Author: Sean M. Lyden

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4 Smartphone Apps to Make You a More Effective and Efficient Fleet Manager

If you’re among the 64 percent of Americans who own a smartphone – up from 35 percent in 2011, according to Pew Research – you hold in your hand a powerful tool to record great ideas, facilitate collaboration, avoid traffic and make faster decisions, with thousands of apps available today.

The most obvious mobile apps discussed in fleet management circles are those associated with telematics providers to give you real-time access to fleet asset data on your smartphone. But beyond telematics, what other useful smartphone apps can help make your job easier and boost your productivity as a fleet manager? Try these four tools.

1. Evernote
Cost: Free for basic plan

Think of Evernote as a virtual library of notebooks that you fill with important ideas, documents, emails, pictures or audio files – all in one place, accessible from any device.

For example, suppose you’ve found an interesting article and want to reference it later. With Evernote, you can clip the entire article or a part of it, place it in a note and access it anywhere from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. And if you don’t remember the name of the article, you can find it fast on Evernote by searching keywords.

Or, perhaps you’ve just finished a highly productive brainstorming session with your team and want to capture everything written on the whiteboard. Through the Evernote app, you can snap a picture of the whiteboard with your smartphone, and it’s automatically recorded on a note and organized in the notebook of your choosing, which you can easily share with others on the team.

2. Audible
Cost: $14.95 monthly subscription (for one new book each month)

How can you make the most of your “windshield time” while commuting to work or driving to your utility’s other locations?

With Audible, an Amazon company, you can invest that time in professional development by listening to books on your smartphone wherever you go. As of press time, Audible has more than 180,000 titles available, with top-sellers such as:
• “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
• “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek
• “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future” by Kevin Kelly

You can also listen to “The Great Courses” series that includes college-style lectures from top teachers in the world on a wide range of subjects. A few courses that might interest you include:
• Seth Freeman’s “The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal”
• Michael A. Roberto’s “Transformational Leadership: How Leaders Change Teams, Companies, and Organizations” and “The Art of Critical Decision Making”
• Kenneth G. Brown’s “Influence: Mastering Life’s Most Powerful Skill”

3. Google Drive
Cost: Free for 15 GB

With Google Drive and its full suite of office applications – including Google Docs, Sheets and Slides – you can work on important documents on any internet-connected device and then instantly share your changes to authorized members of your team.

For example, suppose you’re working on a fleet policy that requires collaboration with multiple stakeholders, but the back-and-forth exchange of emails starts to get unwieldy. With Google Drive, your team can edit the document together in real time, no matter where each person is located or what device they’re using. And then, when you’re done, you can convert the final document into popular formats for distribution, such as PDF, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This way, you can remove the typical bottlenecks that slow down the production and approval cycles for important projects.

4. Waze
Cost: Free

Has your navigation system ever failed to alert you about a traffic jam before you got stuck in it? What if someone could have given you a heads-up that an accident occurred about a half-mile up the road – within seconds after the incident – so you could have rerouted in time to avoid delays?

That’s precisely what makes Waze a different smartphone navigation app. It takes GPS navigation a step further by empowering its users to update actual road conditions in real time for the benefit of all its users, issuing alerts before you approach red light cameras, police, accidents, road hazards or traffic jams. Waze can also guide you to the cheapest fueling station on your route.

So, when you’re looking for the shortest and safest route to your destination, Waze – and its community of users – will help show you the way.


Smartphone Stats on Transportation Apps
• 67 percent of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally for turn-by-turn navigation while driving; 31 percent say they do this frequently.
• 25 percent use their phone at least occasionally to get public transit information; 10 percent do this frequently.
• 11 percent use their phone at least occasionally to reserve a taxi or car service like Uber or Lyft. Just 4 percent do so frequently, and 72 percent of smartphone owners never use their phone for this purpose.

Source: Pew Research

Do Automated Driving Technologies Promote High-Risk Behaviors?

On May 7, a Tesla Model S, with Autopilot engaged, slammed full-speed into a tractor-trailer that pulled out in front of it, killing the Tesla’s driver. The incident was billed as the first death caused by autonomous car technology and raised questions about whether the Tesla Autopilot – or any similar type of system, for that matter – is ready for prime time. This was a blow to an industry that has been touting self-driving cars as the answer to the over 33,000 people who die from motor vehicle crashes each year in the U.S.

Then, within days of initial reports, Reuters reported that there was a portable DVD player inside the vehicle playing a video at the moment of impact. The conclusion: Although the Tesla failed to “see” the truck, the driver didn’t see it either, presumably because he was distracted by watching a video.

This isn’t the only example of a Tesla driver pushing the limits of Autopilot. Despite the automaker’s warnings that Autopilot is not intended to be a fully autonomous system – and that the driver must be able to retake control of the vehicle at any time – there have been numerous YouTube videos posted by Model S owners, depicting them engaging in high-risk behaviors, including dozing off behind the wheel.

Could it be that an automated driving technology touted to save lives has actually created more opportunity for riskier behavior?

Perhaps. According to Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics Inc. (, a Newark, Del.-based firm that provides driver safety training and fleet risk management expertise to organizations, the concept is called “risk compensation,” a theory that suggests people typically adjust their behavior in response to how they perceive a level of risk, often becoming less careful the more protected they feel.

“As the Tesla crash demonstrates, once drivers become dependent on ‘advanced’ systems, they often move to a higher risk category,” Liggio said.

Yet this isn’t just a Tesla or consumer issue. As automated driving technologies – such as adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems – become more mainstream, how will fleets grapple with the potential impact of risk compensation behaviors among their drivers?

I’m curious what you’re experiencing with this issue. Have you seen an increase in risky behaviors with drivers operating vehicles with advanced systems? If so, what is your organization doing to manage that risk and correct those behaviors? Or, is it a nonissue so far?

Let me know your thoughts at

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 George Survant, senior fleet director at Time Warner Cable Inc., a cable and telecommunications company headquartered in New York with over 20,000 assets in its fleet.

#1. Listen to your customer.
“Often, customers will come and ask for this or that type of spec in a vehicle or piece of equipment. But when we dialogue with them and listen, we begin to understand what the real pain points are. And when we learn why they want something, there’s often an opportunity for us to recommend a better solution they might not have considered when they first made the request.”

#2. Know how your fleet is doing at all times.
“If you don’t continually stay on top of how your fleet is performing, you can’t manage it very effectively. For example, we know that we have 20,235 vehicles. Our incident failure rate is 2.7 percent; in other words, 2.7 percent of the fleet is unavailable on any given day. Our average burn rate for fuel is running about 11.2 mpg across all spectrums of the fleet. We anticipate burning 24 million gallons of fuel a year and driving 256 million miles. It’s about always having your finger on the pulse of your fleet, because that’s the only way you can catch outliers or discover new opportunities for improvements.”

#3. Act on the data to manage your fleet more efficiently.
“Make sure your data is good and then use it. There are a lot of counterintuitive things that people do in this business, or legacy things that they do that, frankly, don’t produce good results. Accurate data can give you the insight you need to come up with a tightly focused response to a very specific problem.”


Time Warner Cable: Forging a Path Toward Fleet Sustainability

To make a real impact on cutting carbon emissions, a fleet needs to make huge investments in new clean-fuel technologies, right?

Not necessarily.

Take Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC), for example. The telecommunications giant is on track to cut fleet-wide fuel consumption by nearly 1 million gallons in 2016, with only a modest investment in green technologies, such as plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles. The bulk of the fuel savings is coming from TWC’s vehicle replacement strategy; the company has recently changed its bucket and pickup truck specifications to generate substantial gains in fuel economy.

And it’s this progress in cutting fuel consumption and carbon emissions that has led TWC to become one of the first 10 companies in the U.S. to be named an accredited sustainable fleet as part of a new accreditation program launched by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) in 2015.

According to NAFA, the Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program ( recognizes fleets for “their commitment to sustainability with levels of recognition based on actual reductions in net environmental impacts,” including improving air quality through emissions reduction, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing fuel usage.

Utility Fleet Professional recently spoke with longtime fleet professional George Survant, senior fleet director at TWC, to learn more about how the company has been able to make significant progress toward sustainability in a way that’s also financially sustainable for the company. Here are three strategies that emerged from the conversation.

Strategy #1
Bucket Trucks: Switch to Diesel, Reduce Weight and Cut Idle
For years, TWC spec’d its Ford F-450 35-foot bucket trucks with V-10 gasoline engines. But a couple years ago, Survant began replacing the gas trucks with ones equipped with diesel engines, lighter-weight bodies and idle reduction technologies.

The impact? In 2014, TWC cut fuel consumption by 700,000 gallons in its bucket truck fleet alone. Last year, after replacing about half as many vehicles as they did in 2014, the company still reduced fuel consumption by 256,000 gallons.

How did the change in specs achieve these results?

First, consider the use of lightweight materials in the truck body and equipment specs. The lighter the truck, the less power – or fuel – it requires to propel the vehicle. “We incorporate aluminum and fiberglass wherever possible in our body designs, which has taken our rolling weight down between 700 and 800 pounds per truck,” Survant said.

Then there’s the idle mitigation technology, including electric power take-off, which eliminates hours of engine idle while service technicians operate the aerial boom.

Finally, take into account the switch to the more fuel-efficient diesel engine. How much of a difference has that made? “Excluding the impact of our idle mitigation systems, we went from about 5.6 mpg with our gas bucket trucks to getting 8.7 mpg with the new lighter-weight diesel-powered buckets,” Survant said.

That’s a 55 percent bump in fuel economy.

Strategy #2
Pickups: Right-Size Trucks and Powertrains
In 2014, Survant began replacing TWC’s Ford F-250 pickups powered by a V-8 with the redesigned F-150s equipped with the fuel-sipping V-6 EcoBoost engine.

“For years we bought F-250s on the operating premise that it took the big V-8 engine to haul around the loads we were hauling,” Survant said. “But today we’re doing exactly the same job with remarkably good performance with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost [V-6].”

According to Ford, the lightweight aluminum body design for the new F-150 sheds about 700 pounds from the previous model, which has enabled fleets like TWC to consider downsizing to a lighter truck, without sacrificing payload requirements.

What has been the impact on fuel economy?

“What we’re seeing with the new trucks fully loaded and fully burdened, month in and month out, is about 15.7 mpg, compared to about 10 mpg with the legacy trucks,” Survant said.

Going to a smaller engine was just one factor in the equation in reducing fuel use, Survant explained. “One of the most amazing things for us is the stop-start technology with the new engines. In New York City, some of our best-performing vehicles are actually these full-sized F-150 pickups because they turn off at stop signs and stoplights.”

But how has this change to trucks with smaller engines impacted driver acceptance? Has TWC experienced any sort of complaints or resistance from drivers?

Not so far. “Our acceptance of these vehicles has been so good that we’ve had a little bit of a dispute among drivers over who gets a new vehicle,” Survant said. “They’re keyed up to argue, ‘I need this truck more than you need it.’”

Strategy #3
Expand Biodiesel Use and Electrification
What is TWC doing with alternative fuels to cut carbon emissions?

“Our focus has been on [alternative] fuels in a few aspects of our fleet,” Survant said. “One, with our shift to diesel, we’re trying to structure a program where we can access biodiesel on a broader scale than we do today. Almost all diesel products have some percentage of biodiesel through the public distribution systems today. But we really want to ramp that up. We want to get our drivers to use, on average, a higher concentration of biodiesel. The second point is that we have hybridized all of our passenger car fleet. And third, we’re engaging an action plan where we’re putting motor pools with electric vehicles into places where we have high concentrations of employees who don’t have assigned vehicles.”

In terms of the EV motor pools, Survant offered this example: “We have 1,600 vehicles in 16 square miles in Manhattan. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to have pools used there. We’re embarking on a program this year to partner with Ford to put some Ford Focus electrics in place, and we’re working through permitting for the installation of recharging facilities as we speak.”

Survant said the company is looking to roll out similar EV programs in other urban areas, such as Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo., in the near future.

What about propane autogas and natural gas vehicles?

“Right now, we’re really not spending any money in propane and natural gas,” Survant said. “That’s because our trucks are domiciled at our drivers’ homes at night, and they’re not accessible to centralized fueling. We don’t have much control over where our technicians live for us to be able to take real good advantage of a public-accessible alt-fuel station. So, there are only a handful of co-located places in the country where we even have a remote opportunity to do that.”

The Bottom Line
For Survant and TWC, any fleet sustainability initiative needs to keep the overall business in mind. “We have not been as far out on the leading edge as some fleets have been with alt-fuel development or hybridization of service vans or trucks,” Survant said. “Instead we tie fuel reduction goals into our vehicle replacement strategy so that it’s not disruptive to our business and doesn’t require external funding. Our objective is that everywhere we operate, we’re going to make continuous and steady, if somewhat modest, improvements.”


Recruiting and Retaining Top Mechanics

A water main bursts. Power lines get damaged by severe weather. A major gas line leak is detected. Whatever type of utility you work for, your fleet vehicles and equipment need to be ready to roll in an instant to confront any emergency that impacts customers. And that’s what makes having dependable, top-flight mechanics so important. How can utility fleets more effectively prepare and position themselves to compete for the best technicians and keep them on board?

More Jobs, Fewer Candidates
The starting point is to address a key trend that you’re likely experiencing in your own fleet.

As baby boomer mechanics get set to retire, it’s becoming more of a challenge to find young qualified mechanics to fill those spots. And that’s a situation Dale Collins, CAFM, the fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water) in Fairfax, Va., is experiencing firsthand. Collins manages the utility’s two maintenance facilities staffed by seven full-time mechanics.

“In the next five years, four out of our seven full-time staff are going to be retired,” Collins said. “So, what’s big on our radar right now is trying to put together a succession plan internally and hopefully find some good-quality applicants and backfill some staff members, so we can bring them up to speed before a lot of our retirements set in.”

But the challenge, he said, is that the pool of potential candidates seems to be shrinking. “There’s not a lot of focus and emphasis on the trades anymore in the education system. So, a lot of millennials and young people coming up now are missing golden opportunities to get a really good career, with a bright and stable financial future.”

Demand for quality mechanics continues to increase. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in the automotive repair sector will increase 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, and demand for diesel mechanics will grow by 12 percent during that span.

Recruiting Strategies
In light of a looming mechanics shortage, where can you find good young talent?

“Man, that’s tough,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), who oversees a team of 24 mechanics across 10 locations. “We’re working with our recruiting department all the time on that issue.”

Jefferson said that the last few candidates came by word-of-mouth referrals. “Somebody here at OG&E knows somebody who knows somebody. We also post job openings on our website, but we typically don’t get many candidates out of that.”

Collins said that Fairfax Water’s internship program has been helpful in establishing relationships with young mechanics, who sometimes become full-time staff members. “We usually hire two interns each year for our summer internship program. The interns can kind of road test the work, and we can road test them.”

But to find qualified candidates to choose from, you need to tap every possible talent source.

“I have hired mechanics from everywhere – mechanics from dealerships and independent repair shops, aviation mechanics, parts specialists, and students from community colleges and trade schools,” Collins said.

Another source for finding good mechanics: Craigslist.

“Sometimes you’ve got to try some out-of-the-box stuff,” Jefferson said. “I’ve posted jobs on Craigslist, which was a tip we got from one of our truck dealers we do business with. We tried that with our last position and we’ve hired a couple mechanics from it.”

During the recruiting process, highlight the key selling points as to why a candidate should select your organization.

“We focus on financial stability,” Collins said. “You may not start out with a huge salary, but you can always depend on a steady paycheck and a bright future. And we offer a generous benefits package that includes annual and sick leave, medical, dental and vision insurance, educational reimbursement, continued technical training and a very good retirement plan.”

Keeping Top Mechanics
When you’re bringing new mechanics on board, how can you improve your odds of keeping them for the long haul? Here are three tips.

1. Be willing to adjust.
A major challenge impacting employee retention that Jefferson dealt with was OG&E’s night-shift-only schedule for mechanics. “Since we don’t have a lot of spare equipment, those assets need to be used during the day,” he said. “So, we would do most maintenance and repairs at night.”

But the constant night shift schedule did not work well with younger mechanics with young families, which caused many of them to quit.

“We found that the younger generation doesn’t like to work nights,” Jefferson said. “They like to be home at night with the family and kids and are not as tolerant of working night shift all the time.”

The adjustment? “That’s when we started really looking at how we can plan repairs and maintenance during the day and start offering a rotating shift,” Jefferson said. “Now we have a day shift that’s from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and an evening shift that’s from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. [Mechanics] work one shift for two weeks, and then they rotate, which seems to have worked very well for everyone.”

2. Invest time to understand what motivates your mechanics.
When it comes to motivating mechanics and keeping them happy, there’s no one answer. “You’ve just got to take the time to learn what motivates your people. It’s not easy,” Jefferson said. “Some people are motivated by money, some are motivated by time off, some are motivated by instant gratification.”

The last example – instant gratification – is particularly relevant when working with millennials. Jefferson said this means that supervisors should not wait until the month-end or year-end performance review to provide feedback; they should do it as close to the moment as possible.

“If a mechanic finds something that wasn’t real obvious and does a great job fixing the problem, instead of waiting until the end of the month when you do their performance review, tell them as soon as possible, ‘Hey, you did a great job!’” Jefferson said.

3. Make effective communication a top priority.
“Assume nothing,” Collins advised. “Talk to your staff regularly. Let them know that you appreciate what they do and talk about things that need to be improved. Be sure to highlight the big picture of the business and how important their contribution is to the overall success of the organization. This gives them a greater sense of belonging as a valuable part of your team.”

Any way you look at it, your ability to attract and keep top talent hinges on your leadership. As Collins sums it up, “The best way to recruit and retain great employees is to lead them effectively. So, develop yourself, keep learning and never think that you know everything.”


On Your Radar: The Latest Developments in Self-Driving Vehicles

Only a decade ago, the idea that self-driving cars could ever become mainstream within our lifetimes seemed far-fetched. Then came Google in 2009 with its fleet of retrofitted Prius hybrids and Lexus SUVs, which have since logged over 1.5 million autonomous-driving miles. And today, most major automakers, including upstart Tesla Motors, have also entered the race, with industry experts predicting that fully autonomous vehicles will enter the market within the next five to 10 years.

What’s fueling this momentum toward a self-driving world? There are many factors, but here are three interesting recent developments to keep your eye on.

1. Connected Convoys
Imagine three semitrailer trucks traveling at highway speed, one behind the other, with fewer than 50 feet between each vehicle. With conventional trucks, that’s a surefire recipe for a multivehicle pileup. But what if those three trucks were “connected” as a single autonomous platoon? Daimler is banking that its answer to this question will lead to improved safety and fuel economy, while contributing to advancements in the company’s autonomous truck technology.

In early April, three autonomous Mercedes-Benz semitrailer trucks completed a cross-border convoy drive from Stuttgart in Germany to Rotterdam in the Netherlands – about 400 miles – as a connected platoon.

The trucks were equipped with Daimler’s Highway Pilot Connect, which leverages electronic vehicle-to-vehicle networking between the trucks, allowing electronic docking – or platooning – by vehicles on long-distance highways. Connected vehicles in a platoon require a distance of only 15 meters (49 feet) between them instead of the typical 50 meters (164 feet), which significantly reduces aerodynamic drag, achieving fuel savings of up to 10 percent.

According to Daimler, connected-truck platooning also makes road traffic safer. That’s because while a human behind the wheel has a reaction time of 1.4 seconds, Highway Pilot Connect transmits braking signals to the vehicles in fewer than 0.1 seconds.

2. Sensors That See at Night
Just as humans must be able to see to drive, so must self-driving cars – and they see through sensor technologies, such as light detection and ranging (LiDAR), camera systems, sonar and radar. But what happens when the car can’t see potential hazards at night before it’s too late? Ford Motor Co. is making progress toward solving the night-visibility problem with its Fusion hybrid autonomous research vehicle.

A recent test at Ford’s Arizona proving grounds showed that its LiDAR system – working with the car’s virtual driver software – can steer the vehicle along winding roads in the dark of night, even without the use of headlights. The Ford self-driving car uses a high-resolution 3-D map that provides the vehicle with the latest information about the road, road markings, geography, topography and landmarks, such as signs, buildings and trees. And then the LiDAR system, at a rate of 2.8 million laser pulses per second, pinpoints precisely where the vehicle is positioned on that 3-D map so the vehicle can safely navigate its surroundings.

3. Partnerships Between Automakers and Silicon Valley Startups
Major automakers are expanding their presence in Silicon Valley and forming relationships with emerging technology startups that could help accelerate development of autonomous vehicle technologies. Following are a couple recent examples.

In January, General Motors said it would invest $500 million in the ride-sharing company Lyft in a venture that gives the automaker direct access to the growing market for ride-sharing and a potential channel for offering self-driving cars for on-demand use. GM is also in the process of acquiring Cruise Automation, a 3-year-old startup that has developed a highway autopilot system, which could help the automaker accelerate its autonomous vehicle development.

In April, both the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal reported that Fiat Chrysler and Google are in advanced talks to form a technical partnership. The partnership would be the first to match an automaker with Google’s autonomous car project.

This trend toward partnerships shows that self-driving vehicles aren’t viewed by automakers as a novelty or fringe technology; instead they are something that’s being taken seriously as a future product offering.


The Move Toward a Self-Driving World: By the Numbers
32,675: The number of lives lost on U.S. roads in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is roughly equivalent to one Boeing 747 aircraft falling from the sky, killing all 600 passengers, each and every week throughout the year.

94: The percentage of fatal crashes that NHTSA estimates is attributed to human error or decision. The logic: Remove the human, eliminate human error and save lives.

50: The average commute time in minutes based on U.S. Department of Commerce data. Imagine how much more you could get done with almost an extra hour each workday.

129,000,000: The number of autonomous-capable vehicles expected to be sold globally from 2020 to 2035, according to Navigant Research.

Five Years In, UFP’s Mission Remains the Same: Bring Valuable Content to the Utility Fleet Community

This is our fifth-anniversary issue, and I’m grateful to be part of a dynamic team that’s so passionate about serving the utility industry.

From the beginning in 2011, we have dedicated ourselves to creating educational content that’s tailored to addressing the unique challenges you face in a utility fleet environment. And we refuse to settle. We understand that your world – and job – is constantly shifting, and you’re looking for information that can help you navigate that changing landscape.

That’s why, in 2014, we established an editorial advisory board of your peers – utility fleet professionals from Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable, PG&E, Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District and Oklahoma Gas & Electric – to ensure our content remains relevant, accurate and valuable to you. Our board reviews virtually every article we produce and has been instrumental for me to test and “sanity check” story ideas to ensure we keep upping our game in serving you.

And in early 2015, we completely redesigned the magazine and website to make all our content as easy as possible to read, digest and apply to your business. Your time is valuable, so we strive to make the time you spend consuming our content well worth your investment.

Then last September, we produced the first-ever Utility Fleet Conference co-located at ICUEE in Louisville, Ky. This was a highly successful event – which many of you attended – with the aim of delivering education on best practices, real-world strategies and new ideas to help you grow as a utility fleet professional. And we’re set to do it again in October 2017 at ICUEE, so stay tuned for the details!

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you so that during the next five years we can grow with you and make UFP even more valuable to your career. Think of us as your personal research team, who can help you uncover viable answers to your most pressing fleet questions and challenges.

Email me your feedback, questions and story tips at Together we can build a publication and a community of fleet professionals and experts unrivaled in the industry.

Sean M. Lyden


What to Expect in a Telematics Deployment

There’s a lot of hype around telematics – and for good reason.

When properly configured and maintained, telematics works like a sophisticated air traffic control system for your fleet. It uses GPS tracking and wireless connectivity to stream real-time vehicle location and performance data, giving you all the information you need – at a glance – to make smart decisions that reduce your fleet’s fuel costs and carbon footprint, improve vehicle utilization rates and promote safer driver behaviors.

But the qualifier here is the phrase “properly configured and maintained.” That’s because even when you’ve selected the right telematics system for your fleet, the installations and ongoing maintenance can get tricky, especially when you’re trying to track hundreds or thousands of fleet assets across multiple locations in a large service area.

At least that has been the experience for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), a rate-regulated gas and electric utility headquartered in Collinsville, Ill., which completed its telematics hardware installations on about 2,300 vehicles and pieces of equipment in November 2014. The company currently has 3,300 total assets including trailers.

Overall Success
On one level, AIC has already received value from its telematics deployment, generating meaningful fuel cost savings the first full year (2015). This is largely attributed to engine idle reduction, according to Beth Daiber, CPA, supervisor of fleet administration for AIC.

Telematics has also helped AIC work with police to track down and recover a stolen asset, as GPS data showed the vehicle traveling through downtown St. Louis.

And AIC employees who are questioned about their driving or vehicle handling have found that telematics data can help set the record straight. “We can quickly pull the data and in many cases see that our drivers were operating safely,” Daiber said.

Data Quality Challenges
Yet, on a practical level, telematics is only as valuable as the quality of the data it generates. And sometimes that quality can be harder to achieve on a day-to-day basis than what you might expect, said Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for AIC.

Take, for example, disruptions in wireless connectivity, where the vehicle’s GPS signal gets lost, leading to false reports.

“We’d pull idle reports on vehicles and started seeing odd data, such as a vehicle showing that it idled longer than the actual engine hours,” Remmert said. “You know it’s not correct, but it took us some time to figure out what was going on. In some cases, a vehicle would be in a garage and lose connectivity for several hours, but because of the programming of the software, when the signal returned, the data indicated that the vehicle had been idling when in reality it was parked and the ignition was shut off.”

How did AIC resolve the issue? “It was actually a third-party contractor performing on-site repairs on our vehicles who noticed that, when these units pulled into a garage, they lost GPS connectivity,” Daiber said. “Once we told our telematics provider what we were seeing with the garage issue, they were able to rectify it by making adjustments in the software logic.”

But sometimes disruptions in connectivity have nothing to do with the telematics hardware or software itself; if a backup asset sits too long, the vehicle’s battery will eventually die – and so will the GPS signal. At that point, the vehicle disappears from view, along with its data, impacting the accuracy of reports.

Getting unresponsive GPS units back online can be a challenge, especially for larger fleets, Daiber said. “The problem is, it’s never the same asset. You fix one, but then you’ve got three other ones that aren’t working. It’s a moving target.”

Real-World Advice
So, what are some lessons learned from AIC’s telematics deployment that you can apply to your own fleet? Remmert and Daiber offered these tips.

1. Network with peers.
“Network with other fleet managers in the utility industry to learn what has worked and what hasn’t,” Remmert said. “I think you really need to focus on getting advice within the utility industry because utility fleets have a unique set of needs and challenges that are different than those of, say, a delivery fleet.”

2. Plan for ongoing maintenance.
“Before you even start installations, have a plan as to how you’re going to maintain those units,” Daiber said. “That was something that I don’t think was fully on our radar before we got into this. We didn’t anticipate the amount of time it would take to maintain the hardware.”

3. Test data definitions during the pilot phase.
“When you’re doing a pilot [where the telematics provider allows you to test the system], really get down into the weeds about the data itself and test the reports so you’re actually getting what you think you’re getting,” Remmert said. “We really struggled with setting up our data definitions correctly upfront. I don’t blame that on the telematics provider. We had to understand what we wanted. What defines idle? What defines a backing event? You have to spend time working with your internal customers to determine what definitions they want set and then work with your telematics provider to help you get it done right.”

4. Get buy-in across the organization.
“Involving stakeholders throughout the company has been essential in the success of our telematics deployment,” Remmert said. “As an organization, we agreed that fleet would be responsible for managing the installs, maintenance and the reporting aspects of the system, but it’s really a full company initiative – not just fleet’s. We focused on getting all of senior leadership’s and other stakeholders’ buy-in before moving forward, which helped make the transition to GPS tracking go more smoothly.”

Daiber agreed. She said that when the fleet team set out to create an idle reduction policy to coincide with the telematics capabilities, they worked closely with AIC’s human resources group and equipment end users to craft a policy that would be practical and acceptable to all parties. “We went out into the field and received input from the end users, learning about their challenges, finding out why they idle their vehicles and uncovering ideas where we could reduce idle without negatively impacting driver productivity,” Daiber said. “We avoided creating an environment where the end users feel like they’re being watched and judged. That’s important to ensure that everyone is committed to continuous improvement.”

The Bottom Line
Despite some of the challenges his team has encountered with ensuring the quality of the data, Remmert said that, overall, telematics has transformed AIC’s fleet operations and is already generating actionable results. “At first you might feel like you’re beating your head against the wall, trying to manage all the complexities involved, but it’s worth it to get a final product that will help you manage your fleet performance more efficiently today and into the future,” he said.


The State of Lightweight Material Technologies in Truck and Van Upfits

It wasn’t long ago when nearly $5 per gallon of gasoline and diesel was a reality, with most analysts predicting that this price, or even higher, would be the new normal for a long time to come.

And as fleets grappled with the impact of fuel cost spikes on their operating budgets, they began to look more earnestly into lighter-weight truck and van upfits – built with advanced lightweight materials, such as aluminum, fiberglass composites, plastics, advanced high-strength steel and carbon fiber – with the hopes of improving fuel efficiencies and uncovering other cost-savings opportunities in a volatile market.

This is because replacing conventional steel with lighter-weight materials wherever possible allows fleets to accomplish one of three objectives:
Achieve net fuel-efficiency gains. If you reduce the truck’s weight, without adding more payload, the vehicle requires less effort – and thus, fuel – to perform the same work.
Increase legal payload and productivity. If you take, for example, 1,000 pounds out of the construction of a truck body, that allows your crew to carry 1,000 pounds more in gear, parts and equipment per trip, while staying under gross vehicle weight limits pertaining to bridge laws, commercial driver’s license requirements or other Department of Transporation regulations, depending on the truck class.
Reduce acquisition costs. Selecting a lighter-weight upfit might enable you to downsize to a smaller, potentially less expensive chassis, without sacrificing net payload capacity.

But fast-forward a few years later and, as of press time, both gas and diesel have sunk below $2 per gallon in most of the U.S. So, does this mean lower demand for lighter truck and van upfits?

Not according to these four trends.

Trend #1: Greater Openness to Lightweight Materials in the Fleet Industry
“You don’t typically see fast, wholesale changes in our industry, either from the body manufacturers or from the fleets or consumers,” said Doyle Sumrall, managing director for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry ( “That’s because mistakes are really expensive. And it takes time for customers to try something new and trust that these [lightweight] materials will work in the field and hold up in harsh conditions.”

But the spike in fuel prices in 2007 and 2008 pushed the industry to move faster into lightweighting, according to Sumrall. “There was a period there that when you filled up your vehicle, it made your eyes water. Five-dollar fuel was a true impetus for change. Those kind of seminal events tend to open your mind to look at new and creative ways to do things.”

Since that time, as more fleets have become comfortable with the performance of advanced materials in the field, this has helped create greater industry awareness of the benefits of weight reduction, spurring fleet managers to at least consider lightweight material options when spec’ing upfits – something they likely wouldn’t have done, say, 10 years ago.

Trend #2: GHG Phase 2 Standards
The upfit industry is about to get external pressure from the federal government to take weight out of their products.

That’s due to the Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions rules, as outlined in a joint proposal by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. These rules apply to heavy-duty trucks – defined in this context as vehicles at or above 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight rating – and are expected to begin model year 2021.

While the Phase 1 ruling, in effect from 2014 through 2018, requires chassis manufacturers to create fuel-efficiency gains through powertrain improvements, the Phase 2 proposal takes a more holistic approach, addressing the factors that impact fuel economy with both the chassis and the truck-mounted body, as with vocational vehicles like bucket trucks and digger derricks.

And one of solutions proposed by the government that impacts the upfit industry is weight reduction through the use of advanced material technologies in upfits.

“Body manufacturers and upfitters will likely be involved in the Phase 2 standards discussion; it won’t just be the chassis OEMs this time around,” Sumrall said.

Trend #3: Improvements in Advanced Adhesive Technologies
The future of truck bodies is not that there will be one material – whether steel, aluminum, plastics, fiberglass composites or carbon fiber composites – that becomes the market winner. It’s that there will be hybrid designs that incorporate multiple materials, factoring in the unique strengths and weaknesses of each material to build a product that achieves the optimal balance of weight reduction, strength and cost for the customer.

But joining disparate materials is a challenge. “A major problem with a vehicle made with different types of materials is where and how you join them together,” said David Warren, program manager, transportation materials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (, the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy laboratory. “You can’t use the typical welding process. I can weld two pieces of steel together, but I cannot easily weld a piece of aluminum with steel. And if you’re not careful, you’ll also create a very bad corrosion situation when trying to combine dissimilar materials.”

According to Warren, one solution to join aluminum and steel, for example, is friction spot-welding (as opposed to torch welding), which uses a rotating tool to generate friction heat that softens the materials just enough for them to combine, without actually melting the materials and damaging the microstructures of the aluminum panel.

As other possible solutions, Sumrall points to advanced bonding technologies – such as high-strength structural adhesives – in lieu of welding, bolting or riveting. “The market for these technologies is growing, opening up the opportunity to put dissimilar materials together, like a steel skin with an aluminum or polymer interior,” he said. “This is not prolific yet, but it’s clearly a direction we’re heading in the industry.”

The bottom line: Advancements in bonding techniques and adhesive technologies will expand options for body manufacturers to achieve weight reduction in their product designs in ways that could be more cost-effective – and thus, more financially attractive – for customers.

Trend #4: More Lightweight Materials Use by Major Automakers
In 2015, Ford introduced its redesigned F-150 pickup, with the cab and pickup box built mostly out of high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloys to achieve a 700-pound weight reduction compared to the previous model. The upcoming 2017 all-electric Chevrolet Bolt will incorporate large amounts of aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber to reduce weight and improve energy efficiency to increase battery range to 200 miles on a single charge. And the BMW i3 electric vehicle is built with an all-carbon-fiber passenger compartment that the company says is six times stronger than conventional steel, at a fraction of the weight.

How does this impact the truck equipment industry?

As automakers incorporate more lightweight materials in their designs, this will eventually bring economies of scale that trickle down to truck equipment manufacturers, making advanced material technologies more financially viable for their products.

It also helps expand the service network to repair these materials. For example, repairing damage to an aluminum body panel has historically been expensive, requiring different techniques, tools and expertise than fixing a steel panel. But Ford’s expansive use of aluminum in the F-150 is forcing the vehicle body repair industry to increase training and capacity, helping drive down the cost of aluminum repairs.

And, the automakers’ increased adoption of advanced lightweight materials provides proof of concept that gives fleets greater confidence to try these materials in their own truck applications.

As Sumrall put it, “In the work truck world, we all go where the OEMs go. So, we’re seeing a lot more aluminum and more composite materials in truck bodies and equipment as well.”


The Final 3

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

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, a rate-regulated gas and electric utility headquartered in Collinsville, Ill. Remmert oversees a fleet of about 3,300 assets.

#1. Care
“Truly care about your employees. Care about your customer, whether internal or external. Care about the equipment. If you don’t take on a caring mindset in all aspects of the job, you’ll lack the motivation and drive to be the best you can be.”

#2. Commit
“Commit to be the best. My fleet organization probably gets tired of hearing me talk about this, but it’s really important to commit to be the best out there. I have a little saying that I often get razzed about, but it captures what I mean: ‘You don’t wake up in the morning wanting to come in second place.’ So, come in every day with a commitment to be the best, whether you’re pulling an idle report, fixing a truck or talking with customers.”

#3. Execute
“Take action. You can have an MBA or great ideas, but none of it really means anything unless you act and execute your role as fleet manager. Execute the little stuff, and the big stuff will follow.”

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