Author: Sean M. Lyden

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

All-terrain utility vehicles (UVs) enable utility crews to get work done in hard-to-reach areas where four-wheel-drive pickups and other conventional vehicles cannot go. And there are a wide range of capabilities available, with some models designed to haul people and heavy equipment across rugged and hilly terrain, while others are built with amphibious capabilities to cross deep waters in flooded lowlands.

So, what’s new in the UV market to help get your crews and equipment across various terrains with maximum safety and productivity? Here are six developments to keep your eye on.

What’s New: 2018 Conquest Series models

Argo has unveiled the company’s 2018 Conquest Series commercial models with custom improvements that help boost worker productivity, no matter the terrain, weather or fleet application.

From the hydraulic rear-power dump box of the heavy-duty Conquest 8×8 XT-X to the Lineman package of the Conquest 8×8 XT-L, the new models equip utility workers to transport transformers, pull cables or bore footings to the most remote worksites – to make their jobs easier and get them home safe. 

Production of the new models has begun, and vehicles will soon be available in dealerships across North America and around the world.

Morooka USA
What’s New: Midsize rubber track carrier model MST700VD

Morooka USA has introduced the MST700VD, a midsize rubber track carrier that offers a 93-horsepower Kubota V3800 Tier 4i engine and maximum payload of 9,460 pounds, while maintaining a ground pressure of only 3.6 psi when empty.

The MST700VD also includes a rotational reverse seat that enhances operator safety and visibility, along with a canopy that is both ROPS and FOPS certified. The machine comes from the factory with a dump bed and a one-year, 1,000-hour warranty.

What’s New: Expanded track and configuration options for the Panther T16

Prinoth has announced new track and configuration options for its Panther T16 model. There is now a choice between metal embedded solid rubber tracks or the traditional D-dent track system. The rubber track option offers more versatility when crossing or traveling on roads while being gentler on shop floors when upfitting or maintaining the vehicle.                                                           

The company said that the new rubber track option for the Panther T16 offers the highest payload available on rubber tracks, with 33,500 pounds of bulk load material payload and a gross vehicle weight rating of 75,000 pounds.                                                          

What’s New: Upgrades to the D2488B model

Hydratrek has upgraded its amphibious D2488B, the company’s most popular model for the utility industry.

Some of the changes for 2017 include larger perimeter pontoons, which provide flotation in deep water, to improve machine performance. The front cab has been redesigned to offer more space for operator comfort. Dual bucket seats are now standard, and a new center console setup allows for GPS systems, backup cameras and charging docks. The rear rollover protection structure has been modified for easier access to the cargo bed and for more comfortable passenger seating. Standard hard tops over the cab and engine provide storage space for tools and gear. And the new muffler package and engine compartment insulation have reduced the decibels by 18 percent for quieter operation.

What’s New: Enhancements to the 12RT model

PowerBully has developed new enhancements for its latest 12RT model, a high-payload rubber-tracked dumper that offers a light footprint for use on soft terrain and greater maneuverability when operating in tight areas.

The new features on the 12RT, introduced at CONEXPO 2017 in March, include Tier 4 Final emission technology; a 180-degree swivel dump; new driver’s cab with integrated rollover protection system; and a cockpit – seat, steering console and controls – that rotates 180 degrees to the rear of the machine for greater visibility of the load.

What’s New: RT6 model

Terramac has introduced its newest rubber track carrier model, the RT6, joining the company’s product lineup that includes the larger RT9 and RT14 models. The compact size of the RT6 allows it to be easily loaded onto a tag trailer and hauled by line trucks from job site to job site.

This unit features a compact footprint of 16 feet 2 inches by 8 feet 2 inches, minimizing disturbance on the soil while providing reduced slippage to climb faster on rugged or steep terrain to reach utility job sites in remote areas.

The RT6 offers a 12,000-pound carrying capacity and travel speeds up to 6.5 mph. And it accommodates a wide range of support equipment for utility applications, including lineman winches, digger derricks, vacuum excavators, boom lifts and aerial buckets for utility applications.

Ancient Wisdom for Today’s Fleet Leaders

There’s a fable by the ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, about the Sun and the Wind that offers a powerful lesson for today’s fleet leaders. It goes something like this.

As the Sun and the Wind were debating over who was the stronger force, the Sun noticed a traveler walking along the road below them, which gave him an idea for how to settle the matter once and for all.

He pointed to the traveler and offered this proposal to the Wind: “Whichever one of us can get that man to take off his jacket will be considered the stronger force.”

The Wind agreed and went first. But as he put his power on full display, something very interesting happened. While the Wind’s strength grew, so did the traveler’s resistance. Instead of getting him to take off his jacket, the Wind’s force caused the man to cling to his jacket even tighter, refusing to let it go, until eventually the Wind gave up.

Then it was the Sun’s turn. He emerged from behind the clouds and quietly focused his heat onto the man. At first, nothing appeared to be happening. But then a drop of sweat trickled down the man’s forehead. And then another and another, until the traveler was sweating profusely. A few seconds later, he willingly took off his coat.

So, what’s the lesson here for fleet? When it comes to working with people, subtle influence is more powerful than direct force.

Think about it. When you propose an initiative that could bring big changes to your organization – whether it’s rightsizing the fleet, deploying telematics or switching maintenance software systems – you inevitably encounter people who don’t want those changes to happen.

That’s because if stakeholders feel like changes are being forced upon them, they’ll respond like the traveler resisting the Wind, clinging tighter to their proverbial jackets, with their minds closed to any opportunities the changes could bring to them – and the organization. And they’ll do everything they can to undermine your efforts.

But when you involve stakeholders from the beginning of the process and, along the way, address their concerns about the uncertainty the changes could bring to their jobs and their lives, you’re leading like the Sun, using the “warmth” of influence to motivate people to work alongside you – not against you – to ensure your change initiative is a success.

Sean M. Lyden


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Keith Gindoff, manager of fleet and energy services for Duke Energy subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas (, an energy services company that distributes natural gas to more than a million residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers in portions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, with about 1,215 total vehicles in its fleet.

#1. Make data-driven decisions.
“Think of a vehicle as a giant computer, and use the telematics data that the vehicle provides to give you greater insight to make more effective decisions with your fleet. Find a way to generate as much information as possible from the vehicle to optimize your maintenance and replacement schedules for maximum uptime and cost efficiency.” 

#2. Understand the driver’s needs.
“Really get to know the users of the vehicles and assets by going out into the field with them to understand the jobs they need the assets for. When you ask drivers for their opinions and observe for yourself how the vehicle is being used, you will be able to develop much more effective specifications.”

#3. Network with other fleet managers.
“You will learn at a much faster pace if you get to know and work with other fleet managers in your industry. They have already gone through, tested and tried – successfully or unsuccessfully – most of what you will be encountering. So, use their experience and expertise to help you become a more successful fleet manager.”


Piedmont Natural Gas Expands Its CNG-Powered Fleet

When it comes to discussions of alternative fuels and sustainability in utility fleets, electrification often takes center stage.

And for good reason. Electric utilities have a vested interest in selling more of their product – electricity – so it makes sense that they would take the lead by making big investments in electric vehicles (EVs) for their fleets. A major contributor to this trend has been Edison Electric Institute’s Transportation Electrification Initiative, which in late 2014 garnered commitments from more than 70 investor-owned electric utilities to devote at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchase plug-in EVs and equipment.

But utility fleets shouldn’t overlook compressed natural gas (CNG) as part of their green initiatives, said Karl Newlin, senior vice president and chief commercial officer for Duke Energy’s natural gas operations, who also oversees the fleet and public fueling station development at Duke subsidiary Piedmont Natural Gas (, which serves more than a million residential, commercial, industrial and power generation customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

That’s because natural gas not only burns much cleaner than gasoline and diesel, but it also offers – at least historically – more stable pricing than conventional fossil fuels, giving fleets a greater sense of predictability with fuel costs.

Piedmont launched its fleet CNG program in 2009 with 12 natural-gas-powered Ford F-150 pickup trucks. Today, the utility operates 469 natural gas vehicles – more than a third of its total fleet of 1,215 vehicles. And in August, Piedmont expects to open its 11th natural gas filling station available to the public.

So, why has Piedmont gone all-in with its fleet CNG program? What are the best fleet applications for natural-gas-powered vehicles? And what do fleet managers need to know about deploying natural gas fueling infrastructure?

The Business Case for CNG
First, what has driven Piedmont Natural Gas to continue to expand its natural-gas-powered fleet?

“Of course, we’re a natural gas company. But we have always been a sustainability-focused company,” Newlin said. “So by moving more of our vehicles from either gas or diesel to natural gas, we’ve wanted to get the message across that we practice what we preach.”

According to Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation model (, light-duty vehicles running on natural gas can reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent. And because CNG fuel systems are completely sealed, the vehicles produce no evaporative emissions.

But does CNG make good business sense for fleets, beyond the environmental benefits? After all, the price premium for a vehicle equipped to run on CNG typically ranges from $10,000 to $20,000 or so, depending on vehicle class, fuel tank configuration, and whether the fueling system is dedicated or bi-fuel capable. Dedicated systems run exclusively on natural gas whereas bi-fuel systems can switch between natural gas and conventional fuels to extend range.

In fact, the lower cost of CNG per gasoline or diesel gallon equivalent still offers a compelling opportunity to “go green” with a reasonable payback period, Newlin said.

“For example, in the region where we sell compressed natural gas, gasoline is about $2.22, diesel about $2.50, but our product is about $2 for natural gas. So there’s still some cost-competitive advantage for natural gas,” he said.

While the price difference between CNG and conventional fuels may not seem that big, that’s only because gasoline and diesel are available at relatively low prices today – which, as recent history has proven, can change quickly with the volatility of global markets and conflicts in the Middle East.

Consider this as a frame of reference: In the October 2011 “Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report,” the price gap per gallon equivalent between CNG and gasoline was nearly $1.40, with gasoline at $3.46 and CNG at $2.09.

Price Stability
So, any discussion of the business case for CNG in fleets should also include the topic of price stability.

That’s because since that 2011 report, the price of CNG has remained relatively unchanged. According to the most recent “Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report,” the national average for CNG is $2.15, only a 6-cent difference from October 2011, with minimal variation in price in the years in between.

“One thing we are seeing is that some of the more sophisticated fleet managers who are also responsible for fuel procurement are becoming more attracted to natural gas because it’s been a very stable-priced product for the past several years. Whereas, of course, we’ve seen diesel prices fluctuate greatly,” Newlin said.

What’s driving the price stability of natural gas versus traditional fuels?

“It’s the advent of additional supply of natural gas that’s been discovered in the U.S. since about 2008, with the ability to unlock – via fracking and horizontal drilling – the large deposits of natural gas in the Pennsylvania and Ohio regions, as well as in West Texas,” Newlin explained. “And that means on-shore production. This is important because previously we’d have price disruptions because of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, but we really don’t have that phenomena anymore.”

Newlin said that natural gas is more of a national market versus a global market, which also has helped stabilize the price of CNG since about 2010. “The supply-demand differentials of natural gas within our country aren’t really impacted very much by what goes on in the Middle East or in Asia like they are with oil.”

Optimal Applications
What are the best fleet applications for CNG-powered vehicles?

“We’re seeing strong adoption across a wide range of duty types of trucks and vans,” Newlin said, referring both to Piedmont’s own fleet and the fleets of some of the utility’s commercial customers. “We’re seeing a high adoption rate from everything from Ford Transit Connect service vans all the way up through Class 8 tractor-trailers. So I think we’re seeing a lot of fleet managers experiment with what’s possible. But clearly, the return-to-base applications or those where the trucks are on a route that offers a sufficient number of CNG stations are seeing solid adoption and penetration.”

Newlin said that the majority of Piedmont’s nearly 500 CNG-powered vehicles are light-duty pickup trucks and vans used by service technicians, and SUVs for general fleet use and personnel transportation.

Fueling Infrastructure
If a fleet is interested in acquiring CNG-powered vehicles, what’s involved with deploying on-site fueling infrastructure?

The first step, Newlin said, is to determine whether there is natural gas nearby so that the natural gas company can provide service to the fleet location. Then, the next step is to decide is whether you need a time-fill or fast-fill station.

What’s the difference?

“With a time-fill station, as you might imagine, the trucks can come back from their route, sit in the parking lot overnight, and the tank is filled slowly over a few hours,” Newlin explained. “But if their business requires a rapid-fill or a fast-fill, that’s typically a higher capital cost because it requires additional compression to be able to hook up the pipe and refill the tank, just like you would a gasoline vehicle, in about 90 seconds.”

What does it take in terms of capital cost to deploy an on-site fueling system?

“There are a lot of variances when it comes to on-site fueling deployment costs,” Newlin said. “But as you might imagine, the time-fill requires less capital investment than fast-fill. If you’re doing a time-fill station, depending on your existing infrastructure, you’re in the several-hundred-thousand-dollar range. And if you’re doing a fast-fill station, then you’re probably in the 1- to 2-million-dollar range.”

The Bottom Line
While Newlin couldn’t comment on future plans for expanding the number of CNG vehicles in Piedmont’s fleet, he did offer numbers that provide insight into the growing demand for natural gas as a transportation fuel.

“From an overall business standpoint, our CNG volume has grown by a third from 2015 to 2016. That’s for all of our gallon equivalents that we’ve sold. And I think it can grow another third from 2016 to ’17. So, I would look for the overall gasoline gallon equivalents [of CNG] delivered to continue on a rapid pace for the next five years as the fuel becomes more widely adopted. And I think the penetration will continue to be healthy in the commercial fleet arena.”


What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets

When you need to dig trenches to lay underground gas lines, or drill holes for setting transmission poles, or be able to dig in tight spaces, the objective is the same: to have crews get the most work done in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort and cost. 

That’s the goal that has driven the development of several new products and upgrades released by top heavy-equipment manufacturers in the past few months. 

So, what new digging machines and tools have recently come to market? How can they equip utility companies and contractors to boost productivity and profit? Here are seven new developments to keep your eye on. 

CASE Construction Equipment
What’s New: Six New Mini Excavator Models

This spring, CASE Construction Equipment introduced six new mini excavator models: the CX17C, CX26C, CX33C, CX37C, CX57C and CX60C. Offered in zero tail-swing, short-radius or conventional configurations, C Series mini excavators feature an adjustable boom with the ability to offset left or right to work closer to buildings and obstacles. An auto-shift travel system offers greater ease and efficiency when operating the machine on varying terrain. 

All C Series mini excavators are built with an auxiliary hydraulic system that features standard proportional controls, shut-off valve and easy-to-select joystick control patterns to equip operators to get more done in less time. A spacious and comfortable operator environment – with ergonomic controls, adjustable seating and line-of-sight digital displays – helps minimize operator fatigue. 

What’s New: Stand Alone Core Barrel 

Terex Utilities recently released a new auger tool for digger derricks – the Terex Stand Alone Core Barrel – that increases productivity when drilling hard rock. The tool fits directly onto a standard Kelly bar and can be stowed like a standard auger on the boom, eliminating the need for any attachments or having to remove the tool for transportation.

The Stand Alone Core Barrel is designed for easy plug removal, with a unique tooth pattern that allows the rock plug to easily fall out of the barrel when the operator ratchets the rotation of the tool, unlike other core barrels that require workers to physically hammer the core out of the barrel.

Available in various diameters ranging from 18 inches to 30 inches, the Stand Alone Core Barrel features a barrel wall of 5/8 inches, with an overall tool length of 104 inches. 

Ditch Witch
What’s New: JT40 Horizontal Directional Drill

In February, Ditch Witch introduced the JT40 horizontal directional drill, equipped with two 7-inch LED displays to provide a direct, transparent view into all critical machine functions and operations. 

The JT40 offers a two-speed, rotational drive system that produces 5,500 foot-pounds of torque to achieve greater drilling efficiency. And the machine minimizes pipe-entry distance, giving operators increased drill pipe support as the drill enters the ground. 

This model is available with either a fully enclosed cab with premium heat and air capabilities or an open operator’s station designed with integrated vandal covers. Both options feature a premium ergonomic seat and extended legroom. 

What’s New: DT65H Transmission Digger Derrick

Altec’s new DT65H digger derrick is a hydraulically actuated, continuous rotation, heavy-duty transmission digger derrick designed with steel load-bearing structures. The machine features a fiberglass third-stage boom and has a 21,051-pound lifting capacity at 10 feet, enabling the operator to dig a hole and set a large transmission pole with just one unit setup – to help crews get the job done in significantly less time.

The DT65H offers fully hydraulic pilot-operated controls, a standard 15,000-pound planetary winch and a full-view riding seat with single handle control. The machine also incorporates a high-flow piston pump into the hydraulic system. 

What’s New: Silver Series Drill Rod

Built on the tradition of Vermeer’s premium Firestick drill rod, the company’s new Silver Series model offers utilities and utility contractors a quality aftermarket drill rod at a more economic price point.

Vermeer’s Silver Series drill rod is composed of S135 common-grade steel to reduce cost, while still offering the same column wall thickness-to-strength ratio as the Firestick model to ensure durability and optimal steering performance.

The Silver Series drill rod is available in four sizes: 1.66 inches (4.2 centimeters), 1.9 inches (4.8 centimeters), 2.06 inches (5.2 centimeters) and 2.375 inches (6 centimeters) for use on the D7x11 through the D24x40 S3 Navigator HDD models, including all current and legacy models.

What’s New: Next Generation R-Series Excavators

This spring, Bobcat Co. introduced its all-new, next-generation R-Series excavators. The first R-Series excavators to launch will include the Bobcat E32 and E35 in the 3- to 4-ton class.

The new dual-flange rollers extend the excavator’s undercarriage structure closer to the track’s edge and provide up to a 15 percent increase in over-the-side capacity, which improves over-the-side digging performance and slewing ability so that operators can get more jobs done in less time and effort.

Bobcat also has redesigned the cab to enhance operator experience. The tall, wide windows provide 15 percent more surface area to increase visibility. And there is 29 percent more floor space for the operator’s feet and legs than previous models, with redesigned floor pedals that conveniently fold away. The new automatic heat and air-conditioning systems give operators complete control over the cab climate, with an optional heated seat to ensure operator comfort in especially harsh winter climates.

John Deere
What’s New: 30G Compact Excavator

John Deere upgraded its G-Series excavator lineup in March with the introduction of the 30G compact excavator that offers increased lift capacity and improved breakout forces. 

The 30G uses 27D/26G buckets and attachments that John Deere customers may already be utilizing in their fleet. It also uses several components that are common to the 35G model to help simplify parts tracking and maintenance for fleets.

Featuring a redesigned cab with heat and air-conditioning and a new seat with adjustable wrist rests, the 30G excavator keeps operators comfortable – and productive – in any climate and conditions.


When Does it Make Sense to Outsource Maintenance?

Even if you have a robust in-house repair shop, chances are that you still outsource portions of your maintenance operations – to save money, quickly fill gaps left by technicians who’ve recently retired or tap into specialized expertise to perform critical repairs.

But how do you determine which aspects of your maintenance operations make the most sense to outsource and which ones you should keep in-house?

UFP recently posed this question to Paul Lauria, who has worked with numerous government and utility fleets for more than three decades as president of Mercury Associates Inc. (, a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Md. He offered these four points to consider.

1. Cost
How much money will outsourcing actually save the organization?

“The only way that you’re going to be able to determine if you’re saving money is to know the costs of performing outsourceable fleet maintenance and repair activities in-house versus farming them out to a vendor or contractor,” Lauria said. “And that’s one thing, in my experience, that a lot of organizations, including utilities, don’t have a good handle on. What are the avoidable costs of operating its own garages or of performing a particular type of maintenance or repair activity, for example? If you were to shut down or downsize those garages and shift work to third-party service providers, what costs would go away? That establishes the baseline for determining whether or not you can save money by outsourcing.”

2. Impact
How will outsourcing impact your ability to serve and respond to customers?

“You need to understand how the level and quality of service you provide to the company’s operating units – your customers – would be impacted by outsourcing,” Lauria said. “If you’re going to reduce your costs by 5 percent, even if that’s a multimillion-dollar figure, the question you have to ask yourself is: Will that level of savings be sufficiently large to justify any reduction in service level or quality that might result?”

That’s because utilities, especially, can’t afford to allow excessive downtime with important assets.

“Most utility companies operate their own garages because they have mission-critical equipment that they cannot easily have maintained and repaired entirely by outside vendors. For example, they’re understandably reluctant to relinquish complete control over the maintenance and repair of those assets because, once they do that, they generally will not be able to call out mechanics 24/7 to support the fleet during weather-related or other emergencies,” Lauria said.

Then there’s the impact of any logistics involved with outsourcing. “If you’re talking about outsourcing, where the vehicles need to go to vendor garages for servicing – as opposed to a situation where you’re bringing a contractor in to staff the company’s garages – you now have to take vehicles off-site, which could result in a significant increase in the amount of time that’s spent transporting vehicles to and from vendor shops,” Lauria said.

And you also have to consider any impact that outsourcing could have on in-house staff, Lauria advised. “You want to think about: Are the savings that could be realized – whatever they are – large enough to justify all of the hand-wringing, all of the angst that the organization’s likely to go through to outsource? Because there is going to be a lot of hand-wringing. There is going to be a lot of angst, particularly if there are labor unions involved.”

3. Volume
What types of vehicles offer the best opportunity for outsourcing?

“The best candidates for outsourcing generally are the light-duty vehicles in a fleet, as long as your heavy truck and equipment mechanics are not sitting around, twiddling their thumbs if work on the light-duty vehicles is outsourced,” Lauria said. “Keep in mind that one of the reasons that a lot of in-house fleet maintenance programs work on light-duty vehicles is precisely because they have to employ technicians to work on the mission-critical assets. So, if there’s not a steady diet of line truck or digger derrick maintenance and repair work to be done, you sure don’t want to be sending your service technician vans and passenger sedans out to commercial garages while your truck mechanics stand around staring at the walls. So, a lot of times, light commercial vehicle maintenance effectively is used as backfill for in-house shops.”

4. Expertise
What’s the most common aspect of maintenance operations that utility fleets tend to outsource?

“When you need specialized expertise, for one,” Lauria said. “Depending on the size of the utility, a smaller company may be more likely to outsource dielectric testing of its buckets, for example, because they can’t justify having the equipment to do that in-house. Or, it may be outsourcing hydraulic repairs because it doesn’t have enough volume to justify having the technical expertise on staff. The last thing you want is one of your aerials failing because somebody in-house didn’t properly repair a hydraulic cylinder.”

The idea here is that the more specialized the type of repair, the greater the economies of scale associated with its performance. So, if you don’t have the volume of work to keep specialists busy, then it usually makes financial sense to outsource that work to service providers that perform those repairs all the time.

The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that outsourcing maintenance is not an all-or-nothing proposition. As Lauria put it: “I can outsource simply by saying, ‘You know what? Every second PM, we’re going to let the drivers of our passenger vehicles go to Jiffy Lube.’ Or, ‘We want to see the vehicle at least once a year, but we don’t have a problem with you getting tire rotations and oil changes at a commercial repair shop at other times during the year.’ If that helps a company stretch its in-house maintenance resources during an era in which all fleet owners increasingly struggle to attract and retain qualified maintenance technicians, then that type of outsourcing deserves careful consideration.”

3 Takeaways to Expect from Utility Fleet Conference 2017

Utility Fleet Conference 2017 exists to provide a forum that challenges us in the utility fleet industry to change ourselves – to learn, grow and adapt in an environment where so much change is happening so quickly.

Think about it: Emerging technologies like self-driving systems, connected vehicles and drones are already here and just beginning to make an impact on your fleet – and how you do business. And, as more older fleet workers and technicians prepare for retirement, you have to compete even harder to find workers who are qualified to fill those roles.

The reality is that yesterday’s knowledge, skills and strategies are not enough to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. We must grow.

But what should we learn? And how can we apply that new knowledge to equip ourselves for long-term success?

Start by attending Utility Fleet Conference 2017 ( October 2-4 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., and expect to leave with these three important takeaways.

1. Gain Insight
Find out about emerging fleet trends and technologies that could impact your job. Attend panel discussions led by experts on important topics, such as “The Future of Telematics and Connected Fleets” and “The Top Trends Impacting Utility Fleet Operations.” There also will be sessions on autonomous vehicles and drones, and their potential impact on fleet.

2. Learn Strategy
Get exposed to new ideas and strategies that can help you take your fleet’s performance to the next level. Learn best practices from peers and industry experts on fleet safety, electrification and maintenance management.

3. Lead Success
Become a more effective leader with your team and senior management. The opening keynote will be delivered by author and leadership expert Jim Finkelstein on “Old School vs. New School: Managing Across Generations.” There also will be sessions that offer real-world strategies on how to expand your influence with senior management and how to recruit and keep your top technicians.

So, if you’re a fleet professional working for an investor-owned utility, public utility, cooperative or utility contractor, Utility Fleet Conference at ICUEE is designed specifically for you. For a full conference agenda, visit

See you in Louisville!

Sean M. Lyden


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Tim C. King, author of the book “Fleet Services: Managing to Redefine Success” published by SAE International ( and former manager of fleet services for what is now NV Energy (, an electric and gas utility in Nevada with over 1 million customers. King also will be a presenter at Utility Fleet Conference 2017 at ICUEE in Louisville, Ky., a fleet education event that will take place October 2-4 (

#1. Aim high.
“Require excellence with everything. Benchmark your service performance on organizations that thrive in the most successful industries – such as high-growth startups – not just other fleets. The goal is to consistently exceed expectations by achieving unexpected win-win results with all your customers.”

#2. Remember that successful fleet management begins by identifying all your customers.
“Customers define your success. So, all customers must be identified. These include your executives/owners and all internal recipients of services, external customers and ancillary customers, such as internal supporting services. This last group also includes external regulatory customers such as local, regional, state and federal regulators.”

#3. Be bold and lead change.
“Recognize you’re going to do things differently. For this level of success, you won’t be able to rely only on typical industry standards as a guide. By gaining a broader knowledge and perspective of customer service, learn to outgrow baggage such as history, culture, paradigms and similar other misperceptions. And realize success depends on process redesign, not just the normally required process improvement.”


The State of the Fleet Telematics Market

A lot has happened in the fleet telematics market the past year that could impact utility fleet operations. Major telecom firms have expanded their footprint in the fleet sector with Verizon’s acquisitions of Telogis and Fleetmatics, while AT&T has established key partnerships to provide branded telematics services such as AT&T Fleet Complete and AT&T Fleet Manager. And more and more telematics providers have inked deals with automakers in recent months.

So, what’s driving these trends? And how might they shape the future of telematics and connected fleets?

UFP spoke with experts from C.J. Driscoll & Associates, GPS Insight, Telogis and Element Fleet Management to get their market outlook.

Telecom Expansion
Why are major telecom firms expanding into the fleet telematics industry? Will this trend continue?

“With landline subscriber bases shrinking and the mobile phone market saturated with declining marginal value, the connected vehicle offers a new market opportunity that allows the telecom companies to capitalize on the need for the vehicle to communicate to the OEM, driver, surrounding infrastructure and other third-party services through cellular networks,” said Kimberly Clark, telematics product leader for Element Fleet Management ( “It also allows them to expand and sell additional products, including in-car applications and infotainment solutions, as this technology becomes mainstream within new vehicles.”

Clark said that telecom expansion into the fleet market will continue for the foreseeable future and “benefit utility fleets through new innovation possibilities, increased pressure on direct OEM connectivity solutions and lower communication costs as part of their service offering over time.”

Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight (, agreed that more telecom companies will enter the fleet market but said that existing large, privately held telematics firms will remain strong.

“Verizon has invested a ton in telematics, and I believe that AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are watching to see how successful it is before getting more aggressive and following suit,” Driscoll said. “I believe it is only a matter of time before all the major telecoms are in the telematics space. Although they are large brands, telematics isn’t a primary focus for them, nor a specialty, so they will certainly still be going up against the larger privately held telematics companies that specialize in fleet management.”

Kelly Frey, vice president of product marketing for Telogis (, which is part of Verizon Telematics (, said that Verizon’s foray into fleet telematics, which started in 2012 with its acquisition of Hughes Telematics, is part of a larger strategy to become an industry leader in the broader internet of things (IoT) category.

“Connected vehicles and assets empowered by telematics are very good examples of ‘things’ that pertain to the internet of things,” Frey said. “These things inherently need to be connected to a reliable and secure network that supports the mission-critical operations powered by IoT and telematics. There are approximately 1.2 billion vehicles on the planet – including about 330 million commercial vehicles – that could benefit from being connected to the internet to improve maintenance and performance and enrich the lives of the drivers with improved safety and reliability. And telecom providers, like Verizon, are focused on making this connectivity easier and more enriching with compelling solutions that drive business value as well as consumer value. The trend will absolutely continue on a global scale.”

Partnerships with Automakers
In recent months a growing number of telematics providers have announced partnerships with vehicle OEMs. Does this mean that OEM partnerships will be necessary for telematics providers to continue to grow by the end of this decade? Or is there still room for telematics providers to prosper in the future without OEM partnerships?

“It’s necessary for telematics providers to partner with OEMs to survive and thrive if the telematics providers and OEMs are interested in maximizing the end fleet customer value,” Frey said. “Manufacturers such as Hino Motors already provide built-in telematics that provide advanced engine diagnostics and maintenance alerts along with a fleet management portal and mobile app. Several other manufacturers – such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Mack and Isuzu – offer built-in telematics already and there will be more in the very near future. Telematics providers such as Telogis will continue to invest heavily in OEM partnerships by offering broader platform capabilities such as route and schedule optimization, commercial navigation and mobile applications that are tightly integrated with back-office capabilities, workflow optimization and automation.”

Clem Driscoll, founder and principal of C.J. Driscoll & Associates (, a market research firm that covers the telematics industry, said that although automaker partnerships offer telematics providers an efficient sales channel to expand their customer base, those relationships don’t appear to be a requirement to succeed in the fleet telematics space.

“There are companies like Geotab, which has 400,000 to 500,000 units in service or more and isn’t the primary telematics partner of vehicle OEMs in the U.S. but is growing at a fast rate,” he said. “And GPS Insight is another example. They’ve done very well and don’t have, to my knowledge, any OEM relationships but haven’t needed them in order to prosper.”

But as more and more OEMs adopt telematics, what role will there be for third-party telematics providers?

Since automakers don’t have expertise in fleet management, that’s where third-party telematics firms will continue to bring value, according to Clem Driscoll. “So far, especially if you look at the heavy-truck manufacturers, they haven’t gone much beyond offering remote vehicle diagnostics-related services,” he said. “That’s because it’s difficult for the vehicle OEMs to say, ‘Well, we’re going to offer a complete fleet solution.’ Since most fleets are not homogeneous, with vehicles from different manufacturers, [fleets] will probably hesitate to adopt a single telematics solution from the vehicle manufacturers.”

Clark with Element Fleet Management agreed. “OEM-embedded solutions do not solve all of the needs for [fleet] customers such as driver identification, satellite access in remote areas, panic buttons and electronic hours-of-service monitoring, as just a few examples. And there are questions on how much paperwork will be involved in the future to connect a car, as some may require driver consent. And OEMs will likely not provide a web-based platform for a fleet user to get easy access to the data, so they need both telematics companies and fleet management firms to provide this accessibility to the data for fleet customers into the future.”

The Future of Telematics
So, what does the future look like for the fleet telematics industry? What new telematics capabilities and/or use cases will emerge in the next three to five years that could impact how utility fleet professionals run their fleets?

“Over the next few years we will start to see more developments around IoT connections leveraging in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities,” said Frey with Telogis. “We will see a lot of advancements with [advanced driver assistance systems] to assist the driver with safety and performance related to efficiency and fuel economy. And there will be significant movement towards vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, and ultimately autonomous vehicle capabilities built into vehicles that telematics providers will leverage to continue to improve efficiency, safety and productivity.”

According to Ryan Driscoll with GPS Insight: “Fleet management will continue to become more decentralized, which means that mobile apps will become more and more critical for fleet management, ultimately being the primary tool used. And there will be more integration with back-end systems so that fleet management and drivers can be much more efficient overall and deliver more value to their customers than they have in the past.”

Clark with Element Fleet Management predicted the following: “Telematics systems will allow for opportunities for utility network providers to put together truck-sharing networks of vehicles made possible through use of real-time visibility and new mobile applications. This could enhance customer service by allowing utility customers experiencing an issue or outage to get visibility to real-time truck deployment activity. There will also be better sensors for tracking real-time bucket usage status through OEM and aftermarket supplier solutions. And analytics will be drastically enhanced to provide opportunities for predictive analytics in storm-surge planning using weather and historical pattern activities, and improved prescriptive maintenance diagnostics tools to reduce downtime.”

The Bottom Line
The fleet telematics landscape appears to be shifting, as telecom giants expand into the market, more automakers seek to grow their telematics offerings, and emerging connected-car technologies unleash new capabilities that could boost fleet productivity, improve worker safety and cut costs. Stay tuned.


Dominion Virginia Power’s Drone Program Takes Flight

Unmanned aerial vehicles – also known as UAVs or drones – offer the utility industry the promise of lower costs and improved worker safety with regard to line inspections, storm damage assessments, and other tasks that are traditionally performed using manned helicopters and third-party inspection services.

And the market appears ripe for rapid expansion, as drone technology becomes more advanced and hardware costs continue to plummet. In fact, global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024 – about a 30-fold increase – according to Navigant Research (

But the U.S. market still has regulatory hurdles to overcome before utilities can deploy drones at a level where they can effectively realize the full business benefits of the technology. Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, such as having to maintain visual line of sight, have prevented utilities from being able to fly drones over longer distances and inspect large sections of power lines at a time – the holy grail for utility drone programs.

Yet despite these constraints, a growing number of U.S. utility companies, like Dominion Virginia Power, which launched its drone program in 2013, are getting into the drone business and seeing promising results. And there could be huge implications for fleet.

What exactly is involved with starting a utility drone program? How are these programs managed? And what’s the potential impact on fleet? Will drones replace certain types of ground vehicles? Will they eventually become fleet assets?

UFP recently spoke with Steve Eisenrauch, manager of transmission forestry and line services for Dominion Virginia Power and the leader of his department’s drone program, to explore these questions and more.

UFP: What motivated you and your team at Dominion to launch your drone program in 2013?

Steve Eisenrauch: The technology. Basically, at that point, I had come to the realization that it looked like the technology was going to be usable for utilities. It had advanced to where it was more commonplace in the market. There were some companies out there that were starting to offer drone services, and the FAA was looking at the ability for folks to start using drones commercially.

UFP: What often happens when launching a new program is that you encounter some level of resistance because people fear change. Was there any resistance you had to face when getting your drone program started?

SE: Interestingly enough, no. From a getting-it-started perspective, the only thing that we had to make sure of was that our vendors had FAA approval to do the flights. Of course, we had to make sure that they had all their proper licenses and certificates and insurance requirements. But we had an area that we could test that wasn’t going to be energized, so if there was an issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. Our folks looked at this as really a groundbreaking technology that could be a great tool for utilities to be able to use.

UFP: Who operates the drones right now for Dominion?

SE: We have a vendor that uses two operators for each drone flight – a licensed pilot who controls the drone and a sensor operator who controls the camera to point, zoom, tilt up and down, that sort of thing. Basically, the pilot will take the drone up and get it in position; then the sensor operator will control the camera to look at the different assets and structures to make sure there are no issues.

UFP: You’ve decided to outsource the drones and the personnel who operate them. What was the reasoning to go with that model versus owning the drones?

SE: Several reasons. One is the ability to get the program up and running very quickly. These vendor companies already had the drones, the FAA clearances to do the work and the pilots. When we first started flying the drones in 2014, a commercial pilot’s license was required to fly. That changed last year with the FAA’s new requirement for a commercial drone operator to only have a remote pilot certification.

And beyond the operator needing a pilot’s certification, there’s still a lot of on-the-job training and practice to operate drones around power lines. That’s one reason why we gave it to the third-party vendor.

We also had to consider that drone technology gets outdated very quickly. A third-party service provider is more likely to upgrade quicker than a utility would be able to do.

Yet that’s not to say that down the road, as drones become more autonomous, we won’t integrate them into our line crews. It’s just initially, and for the last couple of years, we haven’t chosen to go that route quite yet. We don’t think [the drone technology] is quite as far along as it needs to be at this point.

UFP: What department does your drone program fit under?

SE: Electric transmission is the main user of drones within Dominion. Now, once again, that’s not to say there aren’t a few other drones scattered around other departments at Dominion that are used occasionally. But the main drone program is housed here in electric transmission.

UFP: You’re currently operating three drones. Where do you see that number, say, in the next year? Do you see it remaining roughly the same or growing?

SE: If the FAA regulations remain the same, then from a day-to-day operations perspective I don’t see that number changing. But if the regulations change to allow for beyond line-of-sight operation, I think that number’s going to grow.

UFP: What’s the potential impact that the growth of drones could have on fleet? Do you envision drones impacting the composition of Dominion’s ground fleet, where they might replace all-terrain vehicles or other equipment that would get out to typically hard-to-reach areas?

SE: I think drones are going to be very helpful at providing information that identifies what’s needed to take care of issues in those areas. But I don’t think that drones are going to be replacing the bucket trucks and the ATVs for the guys that actually get to those locations once the issue is discovered.

One thing I would expect, though, is that drones eventually will become a fleet asset. That’s because one of the things we want to be able to do down the road is that when we have a line operation, if a line locks out, we’ll get an approximate location from our fault analysis group. Then we have somebody in our system operation center who dispatches the nearest drone to that location. The drones would be able to get real-time feedback, so they know precisely what equipment, people, access and material are needed to get to the site and repair the issue as quickly as possible.

What that means is that we’re going to have to have these drones stationed around our service area, not just here at our headquarters or at a vendor. Maybe we have them stationed strategically in some of our substations or other office locations so that we can be able to give a command from a central area and fly these things out.

Then, instead of having three drones – like we have right now – we may have 100 drones. And at that scale, I could see the drone becoming a fleet asset.

So, I don’t know whether we’ll see drones taking away from the existing fleet. But we may see them becoming fleet assets in the future.

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