Author: Jim Galligan


The Gas-or-Diesel Decision Gets Complicated

Which engine – gasoline or diesel – is best for light-duty vehicles? The age-old answer is, of course, it depends. It depends on annual mileage, fuel economy, purchase price, expected lifespan, fuel costs, maintenance and more; a whole assortment of considerations specific to the fleet. 

Those considerations still drive the fleet’s decision tree, but recent advancements in the engines, oils, fuels, maintenance support and even onboard performance data have given fleet buyers more means to find the best power choice. 

Take lifespan, for example. Advancements in equipment durability and manufacturing processes combined with higher-quality fuel and oil are pushing out the average lifespans of gasoline engines, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry ( and a former utility fleet executive. 

“Ten, even five years ago, fleets would turn in their gasoline-powered truck at about seven years and 70,000 miles,” Survant said. “Now, I wouldn’t consider turning it in under 150,000 miles.”

Fuel economy is another example. The newer non-hybrid gasoline engines with single or dual turbos, less weight and multispeed (6-, 8- and 10-speed) transmissions have narrowed the traditional fuel economy gap with diesels, with some spark-ignition units getting ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Power ratings are up, too. Ford’s 2017 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost rates a beefy 470 pound-feet of torque.

King of the Hill
That’s good news for fleets partial to gasoline, but diesels are still king of the hill when it comes to fuel economy and durability. Ram’s 1500 HFE powered by the 3-liter V-6 EcoDiesel offers 21 city/29 highway mpg ratings, while Chevrolet’s quarter-ton Colorado with a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder Duramax diesel comes in at 22 city/30 highway. Also, diesels still will give a fleet upward of a quarter-million miles, and with their entrance into the light-duty pickup sector, they’re giving fleet managers new options for durability, power and towing capacity unknown just a few years ago. 

Diesel fuel still costs more per gallon than gasoline, but the overall drop in fuel and oil prices has made that either/or decision less of a factor than in the past. Further, unlike their medium- and heavy-duty brothers, light-duty diesels use the simpler, less expensive cooled exhaust gas recirculation process to control emissions. 

Yes, diesels still come with a price premium over standard gasoline engines, but so do the newer eco engines. Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost will add almost $2,600 to the MSRP over the company’s standard V-6, depending on specs.

Even with diesel’s benefits in those areas, it generally continues to be plagued by its history as a power plant that required more service, smelled and was more expensive, Survant noted. “Despite the improvements manufacturers have made in the engines and emissions, some fleets still opt for gasoline power plants because they believe diesels would leave the public with a poor impression of the company,” he said. 

Not only do today’s utility fleet managers have many more engine options than they did just a few years ago, they also have access to more operational data to help them make the gasoline-or-diesel decision. Whether, or how, they use that information is critical to getting the best value out of their engine choice, Survant said. 

“We’re seeing a lot better use of data in fleet decisions than even five years ago,” he said. “For example, fleets are using data to look at the lifetime cost of their power plants instead of simply pricing fleet purchases based on annual mileage. There’s a growing recognition that the ability to make decisions based on data is a skill for fleet leaders. As more and more people come into those roles with those skills, that will separate good fleets and well-run fleets from everyone else.” 

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Buyer Trends Shifting Gasoline, Diesel Shares
Gasoline and diesel engines shares in light-duty commercial trucks appear to be shifting as gasoline engine use grows in Class 4, while the availability of diesels in quarter- and half-ton pickups may boost that power plant’s share in Class 1 commercial vehicles, according to data from IHS Markit ( for Utility Fleet Professional. 

Diesel use in Class 1C is practically nil and still lost ground last year. New commercial vehicle registrations fell to 6,535 units in 2016 from just over 23,000 in 2014. However, with both Ram and General Motors (Chevrolet/GMC) now offering diesels in their light-duty pickups, and Ford’s announcement that it would offer a diesel in the 2018 F-150, those Class 1 diesel numbers may grow significantly. 

In Class 4, gasoline’s share of new vehicle registrations jumped nearly 44 percent in 2016 from 2015 to account for 70 percent of that market. The growth likely was due to the latest offerings of more powerful and economical engines. Diesel sales dropped about 11 percent, and flexible fuel engine sales fell approximately 12 percent, according to IHS Markit.

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Utility Fleets Increasing Efficiencies
More than half of the utility/telecom fleets responding to a recent survey are changing their vehicle specs in an effort to improve fuel economy or reduce vehicle utilization, according to NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry. 

In its “2017 Fleet Purchasing Outlook,” NTEA said 56 percent of utility/telecom fleets responded in the affirmative when asked if they were receptive to changing conventional truck specs to achieve greater efficiencies. 

The four most common fuel-saving strategies employed by fleets across multiple sectors (construction, delivery/cartage, government/municipal, utility/telecom and other) were driver training and monitoring, telematics and route optimization, improved aerodynamics and truck systems electrification, NTEA said. 

NTEA surveyed 200 fleet executives, of which about 15 percent were from utility/telecom fleets.



Getting the Most Out of Your Tires

As a utility fleet manager, you operate perhaps the most diversified vehicle fleet of any business, typically using all weight classes of trucks, from light- to heavy-duty, on the road and off, hauling aerial devices, digger derricks and a slew of other job-specific equipment on good pavement or through fields of debris.

Given these characteristics, getting the best value and performance from your tires may not be rocket science, but it does take planning, smart spec’ing and commitment to a maintenance program, according to tire manufacturers.

A fleet’s first step toward tire value is to determine its goals, said Bill Walmsley, product category manager with Michelin Americas Truck Tires ( What do you want in your tires? Durable, trouble-free service and long, even wear? Additional features? Regardless, selecting the best tire for the application is key. Walmsley suggested that fleets start by looking at the same tire size they currently have on their equipment by wheel position and then explore available options in that size to meet the specific conditions under which the equipment will operate. “This might entail specific load-carrying requirements, weather conditions or environmental issues, such as off-road products or tires which operate well in field or snow conditions,” he said.

Calibrating the balance between load and appropriate tire pressure is critical, but it also is easy since every tire manufacturer publishes load and inflation charts for their tires. The only way to make sure the calibrations are correct is to know the loads being carried and use the charts, Walmsley said.

“Tires are designed and optimized to carry a desired load at a specified pressure. Proper pressure for the maximum load being carried is very important. Underinflation and overinflation for the loads being carried will affect tire and casing life and performance,” Walmsley said.

Balance the Benefits
Utility fleets, like all fleets, ultimately are looking for tires that will help lower their operating costs, noted Brian Buckham, general manager of product marketing for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ( Regardless of application and wheel position, it is important to achieve the right balance of performance benefits.

“In the past, when one benefit such as low rolling resistance in a particular type of tire was optimized, the other benefits of the ‘performance triangle’ – miles to removal and tear resistance – were reduced,” Buckham said. “This dynamic is much less prevalent these days.”

Additionally, fuel economy for vocational tires used to be sacrificed in favor of tread compounds that emphasized miles to removal and tear resistance. The combination of fuel economy regulations and customer requirements has changed those performance priorities, Buckham noted. “With the continual evolution in technology and tire design, engineers have made significant strides in maintaining all three performance properties,” he said. “As fuel-efficiency regulations continue to tighten, the need for tires that help deliver reduced rolling resistance and enhanced fuel economy will only grow. The goal of Goodyear’s research is to develop tires that help fleets reduce their fuel consumption with little to no effect on miles to removal and tear resistance.”

Select a tire that is best for your application needs while also offering good performance and durability that may meet multiple life needs for retreading. That’s the best measure of the overall cost of ownership and return on your tire investment.

“Consider value, not just cost,” Michelin’s Walmsley said. “A replacement tire that offers the best value is not necessarily the one with the lowest price.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Tire Monitoring Programs Can Help Fleets
Commercial tire manufacturers have long offered services to help fleets monitor tire performance, but the addition of online programs appears to give fleet managers a faster, easier way to spot problems.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s Tire Trac program, for example, monitors tire installations, the performance of tires in the field or on the road, the reasons why tires were removed from service, tire inflation history and other key metrics, said Brian Buckham, general manager of product marketing for the tire manufacturer.

“Tire Trac also helps fleets identify tire maintenance opportunities, which can result in real savings,” he said.

Goodyear gathers the Tire Trac data through fleet surveys. Technicians perform on-site inspections to measure tire inflation levels, tread depths and other aspects of a tire’s condition, Buckham said. The captured information is used to create customized reports that show how a fleet’s tires are performing. The program lets utility and other fleets zero in on a specific tire or look at all of the tires across their operation. Fleets can compare cost per mile from location to location and identify systemic trends, Buckham added.


Put a Tire Maintenance Policy on Paper
A good, written policy specifying the maintenance practices a fleet wants followed is a must to get the maximum life out of their tires, said Bill Walmsley, product category manager with Michelin Americas Truck Tires.

A tire maintenance policy should be specific to the fleet’s vehicles, equipment, geography, distance traveled, loads carried, time on the road and other pertinent factors, Walmsley said. It also should cover the specifics of new replacement tires.

Key to this policy is the use of retreading. While retreading may be a given for most fleets, it’s still worth noting that all steer casings can be used for drive and trailer retreads, noted Walmsley. “A casing is fully capable of moving to either position depending on the casing’s age and condition,” he said. “Individual fleets need to determine load composition, winter travel and other sensitivities when determining their retread policy.”

As a rule, the number of times that a tire can be retreaded depends on the application. A steer tire can be retreaded into a drive axle or trailer axle tire; a drive axle tire can be retreaded into either a drive axle tire or trailer axle tire; and a trailer axle tire can be retreaded into another trailer axle tire.

Finally, a fleet’s maintenance policy also should include scrap analysis, Walmsley said.


The Pros and Cons of Driver-Facing Cameras in Utility Fleets

In-cab cameras have gained a foothold and acceptance among numerous service and freight delivery fleets for the technology’s ability to improve safety and lower accident and claim costs.

Utilities, however, perhaps because of their different operational model and high system costs, appear to be relying on more traditional methods to manage risk and improve driver skills. In calls to six electric utilities across the U.S., only one – National Grid, which provides electric and gas delivery in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – is using the technology as of press time.

National Grid uses about 3,600 recorders fleet-wide. For Frank Prost, director of downstate gas construction, the 316 units in his department’s trucks have worked as advertised: They’ve helped to boost safety by improving driver skills, assigning accountability and preventing accidents.

The group has seen a significant improvement in driving, according to Prost. “We’re in a much, much better place with our driving,” he said. “It’s a safer environment for employees and the public. [The cameras have] helped us numerous times. We’d get complaints about incidents but didn’t have any proof. If there’s an event, now you have a video telling us what the driver was doing. Now you can prove it.”

The cameras also have all but eliminated backing-up insurance scams, Prost said. People would intentionally back into a National Grid truck at a traffic light and claim the driver hit them. Now, drivers can get out of their truck, point to the camera and say that the video will show the truth. “The people drive off,” he said.

More typical of the utilities contacted is Ameren Missouri’s approach. “We use driver training to mitigate accidents and improve driver skills,” said Steve Hampton, director of fleet services for the St. Louis-based utility.

Understanding Resistance
One reason for the lack of acceptance of in-cab cameras may simply be the operational model; utility trucks spend less time moving and more time on-site than other fleet operations, so traditional coaching methods and training seem to work. Combine that with the costs of the technology – $100 or more per unit plus monthly subscription fees, depending on the service and supplier – and showing a return on the investment can be difficult.

There’s also an issue of union resistance to the cameras, said Jeff Stoker, president of Safety Track (, a national wholesaler and direct supplier of fleet and asset tracking based in Belleville, Mich. “There’s a lot of pushback when unions are involved,” he said.

Del Lisk, vice president of safety services with San Diego-based Lytx DriveCam (, said Lytx has a different pricing model for utilities, but he would not discuss pricing except to say that it’s a subscription base.

In the typical system, cameras are positioned in the cab and continually record both in front of the vehicle and the driver’s actions. The systems have sensors that are triggered whenever there is an event, such as hard braking, a sharp turn, speeding or any of several customer-set situations. The system will automatically save a video of several seconds before and after the event and then either upload the data to a server or save it to an SD card for downloading later, or both.

At Lytx, videos are automatically uploaded to the supplier’s system, where they are reviewed. The customer is notified if any are deemed “actionable,” Lisk said.

“We’re reviewing about 2 million video clips a month, and about 10 percent are actionable,” he said.

Lisk also said their system could provide different coaching opportunities for fleets. “Depending on the customer’s capability, the supervisor can meet with the worker in the field via the web, or email the worker with a link with a video showing the issue or topic,” he explained.

The technology is not new, but it has been getting better, Stoker said. Videos today are higher quality and the cameras themselves are smaller and less obtrusive.

As for the technology’s value, Stoker noted that one catastrophic event could change a company. “Having this presents the opportunity to reduce or eliminate events,” he said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Video System Buying Tips
Are you thinking of purchasing an in-cab video system? Here are some points worth considering.

Use a system that includes both video analysis and coaching. Combine vehicle data and video event recording with a driving improvement program. In addition, it is a necessity that administration and operations have a strong commitment to the program.

San Diego-based SmartDrive Systems ( suggests that the broader the set of data sources used to trigger video events, the more effective the system will be at identifying risky driving. Accelerometer reports provide event data, but engine and vehicle data and active safety systems also can be used.

Consider how the data or videos are accessed. Are videos uploaded automatically or do chip cards have to be pulled from the system to upload or access the information? This will affect not only convenience but likely costs as well.

Is the platform open or proprietary, and how will that affect connectivity throughout your network? Will the system integrate with your back-office system, and how important is that feature?

What type of reports and key performance indicators does the system offer, and does that match your needs?


New Power Sources Aid Anti-Idling Efforts

Unnecessary idling is still the bane of many utility fleets, and while not every fleet wants to turn off vehicle engines at job sites, some new and updated technologies are offering improved auxiliary energy options.

In March, Altec ( introduced JEMS 4, the latest version of its Jobsite Energy Management System, which offers integrated engine-off cab heating and cooling and an on-demand, electrified PTO for hydraulic power.

The anti-idling system is automatic; as soon as the truck is put in park or neutral, the engine shuts down. “In this way, idle mitigation is not something the operator has to think about,” said Mark Greer, Altec market manager.

JEMS 4 relies on a new generation of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, which offer improved thermal and chemical stability – safer chemistries – than the previous cobalt-based lithium-ion batteries. Also, the battery pack is about half the weight of previous versions and takes up about half the space, Greer said. (For more information, see the “Better Batteries, Lower Prices” sidebar at the end of this article.)

The core of JEMS is the idle and power management system from Cullman, Ala.-based ZeroRPM ( In addition to the controller, components include lithium-iron power and energy modules to power booms, buckets and systems, said Evan Miller, vice president of sales and marketing. ZeroRPM also offers a stand-alone AC unit powered by the energy modules, and for organizations with enough roof space, the company has a solar-powered option to charge the batteries.

Florida Power & Light Co. added the JEMS system on more than 100 of its Ford F-550 bucket trucks, and this has helped meet the fleet’s anti-idling policy at most job sites, said Glenn Martin, manager of fleet quality and reliability. The auxiliary battery packs with the ZeroRPM system have “performed pretty well,” according to Martin. FPL also added ZeroRPM’s AC unit that operates “real close to the vehicle AC,” he said.

Baltimore Gas & Electric monitors idling via its onboard telematics system, said Joe Byrd, senior business analyst with the utility fleet. The operator controls idling, but managers receive regular reports, and it’s up to them to identify unnecessary use. Idling has dropped in half since installing the telematics system, with most of that coming from shutting down the trucks at the service center and during loading, Byrd said.

BGE also is testing Altec’s JEMS and Odyne Systems’ hybrid trucks, Byrd noted.

Solar Power Option
For some select applications, solar panels may be a power option.

Warwick, R.I.-based eNow Inc. ( offers a cab-top array of solar panels for the transportation sector. The panels provide 13 watts/1 amp of power per square foot, enough to power an HVAC unit as well as lights and other job site equipment, said Jeffrey Flath, founder and president. Although typically there is not enough array space atop a truck’s cab to provide power for buckets, cranes or heavy auxiliary devices, “our system would charge auxiliary batteries so the engine doesn’t come on as often,” he said.

The panels are encapsulated in ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a rugged plastic that resists tree branches better than glass systems, and are maintenance free, Flath said. The panels are one-eighth of an inch thick and weigh approximately a half-pound per square foot, compared to 2.5 to 4 pounds per square foot typical with glass systems, Flath noted.

The system ties in with the truck’s alternator. On sunny days the system charges the batteries, and on cloudy days the alternator takes over. The cost for a 100-watt system – including the panels, solar charge controller, wiring harness and installation – is about $960. eNow Inc. has installation arrangements with Mitsubishi Fuso, Johnson, Morgan and Hercules truck body manufacturers, as well as Palfinger Liftgates, among others.

Start-Stop System
Effenco (, headquartered in Montreal, offers a start-stop system for heavy trucks that essentially is an idle mitigation system. It incorporates batteries, an electric motor and an ultracapacitor to provide electric power to the aerial device, cab and chassis accessories, including the HVAC system when the engine is off. The electric motor is used to start the engine.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Better Batteries, Lower Prices
The batteries being used in today’s auxiliary battery systems are safer, lighter and less costly than their predecessors, all factors that may prompt more utility fleets to look at idle mitigation systems.

Before a fleet manager OKs an idle mitigation system that will shut down engines at job sites, they want assurance that the onboard auxiliary battery systems are going to provide safe, reliable power. Lithium-ion batteries were a huge advancement over lead-acid units, but they also are expensive, thermally unstable and toxic, reasons fleet managers have cited for not using them.

The latest generation of the lithium battery – the lithium-iron-phosphate battery – offers longer life, greater stability and more power density than the earlier cobalt-based lithium-ion battery.

“There’s been tremendous work in lithium-iron,” said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART (, a Pasadena, Calif.-based nonprofit entity that promotes clean transportation. The combination of the new chemistry and high-volume manufacturing has opened the door for cheaper, safer auxiliary power, he said.

High-volume orders for lithium-iron batteries from companies like General Motors (for the Chevrolet Volt) and Tesla Motors have reduced power prices for batteries to about $200 to $300 per kilowatt-hour, down from more than $700 and higher three to five years ago, Van Amburg said. Because the commercial truck sector doesn’t see that volume, the price drops are not as great, but he said “[they’re] still substantial” and trending down.


Top Trends in Utility Fleet Telematics

What’s next for fleet telematics? Utility Fleet Professional talked to a few experts in the field to see where it is trending in the coming years. The conclusions? By 2020, better data analysis, broader connectivity across platforms and devices, and more choices could mean increased safety, improved efficiencies and lower costs up and down a fleet’s hierarchy.

Data Analysis
“The most significant trend we’re seeing is the investment in data analytics,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI (

Fleets are being swamped with the amount of data their telematics systems are delivering, but fleet managers have to know what data is important and what data is not. “Telematics solutions without data analytics to assist in trending, predicting and engaging with the outcomes will have minimal impact in how a fleet operates,” Candeloro explained. “Aggregating telematics data with vehicle life-cycle data, operational data and historical business data opens up tremendous opportunity to find operational efficiency opportunities.”

In the near future, predictive analytics – i.e., using data to predict what will happen next – will have a significant effect on fleet safety by identifying risks sooner than is currently possible, noted Kimberly Clark, product leader with Element Fleet Management (

“Fleet managers will be looking at a broader array of data than has been available in the past, with the goal of preventing accidents,” she said.

Usage-Based Analysis
Clem Driscoll, principal with C.J. Driscoll & Associates (, a consulting and research services firm, predicts that over the next five years, more utility fleets will adopt usage-based safety analysis, which assigns risk and premiums based on a driver’s real-time habits rather than past performance. The result will be reduced accident risk and insurance costs.

“Usage-based insurance for fleet operators is in the early stages,” Driscoll said. “But even today, many insurance companies provide a discretionary discount of about 5 percent to fleets using telematics. Usage-based telematics programs are expanding in the consumer sector, and the commercial sector will follow.”

Broader Connectivity
Utility fleets also should be looking at ways to connect all divisions of their organization because the trend toward greater connectivity across multiple platforms and devices will increase safety, improve efficiencies and lower costs, according to Tim Taylor, chief success officer with Telogis (

“Our focus as an organization is on how the truck, mobile worker, work, organization, customer, mobile device and software platforms all connect to drive improvement in safety, efficiency, sustainability, asset utilization and customer service,” Taylor said. “Our language has changed from ‘telematics’ to ‘connected intelligence,’ or mobile resource management. Telematics implies data from the vehicle, which we do for sure, but mobile resource management encompasses a much broader picture of the connected, optimized and automated mobile enterprise.”

In five years, that interconnectivity will include the infrastructure, Element’s Clark said. Ford Motor Co. is working with onboard systems that read road signs and automatically adjust a vehicle’s speed, but that is just a lead-up to RFID sensors that beam speed restrictions to the vehicle’s system, she noted.

Related to broader connectivity, collaboration between and among the telematics providers, fleet management companies and OEMs will allow for quicker, more informed decision-making by fleet managers, according to ARI’s Candeloro. “Whether it’s reduced total cost of ownership, improvements in driver safety or enhanced operational efficiencies, fleet managers will see a true return on their investment regardless of the telematics solution they choose,” he said. “Fleet managers will also see opportunities to not just impact the bottom line by reducing costs, but actually see opportunities to help their businesses increase top-line revenues.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Factory-Installed Telematics: Good or Bad?
Experts predict that over the next few years, commercial fleets are going to see more OEMs and third-party suppliers in the telematics arena. But choose suppliers and platforms wisely, or you may end up with the telematics equivalent of the Tower of Babel.

“The line is starting to blur when it comes to companies that provide telematics services to fleet customers,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI. “There are independent telematics companies, fleet management companies and, in some cases, OEMs that are all playing some role. In fact, it is not uncommon to have all three parties partnering together to provide the customer with a comprehensive solution. We are anticipating, however, that all of the various providers will eventually begin to develop the capability to offer and support a single-sourced solution. There are certain [OEMs] that have already integrated their entire telematics product offering.

“One particularly valuable role the OEMs will play in the future will be in streamlining the telematics device installation process,” Candeloro continued. “The more vehicles that can come off the line with a telematics device already installed, or line-fitted for a device, will drastically improve the supply chain overall.”

While that may make it easier for fleets to add onboard telematics systems, it presents a mixed blessing for utility fleets, said Ryan Driscoll, director of marketing for GPS Insight (

“One of the biggest problems with OEM-installed [GPS] solutions is that they do not work for mixed fleets,” he said. “It is very unlikely for a business to have just one make of vehicle or all new vehicles throughout their entire fleet. So if you do have other vehicle types with varied ages, you will end up using multiple OEM solutions to track those vehicles. Using multiple GPS tracking platforms is complicated, expensive and will waste valuable time.

“It is also important to remember that GPS tracking solutions are not created equally, and it is certainly the case when discussing OEM solutions and third-party GPS-tracking software,” Driscoll continued. “OEM solutions are typically a one-size-fits-all solution with zero customizations available based on your business model. Software development is not a focus for vehicle manufacturers, so OEM solutions are typically very basic and [often] fall short of expectations.”

Driscoll recommends that fleets investing in GPS tracking to help solve business challenges ensure that they choose software that has the capability to do so.


Data is Driving Utility Fleet Maintenance Decisions

Maintenance schedules based on “the way it’s always been done” are trending downward. Instead, more utility fleets are relying on the operational data they collect from onboard technologies to set maintenance intervals and equipment specs.

That’s the biggest trend today in fleet maintenance, according to Chris Shaffer, partner at Utilimarc (, a Minneapolis-based consulting and benchmarking firm. “[Utility fleets] are using actual engine hours or miles to trigger service.”

That collected operational data also is driving changes in equipment specs with the goal of reducing maintenance costs and improving utilization, Shaffer added.

“There is pressure to rightsize the fleet, and to do that successfully [fleet managers] have to spec the vehicle to improve utilization. They’re trying to be leaner, meaner, and that means they have to better spec the vehicle,” he said.

Sherry Pinion, director of fleet services for Cobb EMC, an electric cooperative in Marietta, Ga., said that was the idea behind some of the changes the fleet made to its specs.

“We’re trying to do a better job designing the vehicle for the job use,” she said.

“In the past, all of our trucks’ bed configurations were different,” explained Chris Hardy, Cobb’s fleet services coordinator. “We are standardizing our bed configuration, material quantity, even the material location in an effort to improve inventory tracking, worker efficiency, safety and weight distribution on each chassis,” all to improve utilization and reduce maintenance costs.

Indianapolis Power & Light Co. (IP&L) has been using telematics from Telogis ( for several years to improve truck specs and reduce the turnaround cycle on their trucks, said Les Gose, fleet maintenance manager.

“We’re trying to retire equipment before it becomes burdensome on our costs,” he said. Better spec’ing has meant reduced downtime and better utilization, which has enabled IP&L to reduce manpower by about 30 percent, Gose added.

Meeting Standards and Sharing Data
A current challenge facing utility fleets’ maintenance departments are the changes required to meet greenhouse gas emissions standards, said Charlie Guthro, vice president of North American fleet management for ARI (

“As OEMs adapt and change their engines to meet new regulations, operators continue to struggle to keep their vehicles on the road,” he said. “It can be a combination of maintenance requirements or operator education and awareness. As engines become smarter and more fuel-efficient, they become more complicated with increased [onboard diagnostic] warning lights and readings that drivers and maintenance technicians need to diagnose to keep vehicles on the road.”

The upside to this and certain other maintenance-related challenges is that, more and more, fleet maintenance departments don’t have to face them all on their own. There is now a growing trend among utilities to share operational and maintenance data gathered from onboard vehicle technologies between the two departments.

“Sharing information between them is very resourceful,” said John Davis, fleet management consultant for Dossier Systems (, a maintenance software provider headquartered in Burlington, N.J. “We’re seeing improved communications between the two because everyone is now looking at the same data. Having the [truck’s operational] information at their fingertips means better decisions, and that means saved money.”

Sharing that kind of data gives both the operations and maintenance departments a better understanding of how vehicle use affects maintenance, said Jeffrey Schneider, fleet manager for Louisville Gas and Electric Co. The company will be installing GPS and telematics systems in its fleet of more than 1,800 vehicles with the goal of reducing both operational and maintenance costs.

“We’re trying to bring maintenance and operational groups closer together to share more of the vehicle maintenance [data] with the operational side,” he said. “The addition of telematics will give our operational people a better idea of how the truck is used.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Maintenance Infographics

Source: Utilimarc

Maintenance-related wages and work among utility and municipal fleets have not varied much from 2011 to 2014, the latest data available, according to Utilimarc. Data is based on annual surveys of 55 to 60 companies with approximately 150,000 collective units.

The mechanic’s average straight wage increased a total of about 6.5 percent from 2011 to 2014. As shown, the average billed hours and outsourced work dropped slightly from 2013 to 2014.

A total of 32 percent of utility companies pay mechanics between $33.57 and $36.59 an hour, while 70 percent of municipalities pay mechanics less than $33.56 an hour, according to 2014 data, Utilimarc said.

It’s notable that the average days between preventive maintenance intervals jumped 41 percent in 2013. Many utility and municipal fleets were able to buy new equipment beginning in 2013 after several years of spending freezes, which might account for the extended intervals. Similarly, the average days between unscheduled maintenance also increased from 2011 to 2014, perhaps reflecting the influx of new equipment into the fleets.

-Jim Galligan


Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

Winter is approaching, and for utilities operating in the Frost Belt, keeping crews warm isn’t just a good thing to do – it’s a safety imperative.

For vehicle cab comfort, the choices fall between keeping the engine running and using the truck’s HVAC system, or using an auxiliary heater. As always, the choice depends on the fleet’s desires.

The simplest solution is to keep the engine running, but that’s a costly option for fleet managers focused on keeping down fuel costs. Idle-limiting systems help fleets get over that hurdle. With numerous choices available on the aftermarket, these systems automatically shut down the engine at a work site, periodically turning it on for a few minutes to recharge the batteries to power the PTO and hydraulics. They significantly reduce fuel use, and the length of time the engine runs can be adjusted to ensure the truck’s heater keeps the cab comfortable.

Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, Wash., is testing a system from ZeroRPM ( that has a cab comfort setting to maintain temperatures when the truck is on-site. The system automatically starts the engine and will run an average of five to seven minutes every hour, depending on the level of heat needed, according to Evan Miller, ZeroRPM’s vice president of sales. “The system can provide full HVAC service if [the fleet] wants. There are different applications for heat,” he said.

Avista’s primary goals are to reduce fuel costs while keeping the crew’s safety at the forefront, and the ZeroRPM system suits their needs, said Greg Loew, fleet manager. “We do burn a sizable chunk of fuel a year idling vehicles, but you have to think about how to take care of the guys who are out there,” he said. “It’s a safety thing and it’s a critical thing to consider. You need systems that allow the guys to be comfortable.”

If the idle mitigation system performs well this winter, Avista will consider adding more during the next buying cycle, Loew said.

Don’t want – or need – to run the engine, even periodically? Auxiliary air and coolant heaters from companies such as Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems ( and Webasto ( will handle cold-weather needs while saving engine use. These systems operate independently of a truck’s temperature control system and typically use a fraction of the fuel a truck would use while idling, according to the manufacturers.

If all you need to heat is the air inside the cab, auxiliary air heaters are the way to go. These are mounted inside the cab and tied into the truck’s fuel line.

Hydronic (coolant) heaters are integrated in series or parallel to the existing coolant lines and will preheat the engine and also supply warm air into the cab via the vehicle’s heat exchanger, explained John Dennehy, Eberspaecher’s vice president of marketing and communications. The heaters are mounted inside the engine compartment or along the frame rail.

Detroit-based DTE Energy uses a variety of systems to keep trucks operating and crews warm in winter temperatures that often hit below zero, said Gerard Huvaere, procurement specialist. The hydronic system from Eberspaecher (formerly Espar) heats the coolant to help engine starting, ensure cab comfort and warm the aerials’ hydraulic oils. DTE also uses Eberspaecher space heaters as well as Altec’s JEMS (Jobsite Energy Management System), an auxiliary battery-based system that provides power for job site needs and cab comfort systems.

DTE is looking for “startability and employee comfort” in its heating systems, Huvaere said. “All closed work spaces have some sort of heating.”

Crews like a system that gives them the ability to set the start time, but in the end, Huvaere said, it’s “any system that keeps them warm.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Selecting Auxiliary Heaters
The first decision utility fleet managers have to make when considering an auxiliary heating system is which type fits their needs: hydronic or air.

The simple answer is that if all the fleet needs to heat is the vehicle’s cab, an air heater will do the job. Air heaters consume a fraction of fuel per hour compared with an idling truck. The Air Top 2000 ST from Webasto, for example, will use about 1 gallon of fuel per 22 hours, according to the company. Air heaters also are easier to install and cost less than hydronic systems.

Size depends on the space to be heated, but John Dennehy, vice president of marketing and communications for Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems, said the company’s smaller model would be appropriate for most utility cabs.

Hydronic systems, on the other hand, are used to preheat the engine coolant, provide heat to the cab and warm the aerial hydraulics, if needed. Suppliers offer multiple sizes depending on engine sizes and the fleet’s needs, but the smaller sizes may suffice for most utility fleet needs.

The principal benefit of auxiliary heaters is lower fuel costs. Suppliers have simple fuel-saving calculators on their websites, but beyond direct fuel savings, the total cost savings from using an auxiliary heater in lieu of idling the engine may also come from longer service intervals, longer engine life and improved startability on cold mornings.


Using Video Monitoring Wisely

Whether the goal is to improve driver performance, protect against fraudulent claims or reduce accident and liability costs, in-cab video monitors can provide utility fleets with another tool to aid their safety improvement efforts.

But if they are installed without laying the proper groundwork with employees or not used wisely, they can also be a waste of money at best and, at worst, a disruptive force that can push safety efforts in the wrong direction, fleet executives cautioned.

Northern Indiana Public Service Co., a NiSource subsidiary, has been piloting the DriveCam system from Lytx ( in more than 200 systems for over six months, said Chuck Bunting, NiSource fleet manager.

NIPSCO uses both union and nonunion drivers, and the utility’s approach has been to pitch the DriveCam system to them as another layer of safety and a way to help people become better drivers, according to Bunting. “We tell them it’s something else in [their] toolbox,” he said.

“We’re using the system in situations where it’s warranted, where the driver needs coaching,” Bunting continued. “It’s too early in the pilot to have any data on its efficacy. We are looking for the ROI on it, but we have no hard data to date.”

Jason Palmer, president of SmartDrive Systems (, said it’s most important for companies to be transparent when rolling out the system to fleet drivers. “Explain clearly what the system does and what it doesn’t do,” he said. “The biggest mistake a fleet can make is to just install the system and not tell drivers.”

This is especially critical with utilities that often use union workers, he said. “We meet with the company and the union stewards ahead of time to explain the system and work with them. Drivers are concerned that the camera is recording them all the time, so we explain that we’re only recording when something happens, when there is an event.”

System Differences
In-cab video systems differ from telematics and other event data recorders by providing a visual and audial record of actions. In these systems, the in-cab camera is continually on, but video and audio are captured only when a G-force event occurs, such as a hard brake or avoidance maneuver. In Lytx’s case, for example, when an event as determined by the customer occurs, the recorded video and audio, consisting of up to eight seconds before and four seconds after the event, are saved and uploaded to the company’s center for analysis. If the event meets preset conditions, such as driver error, it will be forwarded to the fleet for action.

Fleets can set the event trigger depending on their priorities, Palmer said. “Utilities most of the time have zero tolerance for any cellphone use in the truck. We allow the customer to set the [system triggers].”

Drivers could also actuate it if needed, such as when entering a potential problem area in a rough neighborhood, for instance, explained Greg Lund, director of corporate communications for Lytx.

A basic system consists of cameras that record the driver and what’s occurring in front of the vehicle.

Systems can also tie into other radar-based safety systems, such as those that focus on collision avoidance and lane departure warnings, as well as provide a visual record of outside activities 360 degrees around the truck. Costs range from $500 to $1,000 per unit for hardware and $30 to $50 per unit for monthly subscription costs, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan (

The most common use of an in-cab monitoring system is to coach drivers on how to eliminate poor habits, but it also provides a visual record of accidents, regardless of who was at fault.

“Not only are fleets using it for improving driver behavior, but we’re seeing more exonerations where a video can show a driver not at fault for an incident,” Lund said.

The use of these systems has grown substantially over the past few years as technology has improved, and the rate of growth is only going to increase. A June 2015 report from Frost & Sullivan noted that there are about 300,000 units in use worldwide, with North America accounting for about 90 percent of those installations. Growth in the use of onboard safety sensors – such as the previously mentioned collision avoidance and lane departure warning systems – will drive a fourfold increase to between 1.3 million and 1.5 million units by 2021, the report predicted.

“This represents a compound annual growth rate of over 25 percent, which seems reasonable, but we believe there is even more opportunity,” Lund said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Plug-In Pickups: A Market in Need of Products

An initiative to increase utility fleets’ use of plug-in hybrid electric pickup trucks (see “Utilities Push Toward Fleet Electrification”) runs up against the reality that there are few vehicle options available to interested fleets.

But as growth in the electric power industry slows, electrifying the transportation sector “is a huge, albeit long-term opportunity for load growth,” the Edison Electric Institute stated in a June 2014 report, “Transportation Electrification: Utility Fleets Leading the Charge.”

Electric utilities, EEI suggests, are missing an opportunity to help themselves by not expanding their use of plug-in electric vehicles. Only about 1.7 percent of the vehicles purchased by electric utilities in the last five years were equipped with plug-in technology, EEI noted, using data from Utilimarc, a consulting firm based in Minneapolis.

Light-duty pickup trucks provide the best opportunity for establishing momentum in the electrification initiative because they comprise the largest vehicle segment in electric utility fleets, accounting for 21.6 percent of fleet vehicles in 2013, according to EEI. A plug-in hybrid electric (PHE) truck can power tools on-site and provide backup electrical power in case of emergencies, while also serving as an example to consumers that the utility is a progressive supporter of its own products.

The problem is that there is only one option currently available.

General Motors dropped the non-plug-in Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra gasoline-electric hybrid models before the 2015 model-year upgrade, and a company spokesman said there are no plans to resurrect the concept at this time, much less add a PHE pickup.

Dodge built and tested 140 PHE Ram 1500 models in 2011 and 2012 as part of a grant program with the U.S. Department of Energy, but the truck maker acknowledged at the time that it had no plans for a production version. Recently a company spokesman confirmed as much.

Ford Motor Co. said in late 2014 that it was working on a hybrid powertrain for the F-150. A spokeswoman told Utility Fleet Professional that research is proceeding, but she declined to provide additional information, including whether it would offer a plug-in version.

That leaves utilities trying to support the electrification initiative with the VTRUX, a Silverado 4×4 crew cab conversion built by VIA Motors ( The VTRUX powertrain includes two electric motors and a small V-6 gasoline engine. The engine powers a generator that recharges the batteries, and drive power comes from the motors.

Currently, VIA’s only offering is the 4×4 Silverado, but they are taking orders for the 4×2 regular cab Silverado, the Chevy Express and 1-ton vans, said Jeff Esfeld, VIA’s national fleet sales director.

The company began VTRUX production in June of this year at a plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Esfeld said they would produce about 250 units in the calendar third quarter of 2015, but that he expects that number to grow to between 2,000 to 3,000 units next year.

VIA certainly has the room to grow. The plant can produce 10,000 units a year and has space to double that capacity, Esfeld said. They also can handle a low number of conversions at their Orem, Utah, headquarters, but down the road they plan to keep the Silverado crew cab conversions in Mexico and build another plant in the U.S., he said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Looking for the TCO with PHEVs
If the electric utility industry’s initiative to increase the number of plug-in hybrid electric pickup trucks in utility fleets is to have any chance to succeed, eventually the total cost of ownership will have to be able to compete with fossil fuel-based trucks.

Absent credits and cash incentives, that may take some time. The only plug-in electric pickup currently on the market is the VTRUX, a 4×4 crew cab version of the Chevrolet Silverado built by VIA Motors. With a delivery price topping $70,000, about twice that of a standard model, finding a return on the investment is a challenge for any fleet.

Jeff Esfeld, national fleet sales director with VIA, said the total cost of ownership is better than it may appear and that the price of the VTRUX will drop as volume increases and the company continues to improve the model.

“We’re trying to take one-third of the cost out of the system in the next three years,” he said, adding that the company will make a “significant” improvement very soon with the software controlling the gas engine and how it charges the battery to improve fuel economy.

Electric utilities are adding VIA models to their fleets, but since production only began in June, it is too early to have any reliable data, several representatives said.

Alabama Power has four VIA vehicles in operation – two VTRUX pickups and two vans – with two more pickups on the way, said Thomas Browne, manager of fleet services.

“Our goal is to show that the plug-in electric pickup has a viable place in the market,” he said. The company hasn’t had them long, but Browne said they expect them to perform well. Alabama Power is using the vehicles in limited operation and will showcase them at demonstration and promotional events, he said.

Florida Power and Light is another VIA customer, but a spokeswoman declined to provide details, noting “it is too early to give feedback.”

Other customers include Duke Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, Esfeld said.


Assessing and Enforcing Distracted Driving Policies

Policies that prohibit employees from using cellphones or being otherwise distracted while driving are so common today that it would be hard to find a utility company without one.

In fact, in 2011 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned the use of all hand-held mobile devices by commercial vehicle drivers. This includes anyone driving a vehicle heavier than 10,000 pounds during interstate business, not just heavy-duty truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. Penalties can range from driver disqualification to fines for both the driver and the carrier. Additionally, as of press time, 14 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The real issue for utility fleets, and for any company with vehicles for that matter, is how to measure a policy’s effectiveness. How do companies know if their policy is working?

It’s not easy to figure out, partly because most distracted driving policies are one piece of a company’s larger employee safety program. Aside from post-accident investigations, which should turn up any ill-timed use of a mobile device, measuring the efficacy of distracted driving policies is a little tricky, executives acknowledged.

A 2011 study of distracted driving issues by the Governors Highway Safety Association noted simply that distracted driving communications campaigns and company policies and programs are widely used but have not been evaluated.

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy established its distracted driving policy in 2010. Al Payton, the company’s director of safety and technical training, said he did not have specific data about the efficacy of the program separate from the company’s overall employee safety program, but noted that CenterPoint has had a steady decrease in its number of total incidents. More to the point, the company has seen a change in the types of incidents since CenterPoint implemented a distracted driving policy. “There’s been a decrease in rear-end collisions … which may indicate that our drivers are less distracted,” he said.

Southern California Edison’s policy “prohibits a litany of actions” on hand-held devices, according to Don Neal, the utility’s director of corporate environmental, health and safety. That includes texting and talking and covers smartphones, tablets, PDAs and more. The exceptions are push-to-talk radios and Bluetooth wireless headsets.

“If we have any incident and find that the employee was using a hand-held device, that employee goes into a progressive disciplinary program where the result could be anywhere from a note to termination,” Neal said.

Bill Orlove, spokesman for Florida Power and Light Co., said the company does not have data on its policy’s efficacy but noted that the fleet communicates with drivers throughout the year and at safety meetings.

FPL’s distracted driving policy prohibits all employees from using any hand-held device while behind the wheel on behalf of the company, he said.

“That means no texting, no emailing, no accessing the Internet, etc.,” he said.

Technology’s Role
Technologies that control and limit the use of mobile devices by drivers are giving fleet managers more proactive ways to enforce policies.

The most common systems plug in to the vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port and work with Bluetooth-enabled devices to block texting or most any use of a mobile device once the vehicle is in motion.

Telogis’ DriveSafe program, for example, is an add-on option that can be used in conjunction with Telogis’ telematics applications and connect to a driver’s device. It works with Android and iOS applications.

“It ensures that the driver is not distracted,” said Erin Cave, vice president of product management.

FleetSafer, from Aegis Mobility, and Kyrus Mobile are two other systems. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission has a Distracted Driving Information Clearinghouse that provides additional sources and services. Visit

The issue, executives said, comes down to balancing employee safety and productivity. Fleets are going to have to find the balance between the productivity opportunities available with today’s communication technologies and the obligation to provide their employees a safe workplace. And for those who spend their days on the road, a safe workplace means a safe vehicle.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.

Photo: Courtesy of Jean Anderson/Southern California Edison

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