine – to service it, to buy parts and so forth, according to Dion.

“If the company goes out of business, where are you going to get your parts later?” she pointed out.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

This entry is part 1 of 9 in the series June 2022

Upfitting Utility Service Vans with Maximum Safety in Mind

One of the most common mistakes fleet managers make when upfitting service vans is not leveraging their operators’ input on what works well – and what doesn’t – with the vehicles, according to Mark Stumne, director of truck services for Element Fleet Management (

So, what better way to gain a clearer understanding of their safety needs than to watch them in action? That’s how Adrian Steel ( – which offers cargo management solutions for commercial vehicles – kicks things off, according to Adam Gregory, the company’s sales engineering manager.

“Our process is to first engage the technician and watch him or her do the job,” he said. “Ask them how to make it better. They are experts in how and what they do, and it is important that [fleet managers] take the time to understand how it connects to the bigger picture.”

During the observation process, Gregory continued, “We take notice of all above-the-shoulder reaches and back strains, as well as the number of times the technician gets in and out of the vehicle. Anytime a technician is carrying a product unsafely, we consider this an opportunity to make their job safer.”

The upfitter then takes initiative by making recommendations for improvement – specifically, how the technician can carry that particular product safely and securely going forward. These opportunities for improvement are usually discussed at the beginning of the solution concept presentation.

Ladder racks are among the items to be especially cautious with. “Extension ladders weigh about 75 pounds, so safely loading and unloading the ladder on the ladder rack is a top priority,” said Katie Groves, national fleet sales manager for Adrian Steel.

Safe solutions should also be prioritized for HVAC work that may involve technicians carrying hazardous gases on their vehicles.

Stumne suggested providing operators with a load study to educate them on payload and guide them to safe loading and limitations of the asset.

For utility service vans, he said that typically, a bulkhead is added to most cargo van upfits to protect the driver from objects flying forward in the case of hard braking or an accident.

Set Realistic Time Frames
Lead times for assets to arrive are not static and will change depending on the type of asset, upfitting and transportation, Stumne said.

And according to Groves, the complexity of the upfit and job determines the amount of time needed to develop the right solution. “Discovery to concept to design to upfit installation could take anywhere from six months to two years. If it’s a ‘from the ground up’ design, this might take site visits and technician interviews to first see and understand what is happening in the field. Less complex or updating/adding features can often be done in less time,” she explained.

Uphold Quality Standards
Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to upfitting your service vans and other utility fleet vehicles. Make sure you are using certified professionals and adhering to industry guidelines for maximum safety.

Upfitters must always be aware of federal motor vehicle safety standards and guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To ensure correct installation, Stumne recommended utilizing upfitters who are certified installers of the components being used.

In addition, if the vehicle is an OEM incomplete vehicle (i.e., it has an incomplete vehicle document, or IVD), the upfitter must certify that the completed vehicle meets all federal motor vehicle safety standards and emission regulations, he said.

Groves said that Adrian Steel has gone through Rapid Entire Body Assessment training to better identify safety issues when on the job site with technicians. The assessment evaluates the risk of musculoskeletal disorders associated with specific job tasks.

“This also helps us in the design phase of the process to ensure our installers are safe while installing the upfit,” she noted.

Stay Up to Date
Safety starts with the vehicle and upfit specifications that will provide a safe and productive asset for the role in which it will be used, Stumne said.

And with vehicle and upfitting packages evolving year over year, replacing an asset that has been in operation for many years requires a careful review of the specifications.

“Replacement strategy is key to getting the most of the technology improvements that are available from the vehicle and component manufacturers. The older the asset being replaced, the greater the opportunity,” Stumne advised.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series March 2022

Winterizing Your Crews

There’s no need to wait until winter to start getting your fleet ready for the season, according to Ben Langley, director of training and development innovation for Driving Dynamics (, a provider of fleet driver safety training and risk services.

In a recent interview with UFP, Langley encouraged fleets to immediately develop a winter driving plan with their teams that aligns with company safety policies and includes an in-depth inspection and service for each vehicle.

Steve Bufton, vice president of maintenance, telematics and safety for Donlen (, a provider of financing and fleet management solutions, agreed, noting that it’s important to have in place a pre-trip vehicle inspection form, process and closed-loop procedure. The inspection should include checking tire pressure, fuel and washer fluid levels, and appropriate safety items.

When developing the winter driving plan, take into account lessons learned from previous winters. Reviewing motor vehicle crash statistics from winter months over the past three years can identify root causes and help to determine what measures should be in place to prevent similar incidents, Langley said.

For fleets using telematics, there are even helpful features that look at historical routes and historical weather conditions, according to Bufton.

Effective Communication is Key
Any information that will help keep your crews safe should be communicated as often as needed, especially when it comes to winter driving awareness.

“We recommend training that covers topics like the importance of reducing speed, the myths/realities of four-wheel-drive capabilities, and best practices for winter driving,” Bufton said.

For example, drivers should be trained to pull off to the right side of the road in the event of a mechanical failure. However, “When in busier traffic, the left side of the road is preferred over crossing lanes with a mechanically unfit vehicle. Instruct drivers to remain in the vehicle with the emergency flashers on,” he explained.

In addition, arm your drivers with the information they will need in case of an emergency. Keep the telephone number of your emergency roadside assistance provider accessible in the glove box or ensure it is saved in each driver’s smartphone. 

Give Yourself a Cushion
In areas that are affected by wintry conditions, drivers should increase their safety cushion when snow or ice is present.

“Vehicle braking capability is diminished as road conditions deteriorate and stopping distances increase, in some cases significantly. If drivers don’t make seasonal adjustments in their driving habits, risk levels increase,” Langley said.

But adding an extra safety cushion applies to more than just braking.

“For fleets using planned routes, ensure that routes are adjusted to allow extra time for pre-trip inspections, winter driving and perhaps more time-consuming deliveries,” Bufton said. 

Beware of Potential Hazards
Driver familiarity with locations within the service area can be an important part of avoiding potential hazards covered by snow, said John Wuich, vice president of strategic consulting services for Donlen.

“Some examples of these are fire and water hydrants, cable lines, electrical lines and any raised surfaces that may be hidden by snow,” he explained.

Even fleet drivers in areas that don’t typically experience harsh winter conditions should still be trained on and aware of potential dangers while on the road or at the job site.

“Cities that get caught off guard with ice and sleet are especially vulnerable when impacted. Some areas … which may not normally be associated with snow and ice can be especially unprepared for unusual weather events,” Wuich said.

Additionally, training drivers on journey management can provide guidance about situations they may come across, such as a state of emergency; heavy snowstorm conditions; blowing and drifting snow on the roadway; the aftermath of a snowstorm; stranded vehicles; and icy road conditions. 

Tips and Techniques
Fleet managers should keep in mind that even the most basic reminders can help busy drivers stay safe.

For example, drivers should be mindful when getting in and out of a vehicle. Langley said slips and falls when entering or exiting the vehicle are hazards often encountered by fleet drivers in the winter months.

“The snow and icy conditions can create havoc when employees have their mind on the job task rather than the condition of their environment,” he explained.

When expecting snowfall or ice, Wuich suggested setting the vehicle’s windshield wipers in the service position and deactivating the mirror auto-fold function to help prevent icing.

During freezing weather, Bufton advised drivers to avoid using the emergency parking brake in case it freezes.

Ice can also be a problem for newer vehicles with advanced safety features. False safety alerts can be caused by ice- or salt-covered sensors, Bufton said.

For traditional gasoline combustion engines, ensure that the vehicle has at least a half-tank of gas, he added. Not only will doing so provide additional run time, but it also prevents condensation in the gas tank.

Lastly, drivers should be taught how to handle a mechanical failure or getting their vehicle stuck in the snow. They should know, for instance, not to spin the tires, digging the vehicle in deeper. Experienced drivers in mild snow should be instructed to keep the wheels straight, put the vehicle in low gear, and gently rock forward and backward, Bufton said.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

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

What’s New in All-Terrain Vehicles for Utility Fleets

Utilities have a number of different options available to help their crews get work done in hard-to-reach areas, in harsh weather conditions and on rough terrain. Since new equipment is regularly being introduced to the marketplace, it’s important for utilities to stay up to date about what they have to choose from. Check out these new developments from four manufacturers in the all-terrain vehicle space.

What’s New: Engine and system updates for the D2488B and XTB66

Built for the power, oil and gas, and public safety industries, the D2488B recently had its engine updated to the 115-horsepower Kubota V3800-TEF4. The Tier 4 Final diesel engine is controlled by a Murphy PowerView 485 LCD display that allows the operator to access a multitude of information for the engine system, including maintenance intervals.

The drive system has also been updated on the 2021+ D2488B to accommodate the additional weight and power generated by the engine change. A two-speed gearbox from SAI Hydraulics provides loads of torque to the rear wheels, thus the 24-inch rubber track system.

For fleets that have wetland accessibility issues but do not need a large 8×8 amphibious vehicle, the third-generation XTB66 may be a good fit. Now powered by a 59-horsepower Kubota V2403-T diesel engine, the drive system has been updated to a two-speed planetary drive from Auburn Gear. This system provides three times the torque of the previous drive system, and it allows for low-speed and high-speed operations. To accommodate the larger drive and increase in torque, the tires and rims are bigger, and the rubber track has been extended to 24 inches wide from 20 inches wide.

What’s New: Design upgrades to the 400M1A1 and 200M1A1

Mattracks recently upgraded the designs of its 400M1A1 and 200M1A1 to further help utility crews with increased mobility and traction in unpredictable weather conditions and on harsh terrain. The company has equipped the 400M1A1 with its patented rubber torsion suspension system, designed to provide a smoother ride and maintenance-free operation thanks to the elimination of grease points. The 400M1A1 also features Mattracks’ exclusive anti-jam wheel system, giving the track system the ability to crawl over previously problematic obstacles while preventing them from wedging in between the track’s end wheels and leading set of rocker wheels.

Ideal for heavy-duty vehicles up to 21,000 pounds, the 200M1A1 has received a fresh new spindle-mount design. This updated variation allows for simple installation and removal due to its ability to bolt directly to the vehicle – eliminating the need for a custom undercarriage frame to be bolted underneath the vehicle, which was the case on previous models.

What’s New: RT7U rubber track carrier

Terramac has added a new rubber track carrier model, the RT7U, to its lineup of utility models. The current lineup includes the larger RT9U and RT14U, as well as the smaller RT6U. The utility model series features front and rear frame extensions as well as various hydraulic pump drive configurations, allowing support equipment to be mounted to the chassis.

The new RT7U sets the benchmark as the largest payload in its weight class, according to Terramac, with a 17,000-pound carrying capacity to accommodate a wide range of support equipment for utility applications, including lineworker winches, digger derricks, vacuum excavators, boom lifts and aerial buckets. Despite its power, the RT7U maintains a small and nimble footprint, allowing it to be hauled without a permit.

All Terramac models feature low ground pressure when fully loaded to minimize soil disturbance, and they provide reduced slippage, enabling crews to climb faster on rugged or steep terrain to reach utility job sites in remote areas.

UTV International
What’s New: Second single-man bucket option for the Achiever RT-02 DD

UTV International has introduced a unique option for the Achiever RT-02 DD Tracked Digger Derrick & Aerial Combo Unit for electric distribution work. The hydraulic foldout fourth boom with bucket is now available with a second single-man bucket in place of a jib. Two single-man buckets can be pinned on at the same time, allowing for the increased safety of two people working overhead power lines using only one vehicle. Buckets can be folded back, and the boom can be moved onto the boom rest for short, off-road, pole-to-pole transport. The second bucket can also be removed, stored and secured on deck behind the cab during trailering.

The RT-02 DD can set up to 65-foot poles and has a 47-foot bucket working height, yet it is under 19,000 pounds and can be towed on a 12-ton trailer. It comes with a 134-horsepower Deutz 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine; can travel up to 10 mph; climbs 40 degrees uphill and 20 degrees sidehill; has 45-degree outriggers on all four corners; and offers an extremely low ground pressure of 2.31 psi loaded.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series October 2021

Spec’ing a Detachable Gooseneck Trailer

Minnkota Power Cooperative, an electric generation and transmission cooperative headquartered in Grand Forks, North Dakota, recently replaced its antiquated mechanical detachable gooseneck semitrailer with a new unit.

The old trailer, used approximately 10 times a year for the past 20 years, was replaced by a new model from Felling Trailers ( UFP recently spoke with Keith Millette, fleet supervisor for Minnkota Power Cooperative, and Laurie Engle, sales representative for Felling Trailers, who shared how they worked together on the spec’ing process.

Identifying Needs
Minnkota Power Cooperative’s fleet includes 106 trailers, more than half of which are units from Felling.

According to Millette, the cooperative decided to once again go with Felling for the new trailer because the fleet’s existing Felling units have proven to hold up against rugged use.

“When we do our annual trailer inspections year after year, Felling typically requires the least amount of repairs compared to other trailer manufacturers we use,” he said.

The spec’ing process for the detachable gooseneck semitrailer took about three weeks. Millette said the best place to start the process is to identify what you are hauling – its height, length, width and weight. That way, you can select the right tractor to pull the trailer, the right wet kit and so forth.

Millette also recommended collaborating with various departments within the utility organization to gather input on their expectations of the trailer.

“This is extremely important when ordering any trailer, especially when it’s 100,000-plus pounds of product going on top,” said Engle, who worked with Minnkota to configure the trailer build.

The detachable gooseneck trailer will primarily be used for hauling transformers weighing 85,000 to 100,000 pounds, but it will also serve as a multipurpose unit, transporting payloaders and forklifts as needed.

Communication is Key
Engle said the spec’ing process requires teamwork and a lot of communication via email and phone calls to ensure the equipment that will be going on the trailer will fit. Just designing the build can take three to four weeks, she noted.

Remember to be patient when spec’ing the trailer, Millette advised. He compared the trailer manufacturer’s spec sheet to the cooperative’s wants and needs, and then options were added and removed as needed.

“I used the base trailer spec sheet from Felling’s brochure for a detachable gooseneck trailer that was the closest to the weight I was going to carry,” he explained.

Millette also sent specs to Felling of what he was going to haul on the trailer.

“Felling Trailers doesn’t manufacture the mechanical deck. Keith [Millette] and myself, along with the engineering team here, went back and forth with the exact specs of what was going to be carried,” Engle said.

After spec’ing the trailer, the project moved on to Felling’s engineering department, she said.

“They worked on the 3D CAD drawings to get the correct strength in the beams, cross-members and other materials needed,” Engle explained. “Then the customer received all the drawings to go over and approve with his crew.”

Selecting the Correct Measurements
So, how did Millette help to ensure the trailer would be capable of carrying the heavy weights that would be hauled?

“We went off transformer footprints to ensure a trailer deck would be the proper size, have enough axles and haul without issues,” he said.

Millette also pointed out that the cooperative chose a hydraulic detachable gooseneck over the mechanical option because of the ease of detaching (i.e., it is more efficient for crews to attach and detach in rough, uneven and wet terrain).

According to Engle, “A hydraulic gooseneck is safer to use as the neck can be raised to allow the truck’s fifth wheel to attach without having to pick up the main deck in the process as you would with a mechanical gooseneck.”

Together, the cooperative and Felling also had to make sure that the height, when loaded, was low enough to ensure a transformer would be able to travel under overpasses. The hydraulic gooseneck can be raised or lowered to change the front deck height for ground clearance or overhead obstructions.

The result of the spec’ing process is an XF-110-3 HDG-L 55-ton hydraulic detach built to Minnkota’s specs and equipped with a booster/stinger to compensate for the needed load transfer when hauling transformers.

Additional features were incorporated for operator safety and ease of use, including strobe light/flasher kit safety lighting and a self-contained 11- to 13-horsepower hydraulic system with an electric start.

Millette said his crews are happy with the trailer’s ease of setup and operation.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Minnkota’s XF-110-3 HDG-L Trailer Features
With the help of its longtime trailer manufacturer, Felling Trailers, Minnkota Power Cooperative was able to replace its 20-year-old unit with a gooseneck trailer built to its desired specs. The resulting XF-110-3 HDG-L trailer features:

  • Full load capacity.
  • 12 feet with a 13-foot hydraulic detachable gooseneck.
  • A 108-inch swing clearance, with a two-position kingpin at 96 inches and 108 inches.
  • Main deck length of 18 feet.
  • A 45-degree approximately full-height trunnion approach with a quarter-inch tread plate cover over the center of the trunnion and approach paired with a one-piece full-length wheel cover.
  • 120,000 pounds GVWR.

Fleet 2030: The Top Trends Utility Fleets Should Watch This Decade

What do utility fleet managers need to keep an eye on over the next decade? What emerging trends will have the greatest impact on fleet operations? And what do fleet professionals need to have on their radar so they don’t fall behind the curve or get blindsided?

UFP recently spoke with George Survant, a former longtime fleet manager who currently serves as a consultant for Fleet Mace Consulting, and Charlie Guthro, vice president of business intelligence and analytics for fleet management company ARI (, to get their answers to these questions and insight on what the future has in store for utility fleets.

A Supply Chain Transformation
Survant said he sees a supply chain transformation in the near future as a result of technological advancements.

“We’re seeing a shift away from mechanical to electronic parts. That’s going to change the way companies like Pep Boys manage their inventory,” he said.

According to Survant, just-in-time delivery has become more common. “Fleet managers have to do a significant level of planning for just-in-case situations. They have to be more adaptable and have contingency plans that they test periodically,” he said.

Guthro agreed, noting that it’s not just a delay on the OEM side that fleets must prepare for.

“It’s everything about keeping the vehicles running, including materials,” Guthro said. “That’s a definite thing to have on your radar. We’re facing shortfalls with microchips and seat foam that change the production dates and impact if and when you’re going to get your vehicle.”

On top of supply chain disruptions, there’s also a swell in demand from fleets that postponed ordering during the pandemic.

“The only way to be at the front of the line is to get your orders in as early as possible,” Guthro explained. “People took an ordering hiatus because of COVID and tried to conserve their capital. They understood that’s not a long-term sustainable solution, so they’re back in, but now they can’t get the vehicles.”

Guthro said he has seen customers consider the stock order route only to find out the dealer doesn’t have the unit they need, and if they do, it’s priced at full retail or above. All these downstream impacts are significant, he added.

More Data-Driven Decisions
One of the big changes in the past decade that will continue to make an impact over the next decade is the amount of vehicle and equipment data that can be captured easily and effectively, both in real time and in spot downloads.

“The huge influx in data sets the foundation for moving from a reactive environment to a predictive environment, and it allows sophisticated fleet managers to make data-driven decisions,” Survant said.

But you can’t just be an “information collector,” Guthro noted.

“We’re looking for trends and opportunities to support the asset management principles of buy right, repair right, replace right and drive right – all those principles that you need to manage an optimal fleet,” he said. 

Telematics helps, especially as a growing number of vehicles have devices installed on the assembly line by the OEMs.

“Telematics impacts productivity, it improves efficiency, it drives profits and, more critically, it supports safety,” Guthro said. “Through telematics, you can more precisely define maintenance intervals, and that’s significant to cost. You are moving more toward predict/prevent, which is a savings opportunity, and you minimize those catastrophic failures.”

Growing Interest in Electrification
According to Guthro, another big topic of conversation in the fleet sector is vehicle electrification. Fleet management companies are working to gather all the information their customers need – the business case, the total cost of ownership and the science to decide when it’s best to jump in.

“It’s coming, but the utility vocational fleet will likely have a slower uptake than would a sales fleet or other types of fleets that don’t have booms and attachments,” he said.

A Critical Skills Shortage
From technicians to fleet managers, Guthro sees a shortage of fleet experts in the next 10 years. Survant agreed, also noting changes in demand for personnel training and recruiting.

“The increased sophistication of equipment and technology is driving that training burden into companies that have traditionally had little to no turnover and recruited in a very different way,” Survant said.

With the shift from mechanical controls to electronic, including self-correcting systems, operating and maintenance practices are being impacted. According to Survant, this is changing the needs for mechanic education and labor management systems. Simple things like diagnostic tools have evolved enormously.

“That’s a problem not just on the shop floor, but also how to manage those types of systems and the process of repairing vehicles at the supervisory and managerial planning level,” he said. “It’s not just the technicians that have to evolve, but how managers look at the business – how they plan in the business and how they evolve as teams to deliver reliable service products to their end customers and internal customers.”

Increased Outsourcing
Another influencing factor sweeping through the utility sector is the changing attitude of fleet owners, according to Survant, specifically regarding the fundamental belief about what a utility company must be able to do for itself versus what it can reliably hire in the marketplace.

“Normal maintenance is now being absorbed by contract groups. That’s shifted hiring, staffing and support logistics out from under the traditional utility ownership and into the hands of the contract community,” he explained.

Fifteen to 20 years ago, utilities owned a significant amount of the mobile equipment that they needed to build, construct and maintain their service systems, lines, and transmission and distribution networks.

Today, however, utilities “are interested in the emergency and critical response needs and outsource most, if not all, construction,” Survant said. “They don’t actually own their construction assets anymore. So, it’s changed both the complexity of the fleet that they own and the number of fleet vehicles.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Spec’ing the Right Truck-Mounted Air Compressor for the Job

Today’s utility fleet managers have numerous options to choose from when it comes to truck-mounted air compressors. But how do you go about spec’ing the right one for the job?

One of the biggest mistakes that utility fleets make is using bid specs from previous years, according to Dean Gary, national sales representative for VMAC (, which designs and manufactures mobile air compressors and multipower systems.

Ralph Kokot, CEO of mobile power solutions provider Vanair Manufacturing (, agreed. “Don’t assume what you put on your truck last time is what you should put on this time,” he said. “Before you start working on a bid specification for your fleet, reach out to the experts for guidance. Advancements are happening every day that increase ROI and productivity for your fleet.”

Both Gary and Kokot also shared some other helpful ideas for spec’ing the compressor that best suits your fleet needs.

Understand the Operating Environment
First, it’s crucial to understand the operating environment and conditions. Fleet managers must fully engage with their business units to understand operational field needs and work practices, Kokot advised. For example, he noted the significant weather-related differences between operations in Phoenix in August versus Alaska’s North Slope in January that could compromise system components.

“Arizona may require additional cooling, while Alaska may require winterization options,” Kokot said.

It’s also important for fleet managers to understand what type of pneumatic tools are being used and what CFM volume is needed. Gary recommended that fleets work with a qualified professional to determine the amount of air required to meet the needs of those pneumatic tools as well as the duty cycle and climate they’re operating in. Kokot said Vanair currently offers an air tool consumption guide to help with this.

“For example, a 90-pound pavement breaker consumes approximately 70 to 85 CFM at 100 PSI. Are multiple tools being used simultaneously? If the crews are using more than one pavement breaker, the minimum compressor spec would be 160 CFM. Are the crews pressurizing services and mains? If so, 185 CFM in dual pressure 100/150 PSI might be in order,” Kokot explained.

Convenience and Other Factors
Gary noted that VMAC has seen “a significant trend of customers switching from tow-behind air compressors to UNDERHOOD compressors.” That’s primarily due to convenience – an UNDERHOOD compressor is always in the truck, so there’s one less engine to maintain and one less piece of equipment to haul around. 

Beyond convenience, compressor weight and cost are critical factors to consider in the spec’ing process.

“A typical cross-mount compressor is large and heavy, weighs over 2,400 pounds, takes up considerable real estate on the truck and entails another engine to maintain, plus it costs twice as much as a PTO-driven compressor,” Kokot said.

He noted that underdeck air compressors appear to be the most popular with utility fleets, emphasizing that the advantages of such compressors are significant. They offer a lower cost and Tier 4 compliance, free up valuable room on the vehicle, and are lower in weight with high reliability and durability. PTO underdecks meet higher CFM outputs, from 50 to 200 CFM, and are designed to run at the lowest engine speed, reducing noise and fuel consumption.

“Integrating a PTO underdeck air compressor onto the truck chassis turns the vehicle into a vital tool for gas, electric, telecommunication, water utilities and utility contractor companies,” Kokot said.

For one VMAC utility customer, switching to an UNDERHOOD air compressor helped solve its space and weight challenges. The utility crew wanted more space on their trucks and something more compact and lightweight than their bulky diesel-driven air compressor. The under-the-hood placement of the VMAC air compressor resulted in thousands of pounds of weight savings and about an extra 3 feet of storage available in the back of the truck, according to VMAC.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Common Spec’ing Errors to Avoid
It’s important for fleet managers to know what to look for in a truck-mounted air compressor – but understanding what not to do also can prove helpful.

A common mistake fleets make when spec’ing a compressor is basing the decision strictly on the upfront cost of the unit without looking at the life-cycle cost or application, according to Dean Gary, national sales representative for VMAC.

Ralph Kokot, CEO of Vanair Manufacturing, said total life-cycle costs must be taken into consideration when evaluating a possible purchase.

“The total cost of ownership can be more than the initial purchase price,” Kokot explained. “Many utilities have 20, 50 or even hundreds of compressor trucks. The total life-cycle cost differential between compressor manufacturers can be measured in the hundreds of thousands and, moreover, 10 years for most fleets,” Kokot said.

Fleets also must stay up to date on the latest equipment advancements, sometimes making the mistake of not knowing about or fully understanding recent advancements and improvements designed to help eliminate downtime.

“If the job gets shut down, you’ve got downtime and idle workers. It can equate to thousands of dollars per hour in downtime or worse,” Kokot said.

Redundant thermistors and transducers are one example of technology that may not be widely known about.

“The dual-sensor redundancy option provides backup if a fault exists on the primary transducer and thermistor, for uninterrupted operations,” Kokot said.


Technologies to Improve Aerial Safety

Operating aerial equipment can pose risks if care is not taken to identify and mitigate hazards. UFP recently spoke with industry professionals to learn more about technologies currently available to enhance safety during aerial equipment use.

Reduce Operator Falls
It was customer feedback that contributed to Terex Utilities ( developing the Positive Attachment Lanyard (PAL) device, which serves as an added reminder to users to properly utilize fall protection. The warning system is designed as an operator aid to reduce the chance of an operator elevating the bucket without a safety harness lanyard attached.

“Most of the time when a worker fails to attach the lanyard, it’s an honest mistake,” said Joe Caywood, director of marketing for Terex Utilities. “The worker was concentrating on the job and just forgot. We hope that linemen will consider the PAL device as a friendly reminder in the platform. It’s there to promote their following of safe work practices.”

The PAL alerts the operator with visual and audible warnings if their lanyard is not attached to the anchor point when the aerial device is operated. Similar to seat-belt devices found in most modern vehicles, the PAL is an integrated feature that provides warnings but does not prevent the aerial device from moving. 

Cass County Electric Cooperative in North Dakota piloted the PAL system in 2018. Most of their aerial devices are under 50-foot platform heights and frequently used for servicing nearly 3,000 miles of overhead lines.

The cooperative has a policy of 100% tie-off on aerial devices. On the off chance that a worker forgets to clip into the harness, the PAL device provides alerts as a reminder. The cooperative’s crew noted ease of use, no extra equipment required and the added reminder as some of the PAL’s key highlights.

Terex selected Ring Power Utility Equipment ( as its dealer partner.

“We elected to standardize all purchases of equipment available from Terex with this option. We wanted to ensure that customers could quickly have access to elevating the safety environment of their crews,” said Mike Beauregard, vice president and general manager of the utility equipment division at Ring Power.

The PAL system currently is available as an option on LT40 and XT PRO aerial devices. It will be available on other aerial device models as they are developed.

Avoid Overload Incidents
Altec ( introduced its Load Monitoring System in mid-2017. The system serves as an operator aid in distribution construction and maintenance applications, where material-handling units are most frequently used. It helps operators understand the operating capacities of the platform and material-handling system and notifies them when they might be reaching those limits.

Additionally, the Load Monitoring System provides real-time visual and audible information about the percentage of rated load on the boom and/or platform. The combination of both visual and audible alarms to notify the operator of a potential overload adds an extra layer of awareness for increased safety.

On Altec aerial devices, visual and audible alerts are consistently located on the unit turntable and platform, reducing the need to relearn the system on separate models. As an added benefit, the Load Monitoring System is designed with internal components, which ultimately eliminates the risk of external damage.

In terms of other aerial device safety products, Dustin Yost, product marketing manager for Altec, said the company is in the process of implementing its lanyard detection and lanyard interlock systems. Last fall, the company introduced a collision mitigation system integration for custom front bumpers through a partnership with a leading supplier of truck safety systems.

Altec has a number of demo units equipped with the Load Monitoring System for customers to try out. In addition, the company has worked with several large utilities to provide pilot units of the other safety systems mentioned above, according to Yost.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Customizing Solutions
“Utilities and utility contractors are incredibly safety conscious,” said Dustin Yost, product marketing manager for Altec. “There is a constant conversation with our customers on ways to improve equipment safety. Ingress/egress, equipment capacity, truck safety systems and telematics are some of the areas customers identify as opportunities to improve operator safety.”

Terex Utilities has received similar requests. Safety departments often approach the company with a specific need. For example, Joe Caywood, the company’s marketing director, said one utility wanted to reduce slips, trips and falls as operators climbed into the aerial device platform.

“They came to us with requests on specific installation features on their units that had to do with access. We worked with them to customize a rear access point and modified the step height and locations,” Caywood explained.

Typical access to the cargo deck is from the side, between storage compartments. But the deck can become cluttered with materials, and equipment storage creates a tripping hazard. The customer wanted to work around that, so Terex Utilities designed stairs with a railing as a rear access point. This puts the operator closer to the bucket without having to walk across the cargo deck.

The company also lowered the boom stow position to reduce the step height from the deck into the platform by 15 inches. The customer further customized the equipment by requesting steps and handrails be painted high-visibility colors, such as yellow, and the edge of the steps be painted red.

“This rear-entry design has now been adopted by other utilities, co-ops and municipalities in the region,” Caywood said.


Utility Fleet Best Practices for Idle Reduction

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some utility fleets have discovered that their idling has increased. So – perhaps now more than ever – it’s imperative for fleets to identify instances where idling can be controlled and act on them. UFP recently spoke with three fleet industry professionals who shared tips on how to do just that.

Get Staff on the Same Page
According to Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, the greatest idle mitigation is achieved through operators intentionally turning off their engines when possible.

“The best practice is to have a well-trained workforce that understands state and local statutes regarding idling, company expectations, and the difference between necessary and unnecessary idling,” he explained.

That may require some coaching. Several years ago, Collins asked the local Clean Cities coalition to provide idle reduction training for all his field staff. As a result, the fleet experienced almost 10% less fuel consumption the following quarter.

Now, with COVID-19 in play, Fairfax Water has had to pivot to maintain social distancing safety for workers. Each field staff member has been provided a dedicated vehicle for daily use, making it more critical for them to understand what qualifies as necessary idling.

Of course, Fairfax Water is not the only utility whose fleet has had to make some adjustments during this time.

According to Chris Foster, manager of truck and equipment maintenance for fleet management company ARI (, there are now a number of scenarios in which vehicle capacity may be limited to one or two employees, resulting in crew members arriving separately at job sites – and potentially sitting in their running vehicles while waiting for their colleagues to arrive.

Collins provided examples of situations in which vehicle engines can be safely turned off while working, such as when responding to a residential customer call. Idling while at a facility, in a queue for loading or unloading materials, or while waiting for riders is unnecessary, unless there are extreme temperatures in play.

Develop a Comprehensive Driver Policy
Fleets should develop a comprehensive driver policy that clearly defines idling parameters as well as the consequences for violations, advised Lou Vella, manager of CIS-telematics for ARI.

According to ARI’s Foster, “For the most part, fleet operators will need to examine how their business has adapted and evolved during the last several months and determine how those changes influence their approach to idling as well as their overall driver policy.”

Vella said that by establishing a baseline and setting realistic goals to reduce idling, fleets can start to make tangible improvements.

“These benchmarks and goals should be included in your driver policy to ensure your employees are aware of the performance expectations,” he added.

Collins said he and his field supervisors stay active with messaging about smart idling and coach the staff every chance they get. “We ask our folks to follow the state and local statutes. In Virginia and in our county, any mobile power source shall not idle for longer than three minutes after it has completed its duties, with the exception of diesel-powered equipment to minimize restart problems.”

Monitor Areas for Improvement
Effectively monitoring idle times is another key to idle reduction, Vella said.

He recommended measuring and monitoring driver performance for instances of excessive idling, using key performance indicators and telematics.

Fairfax Water team leaders on each job site are tasked with monitoring and maintaining compliance. In weather extremes, employees are asked to use good judgment for the well-being of the crew or an individual employee.

“Winters can be very cold, and the summers can be very hot and humid. Employee safety is our paramount focus in any circumstance,” Collins said.

For fleets that really want to crack down on excessive idling, telematics may be an option to consider.

“With some telematics solutions, you can even get as granular as identifying productive idling (idling while performing a necessary job function such as powering a PTO) and unproductive idling (idling for driver convenience),” Vella said.

Using telematics also can help enforce desired behavior and provide automatic violation notifications to drivers, he said. 

Leverage Fuel-Efficient Technologies
Collins suggested incorporating fuel-efficient models into your fleet when possible, noting the overall increase in fuel efficiency in almost every class of vehicle over the past decade.

“Just as little as 10 years ago, we would spec a 6-liter engine in most of our field service trucks, and now many are 3.5 liters or less, depending on application,” he said. “Idling a 6-liter engine requires much more fuel than a 3.5-liter engine every day.”

For Fairfax Water, the automatic stop and restart function on many of today’s vehicles also is beneficial.

“Our service area is very traffic congested, and sitting at traffic signals and in stop-and-go traffic, the fuel savings can add up over time,” Collins said.

ARI’s Foster mentioned that a growing number of popular fleet models are now available with idle shutdown timers that can help to curb excessive idling.

Other solutions to help with smart idling include embracing vehicle electrification as well as vehicle subsystems, such as climate control, auxiliary equipment operation, and scene and traffic warning lighting, Collins noted. 

Rightsize Your Fleet
While some recent innovations certainly help to reduce idling, the fundamental strategies largely remain the same, Foster said. “First and foremost, you need to develop the ideal vehicle specifications and upfit solution for each unit’s intended function.”

He recommended that fleets carefully examine their vehicle specification and upfit strategy to look for opportunities to further control excessive idling.

“For example, depending on the vehicle’s intended role within your business, you may be able to use a standalone generator to power certain tools and equipment rather than depending on a traditional PTO solution,” Foster said.

Collaborating closely with your fleet management provider to discuss the goals of your organization and the role your fleet vehicles play in supporting those objectives also can prove helpful.

“Together, you can customize your vehicles to maximize the fleet’s revenue-generating potential at the lowest total cost of ownership,” Foster said.


Selecting the Right Fuel Card Program for Your Fleet

With fuel being one of the greatest expenses for any fleet organization, a fuel card program can be a helpful and efficient way to keep track of spending, usually at little or no cost to fleets. Recently, Utility Fleet Professional spoke with two fuel card experts who shared tips for what to look for in such a program.

While a number of organizations house on-site fuel stations and can easily track fuel spend and consumption that way, there are still instances when drivers are unable to make it back to the garage site to fill up. For example, drivers who are dispatched for emergency or weather-related work may have to fill up at an outside retailer or truck stop instead (i.e., an area where fuel activities can no longer be monitored).

Using a fuel card program can supplement these operations to give clients flexibility and appropriate oversight of fuel use, according to Steve Jastrow, vice president of consulting and analytics for Element (

“If fleets don’t have a managed program today, the fuel card is a great solution,” he said. “Fraud prevention, oversight of usage, productivity and the data to report/benchmark can all deliver savings.”

Tony Piscopo, director of global fleet/product management for ARI (, agreed.

“The backbone of an effective fuel program includes processes to authorize purchases, capture data, control spend and mitigate fraudulent activities, and most fleet fuel cards can help power those initiatives,” he explained.

Most fleet fuel cards also are accepted at more than 95% of all retail fueling locations, providing a convenient solution for fleet drivers. On top of that, many offer discounts or rebates.

“In some scenarios, these discounts can significantly lower the fleet’s overall fuel spend,” Piscopo said.

What to Look For
Before shopping around for fuel card programs, take some time to think about what you’re trying to achieve.

“Utility fleet operators need to clearly define their goals when selecting a fuel card,” Piscopo said. “Each feature of a fuel card will influence other features or impact an area of your fleet operations, and you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of these various scenarios.”

Every organization’s fueling needs are different, and not all fuel card programs are the same.

“A card program should provide you with a variety of tools to drive productivity and savings,” Jastrow said.

Features Jastrow recommended keeping an eye out for include:

  • Spend limit authorization controls.
  • Flexibility in reporting to get more granular details on product purchases.
  • Real-time transaction exception alerts.
  • Flexibility in prompts at the pump when purchasing (e.g., collecting employee identification number).
  • Escalation program for fraud.
  • Level 3 reporting to help manage fuel vs. non-fuel purchases.

The ability to combine all billing and transaction data into a single stream for the fleet operator also is a valuable function to consider, Piscopo noted.

“When you’re able to combine the fuel data with your fleet’s other data (maintenance history, route information, telematics data, etc.), it helps to provide a holistic view of performance and delivers actionable insight that can be leveraged to identify fraudulent transactions, reduce operating costs, forecast and budget expenses, etc.,” he said.

Other items to pay attention to include fees for reporting as well as miscellaneous billing and payment terms, which can be on a daily, weekly or monthly billing cycle.

“Rebates are often part of the pricing, and the billing cycle, payment terms and Level 3 reporting will all factor into how much the rebate is worth,” Jastrow said. “Careful attention and analysis should be considered when evaluating multiple programs.” 

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


Less Fuel, More Savings
Fuel is one of the largest expenses for most fleets, and utility fleets are no exception. Even during this time of COVID-19, many utility fleets deemed essential services have continued operating with no significant decreases in fuel usage.

So, reducing fuel spend is one area that can see an immediate benefit from the use of a fuel card program.

According to Steve Jastrow, vice president of consulting and analytics at Element, many of its clients approached the company after experiencing driver misuse because they lacked the right purchase controls or fueling policies within their fleets.

It’s not an uncommon scenario. Fleet management company ARI shared one example in which a fuel card program was used to watch areas of potential abuse and error.

Doing so contributed to one of its clients – a large vocational fleet with light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles – saving more than $1 million over the course of 18 months.

The fuel card program was just one part of a multipronged program for the client that focused on the reduction of fuel costs across the fleet. The program centered on four elements essential to controlling fuel costs: fuel management policy, mpg improvement, cost-per-gallon improvement and monitoring fuel card use.

According to ARI, holding drivers accountable for their fuel card habits created a “ripple effect” across the fleet of over 8,000 units.

“This has been accomplished mainly through an improvement of mpg, but we have also captured real dollars in a relative (to market averages) reduction of the cost of fuel,” according to the company.

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