Author: Sean M. Lyden

Sean M. Lyden has not set their biography yet

Regain Your Focus

It’s easy to keep your focus when you have a rush of proverbial fires to put out. You know, like dealing with unexpected equipment breakdowns, handling complaints from business unit supervisors about delayed vehicle orders, or maintaining sufficient staffing levels in the shop during a pandemic as techs get sick or exposed and must stay out of work.

That’s because those issues are urgent. They’re emergencies screaming for your attention. And they won’t let up until you’ve solved them.

But what about when it comes to working on the important – but not urgent – projects or initiatives?

That’s when it gets more challenging to keep your focus. You don’t have the heightened sense of urgency to drive you to action. And, as you work on those longer-term projects, you’re likely to find yourself easily distracted, with the urge to scroll through social media feeds and go down YouTube rabbit holes with no end in sight.

How do you snap yourself back to work on your most important tasks – especially when they don’t feel urgent at that moment – before the day runs away from you?

Here’s a simple four-step process I have found to be highly effective for breaking through distractions and focusing on getting big things done.

1. Stop.
The moment you realize you’re wasting time, stop immediately. Don’t negotiate with yourself. Close the tab or app … NOW!

2. Reset.
Get up. Take a break. Go for a five-, 10- or even 15-minute walk. Do anything you can to clear your head and reset your mind.

3. Assess.
When you get back to your desk, ask yourself, “What is the one most important task I should work on right now?” If two or three tasks come to mind, don’t stress about it. Just pick one. You’ll get to the other tasks later.

4. Act.
You know what to do. Don’t wait. Start on that task and work on it until it’s completed. Then you’ll find yourself making progress and building momentum to work on the next task, and so forth.

The feeling of momentum is addictive to the point that you don’t want it to stop. And that’s a good thing.

Sean M. Lyden


What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for 2021

The past year with the pandemic has been anything but normal with sporadic nationwide lockdowns, supply chain challenges and vehicle production delays. But there’s one thing we can still count on: Truck and van body manufacturers and upfitters are continuing to bring new products to market that equip your crews to get more work done in less time at lower operational costs.

Some companies have released new products with lighter-weight materials that increase a truck’s payload without bumping up to a larger vehicle. Some have added more versatile storage options to enhance accessibility and ergonomics for improved worker safety. And others have launched products that increase fuel economy and help fleets hit their sustainability targets.

So, what are some notable new products and design enhancements to help you achieve your fleet objectives? Here are nine new developments to watch.

Dejana Truck & Utility Equipment Co.
What’s New: Relaunch of the DuraRac Interior Van Shelving System

Dejana Truck & Utility Equipment announced the relaunch of their patented DuraRac interior van shelving system – the DuraRac D100 Series for compact vans and the DuraRac D200 Series for full-size vans.

The shelving system features new anti-skid flooring that is stronger and more durable, with redesigned corner frames for added rigidity and enhanced aluminum extrusions for ease of operation. Operators can slide the entire storage system outside of the vehicle for more comfortable and safer access to tools, equipment and gear at the job site.

The standard configuration includes a combination of 6-inch or 10-inch commercial-grade pull-out shelves that can be adjusted to fit the operator’s needs. Each shelf can handle an evenly distributed load of up to 300 pounds and extend fully to maximize storage space.

What’s New: Positive Attachment Lanyard Warning Device Available to Ring Power Utility Equipment Rental Fleet Customers

In December, Terex Corp. announced that the company’s Positive Attachment Lanyard warning device – or “PAL in the Bucket” option – is now available to Ring Power Utility Equipment rental fleet customers on select Terex aerial device models.

Florida-based Ring Power Utility Equipment ordered more than 150 aerial devices equipped with the PAL system over the past year. Those units are now all working in the field as part of Ring Power’s rental fleet.

PAL provides audio and visual warnings when controls are engaged and the lanyard has not been attached to the lanyard anchor in the bucket. It is designed to reduce the chance of an operator elevating the bucket without a lanyard attached.

The system is available as an option on Terex Hi-Ranger LT40 and XT Pro aerial device models. PAL will be an option on other Terex models as they are developed. Terex Utilities first introduced the PAL concept in 2017 after running a pilot program with a leading electric utility cooperative.

What’s New: Aluminum KUVcc for Single-Rear-Wheel Trucks

Knapheide’s lighter-weight, corrosion-resistant aluminum KUVcc enclosed service body is now available for single-rear-wheel trucks in 8- and 9-foot lengths and two roof heights: low (68 inches) and medium (78 inches). The aluminum KUVcc bodies offer the same features as Knapheide’s aluminum service bodies with the addition of master locks and rear access doors with conduit chutes. Options include a side-mount ladder rack for easier access, a wind deflector to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy, and an overhead ladder rack to expand storage with 300-pound carrying capacity.

XL Fleet
What’s New: Hybrid-Electric Drive System for Ford F-550 Chassis

In December, XL Fleet expanded its line of electrified powertrains to include a hybrid-electric drive system for the Class 5 Ford F-550 Super Duty chassis – to help fleets improve fuel economy, cut greenhouse gas emissions and hit their fleet sustainability targets. The system was developed and brought to market within six months to meet the growing commercial fleet demand for electrified F-550 chassis for municipal transportation, utilities, construction equipment and customer service vehicles.

American Eagle
What’s New: Hybrid Power Source

American Eagle’s new Hybrid Power Source (HPS) is a self-contained hydraulic power source that enables fleets to operate hydraulic equipment without using the chassis engine.

Equipped with Volta lithium-ion technology, the HPS offers 13.5 kWh of output with up to eight hours of run time and a more than 10-year life cycle. The HPS also has an integrated 48-volt chassis alternator, allowing the system to be charged from the chassis on-site or while driving to the next job site. Shore power charging is an option with a standard 120-volt, 15-amp connection to enable the unit to slow-charge while parked for the night or when chassis engine charging is unavailable.

Prime Design (Safe Fleet)
What’s New: Over-the-Cab Material Rack

Safe Fleet’s Commercial Vehicle Group released its new Prime Design branded over-the-cab material rack for 8-, 9- and 11-foot service bodies to increase overhead storage for both open-top-lid and flip-top-lid service bodies. The aluminum rack offers 1,200-pound load capacity, with standard crossbar end stops, a removable rear crossbar with an easy-to-pull latch system, and side rails that allow side loading with a forklift or when lifting from the curb in tight, congested areas.

Optional cargo management accessories include retractable ratchet straps, cargo hooks, a conduit carrier and other mounts for lighting.

Venco Venturo Industries
What’s New: New Workforce Packages for Commercial Vehicle Upfitting Program

Venco Venturo Industries expanded its product line to include new Workforce service body packages with Workforce25, Workforce45, Workforce55 and Workforce66, available in a wide range of configurations and options to serve electric, water and gas utility professionals. The Workforce service bodies are designed for trucks ranging from 10,000 pounds to 33,000 pounds GVWR and equipped with service cranes and a BOSS BA440 air compressor.

Summit Bodies
What’s New: 4 Series Service Body

Summit Bodies has developed the all-new 4 Series 9-foot service body for light-duty 11,500-pound GVWR chassis. The 4 Series offers 101 cubic feet of storage with 50-inch-tall and 20-inch-deep compartments on both the driver and passenger side packs, with adjustable shelving to store and organize tools and equipment. Standard features include grab handles, tow hitch, trailer plug, backup alarm, LED compartment and work lights. The first production models will be completed and delivered this spring.

Stellar Industries
What’s New: TMAX Low Cab Forward Aluminum Service Body

In January, Stellar Industries released the TMAX low cab forward (LCF) aluminum service body for fleets that operate service trucks in city environments, requiring greater maneuverability to safely navigate tight streets and small work areas.

The TMAX LCF aluminum body is ideal for a 44,840- to 77,800-foot-pound-rated service crane – the Stellar 7621 crane up to the Stellar 12630 crane. It also features the crane-carrying reliability of the Stellar Torq-Isolator torsion box understructure and crane compartment, which isolates the crane’s lifting forces into the stabilizers and chassis frame, not into the storage compartments, to avoid twisting the body and doors. The body side compartments are constructed of 1/8-inch high-strength aluminum floors and walls, with double-panel aluminum doors featuring a bonded internal hat channel for optimal strength while still reducing overall weight.


An Electric Pickup to Watch: The Lordstown Endurance

A major bottleneck to large-scale fleet electrification is the electric pickup truck – because you can’t buy one right now.

That’s about to change.

Brands like Tesla Cybertruck, GMC Hummer, Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 are expected to launch a full-size all-electric pickup starting this fall to mid-2022.

But these models, at least initially, are being built with the high-end retail customer – not fleets – in mind.

So, does this mean fleets have a few more years to wait for a product that will be practical for work truck applications?

Not necessarily. One truck OEM has quickly gained attention and momentum in the past year by designing an electric truck specifically for commercial fleets.

It’s Lordstown Motors Corp. (, which expects to begin production of the all-electric Endurance crew cab pickup this September.

Founded two years ago by former Workhorse CEO Steve Burns, Lordstown Motors has surpassed 100,000 pre-orders of the Endurance, with an average order size of nearly 600 vehicles per fleet. And the company has received letters of intent to purchase from multiple North American utility companies, including Duke Energy and FirstEnergy.

Lordstown Motors unveiled the first pre-production Endurance last June with then-Vice President Mike Pence in attendance to take a test drive and give remarks. And on October 26, 2020, the company began trading on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol RIDE. “We have a near production-ready plant and approximately $675 million in proceeds from this transaction, which is more than enough funding to get us through initial production,” Burns said at the time.

So, what does this new entry into the electric truck market mean for utility fleets? Is the Lordstown Endurance ready for prime time?

Here’s what we know about the Endurance so far.

What’s the price?
The Endurance starts at $52,500 before federal tax credits. The company has not released any information on available options that could impact the vehicle’s final pricing.

For a frame of reference, the GMC Hummer Edition 1 EV, available this fall, starts at $112,595. The Tesla Cybertruck that begins production in the fourth quarter will be the tri-motor model at a $69,900 base price. The Rivian R1T, available this June, starts at $75,000. Ford has not released any pricing information on the F-150 Electric.

GMC, Tesla and Rivian are releasing their higher-end models first and then offering their lesser-equipped, lower-priced versions later – in some cases, up to two to three years later.

What’s the range?
The range for the Endurance is 250 miles. But what is that number based on? Is it based on empty miles? What is the range when fully loaded? In other words, what’s the effective range?

UFP reached out to Lordstown for comment. The company responded, “This information has not yet been released. One of the purposes of our beta build is to provide vehicles for a wide range of internal engineering testing and optimization.”

How long does the battery take to charge?
It takes 10 hours with Level 2 charging and 30 to 90 minutes with Level 3 (fast) charging.

What are the electric drive system ratings?
The Endurance is powered by an electric drive system comprised of four in-wheel hub motors – a system that the company said generates maximum power to all four wheels while creating perimeter weighting and a low center of gravity to enhance stability and safety.

In May 2020, Lordstown Motors announced an exclusive licensing agreement with Elaphe Propulsion Technologies to build the hub motors for the Endurance. At the time, Elaphe CEO Gorazd Lampic said in a statement, “We strongly believe that the packaging, modularity, redundancy and advanced functions of vehicle control that Elaphe hub motors enable are key to delivering torque in the way a true [four-wheel-drive] should be done.”

The Endurance’s combined hub motor drive system is expected to produce 600 horsepower, 2,000/4,400 pound-feet of torque (continuous/peak), and 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds.

The top speed is software-governed at 80 mph.

What’s the projected “fuel” economy?
The company said that the Endurance’s in-wheel hub motors are 95% efficient – compared to 25% efficiency for combustion engines – to deliver 75 miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent.

What are the truck’s payload and towing capacities?
The Endurance is expected to haul up to 2,000 pounds of payload and tow up to 7,500 pounds.

How extensive will the service network be for the Endurance?
UFP asked Lordstown Motors, “For utility fleets that purchase the Endurance, how extensive is Lordstown’s service network to perform warranty and other service work on the trucks?”

The company responded, “We are phasing in a combination of company-owned service facilities, partner service facilities and training for customer maintenance personnel. Evaluation of the first Camping World/Lordstown Endurance Service Centers continues. In addition to Lordstown Motors-owned service centers – such as the newly opened facility in Irvine, California – the company is continuing its review of plans to utilize Camping World’s extensive footprint and service expertise to ensure nationwide service coverage for all Lordstown vehicles.”

“Camping World/Lordstown Endurance Service Centers” refers to a December 2020 announcement where Camping World Holdings, the nation’s largest RV retailer, and Lordstown Motors formed a partnership to create a national electric vehicle service and collision network for Lordstown Motors vehicles.

Camping World’s service footprint includes over 170 service and collision centers across the U.S., with several thousand technicians and service bays, a 24/7 tech hotline and the Good Sam Roadside Assistance program. The joint press release touted that “Lordstown Motors customers are expected to enjoy one of the most comprehensive EV support systems ever designed.”

In a statement at the time, Lordstown’s Burns said that “Lordstown’s partnership with Camping World will help us help ensure that our fleet customers have the highest possible uptime of their vehicles.”

What safety features will be available?
The Endurance is expected to offer advanced driver assistance safety systems that include lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alerts.

What’s the warranty?
The warranty is three years of bumper-to-bumper coverage and eight years for the battery.

The Bottom Line
So, is the Lordstown Endurance ready for prime time? That remains to be seen. But on paper, the Endurance looks promising for utility fleets, with the expected pricing and performance that’s more practical for work truck applications compared to the initial electric truck models offered by other OEMs.

Endurance production begins in September. So, watch this space.


Leadership Strategies: Negotiating as if Your Career Depends on It

What’s a common trait among highly effective fleet professionals?

They’re skilled negotiators.

They get the best terms when purchasing vehicles, equipment and service. They persuade senior management to protect – and increase – their annual fleet budgets. And they gain top priority from OEMs to quickly address and solve critical equipment issues.

So, as you look for ways to advance in your fleet career, what can you do to take your negotiation game to the next level?

Consider reading “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It” by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss.

While I’ve read several excellent books on negotiation, including the classic “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury, this one is at the top of my list so far. And it’s a must-read for any fleet manager – or any professional for that matter.

Here are three crucial tips I took away from the book that I believe can help you become a more effective negotiator.

1. View negotiation as collaboration, not confrontation.

Key quote: “Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.”

Why do so many people hate negotiating? They feel uncomfortable because negotiation can seem confrontational. The thinking is this: “If I ask for more money, what will they think about me? Will they be offended by my request?” Or, “If I reject their offer, how will this impact our relationship?”

The problem with this mindset, Voss says, is that it narrows your view, where you’re blind to a broad range of possible outcomes that could be much more attractive to both parties.

Instead, think about negotiation as an opportunity to collaborate with your counterpart. You have specific goals you want to achieve with the agreement. And the other party has their objectives. Facilitate a discussion where you can both get those goals out on the table.

Now the question becomes, “Where can we find alignment between your goals and mine?”

As the late bestselling author and sales guru Zig Ziglar put it, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

The lesson: If you want to become a more effective negotiator, uncover how helping you get what you want will help your counterpart also get what they want.

2. Deploy “tactical empathy.”

Key quote: “Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done. It’s emotional intelligence on steroids.”

You sense hesitation from your counterpart about moving forward with an agreement. How do you uncover the real concern to keep the conversation – and negotiation – moving forward?

This is where Voss’s principle of tactical empathy comes into play.

First, the idea is to address the elephant in the room by sharing your observation with the other person. You might say something along the lines of, “I’m sensing some hesitation about this deal. What are your thoughts?” Or, “It seems like there is something here that bothers you. Can you tell me more?”

Then deploy active listening techniques. Label their concern in your own words and get their feedback: “Is that accurate?”

Then you’ll likely hear the magic words: “That’s right.”

That’s because what the other person is really saying is this: “Finally! Someone gets it! Yes. Thank you for trying to see things from my perspective.”

That’s the essence of tactical empathy, which creates an environment in which your counterpart feels safe enough to open up about their concerns and collaborate with you to solve those issues and arrive at an agreement.

“When we applied hostage negotiating tactics to business,” Voss said, “we saw how ‘that’s right’ often leads to the best outcomes … ‘That’s right’ is better than ‘yes.’ Strive for it. Reaching ‘that’s right’ in a negotiation creates breakthroughs.”

3. Use calibrated questions to say no without saying no.

Key quote: Aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiation.”

If the other party gives you what appears to be an insulting offer, resist the temptation to reject it immediately and explicitly. Otherwise, you could miss a valuable opportunity.

Instead, counter with a calibrated question like, “How can I do that?” Or, “If you were in my shoes, how would you be able to do that?”

“Use ‘How’ questions to shape the negotiating environment,” Voss said. “You do this by using ‘How can I do that?’ as a gentle version of ‘No.’ This will subtly push your counterpart to search for other solutions – your solutions. And very often it will get them to bid against themselves.”

Voss says that calibrated questions transform the negotiation’s dynamic from confrontation to collaboration. “You’ve not only implicitly asked for help – triggering goodwill and less defensiveness – but you’ve engineered a situation in which your formerly recalcitrant counterpart is now using his mental and emotional resources to overcome your challenges,” he said. “It is the first step in your counterpart internalizing your way – and the obstacles in it – as his own. And that guides the other party toward designing a solution. Your solution.”

Developments to Watch in Self-Driving Trucks

Just three years ago, the media was all abuzz about how a brave new self-driving world was right around the corner.

Today, the media and industry analysts have slow-rolled their predictions as technology companies and automakers still grapple with developing autonomous driving systems that are ready for prime time on a large scale.

As it turns out, humans still have the edge in making decisions in a wide range of challenging driving situations that continue to hamper the robots. 

But less hype does not necessarily mean a lack of momentum for vehicle automation. And self-driving technology developers and automakers have been making notable progress in recent months – especially in the heavy-duty truck segment. 

For example, Navistar International Corp. and TuSimple, a global self-driving technology company, recently announced that the two companies have entered into a strategic partnership to co-develop SAE Level 4 self-driving International trucks targeted for production by 2024.

TuSimple currently operates a fleet of 40 self-driving trucks in the U.S., shipping freight autonomously for companies such as UPS and McLane Co. between Arizona and Texas. And the company plans to demonstrate completely driverless operations in 2021.

In January, autonomous vehicle technology company Aurora entered into a global strategic partnership with heavy-duty truck manufacturer PACCAR to produce driverless-capable trucks, starting with the Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680. This announcement came a few weeks after Aurora said that the company is acquiring Uber’s self-driving unit, Advanced Technologies Group.

And last October, Daimler Trucks and Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, signed a broad strategic partnership to deploy autonomous SAE Level 4 technology. Their initial effort will combine Waymo’s automated driver technology with a unique version of Daimler’s Freightliner Cascadia to enable autonomous driving.

No specific timetable for production has been set. The press statement reads, “The autonomous Freightliner Cascadia truck, equipped with the Waymo Driver, will be available to customers in the U.S. in the coming years.”

The bottom line: While robots may not entirely rule the road in the foreseeable future, you can expect autonomous systems to become advanced enough in the next few years to impact commercial fleets at some level – and ultimately change how the driver interacts with and operates the vehicle.

Sean M. Lyden


CenterPoint Energy to Electrify 100% of Light-Duty Fleet by 2030

In late September, CenterPoint Energy announced that, by the end of this decade, the company will replace 100% of its light-duty fleet – currently 134 cars, vans and SUVs – with plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles at CenterPoint’s electric operations facilities in Evansville, Indiana, and Houston.

Officials also said the company would electrify 5% of its heavy-duty fleet at those locations by 2025 and 10% by 2030.

So, what has led CenterPoint’s electric operations to go all-in on fleet electrification? What fleet applications will make the transition first? And what does the company see as the business case for electrified vehicles?

UFP recently spoke with Barb Varanauski, director of fleet, shop services and radio communications for CenterPoint Energy, to get her perspective. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.

UFP: Replacing an entire segment of your fleet with electrified vehicles is a bold move. What has led CenterPoint Energy to take that step?

Barb Varanauski: CenterPoint Energy has an ongoing commitment to ensure access to all affordable, reliable, sustainable energy. And one of the things we thought about was leveraging innovative technology to reduce our emissions and transition the communities we serve to a clean-energy footprint. So, we looked at our carbon footprint plan announced earlier this year and asked ourselves, “How can we lead?”

And the best way to lead is to put our plan into practice with our own fleet. We’ve started with our electric operations in Houston and Evansville, looking at our light-duty options. There are [electrified] vehicles available from the manufacturers that fit our operational needs. It looked like a win for us to go forward with this fleet electrification strategy, and we made the announcement.

Can you talk about some of the makes and models of electrified vehicles that you’re considering on the light-duty side?

I can’t comment on specific manufacturers. But we have standards to meet for our clients to do their type of business. And we actively look at what’s available in the marketplace to ensure that the vehicles the manufacturers are producing will match our internal standards to allow our clients to continue to do their jobs.

But as the market evolves, we’re anticipating – especially since this is a 10-year initiative – there should be many more options available on the market. And so, as those different options become available, we will consider all of them and possibly increase the vehicle classes that we are looking at to maybe include medium- and heavy-duty vehicles as well.

Which fleet applications will be electrified first?

Right now, we’re looking primarily at our light-duty vehicles, which are cars, vans and sport utilities. These vehicles would be used by upper management, service area consultants who meet with clients for new business development and any operational roles that don’t require a truck.

We have a fleet standards committee that works closely with our operational groups to determine what vehicles meet their needs. And those clients in that SUV-and-below category are the ones that will be moving forward with this electrification.

Now, of course, as the medium-duty vehicles – and we include pickup trucks in this category – become more available, we are definitely committed to reviewing those options and adding them to our electrification plan. We just need to make sure that the market meets what our needs are to operate.

What framework do you use to determine which vehicles to begin electrifying? Is it based on range requirements and metrics like that to ensure a vehicle is a good candidate?

We use various metrics to monitor the health of our fleet and guide our vehicle replacement strategy. A few of these metrics include miles driven, operating and maintenance costs, idle time and so forth. As our light-duty vehicles come up for replacement, we plan to transition those vehicles to an electric vehicle. And we’re anticipating that this light-duty transformation will be completed by 2030.

So, if I understand correctly, you’re saying that, based on the products on the market today and how you anticipate these vehicles being used, the range is not really an issue for CenterPoint’s light-duty vehicle roles?

Correct. That’s because our folks will be driving those vehicles in our service territories. They’ll go do their daily business, and the vehicle would return to a service center. And part of our [electric vehicle] rollout is also putting charging stations in the service centers where these vehicles will be operating.

From your perspective, what is the business case for CenterPoint Energy to go all-in with electric vehicles?

First, we have a carbon policy goal. And we’re always looking for ways to improve our air quality in the communities we serve. We believe that leading by example and showing our customers what is out there for electrification is a great way to go. So, having our fleet electrified and branding our image on these vehicles shows the community our commitment to sustainable energy.

Now, we do anticipate less maintenance on electric vehicles, which might lower our costs. But that wasn’t really a driving factor for this decision. It was more about the impact on the environment. As a company, I would say that the potentially lower operational and maintenance cost was more of a secondary thought.

What advice do you have for other utility fleet professionals as they think about electrifying their fleets?

[Electrification] can be a win for everyone. So, take small steps, re-evaluate, and talk to your peers to learn what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, which really helps when trying to bring these business cases to your management for approval.

What Fleet Managers Should Know About Impact Attenuators

An impact attenuator is a safety device, either mounted on the rear of a truck or towed as a trailer, that absorbs the force of a vehicle collision at speeds up to 62.5 mph to protect roadside crews working nearby.

While attenuators are not a new concept – they’ve been in use in the highway construction industry for decades – what is new is that they’ve started to become more prevalent in the utility industry.

“Utility companies are a new market for us,” said Brent Kulp, executive vice president at TrafFix Devices Inc. (, which builds both truck-mounted and trailer impact attenuators. “Typically, we sell to the highway departments. But beginning about five years ago, utility companies started coming to us, saying, ‘Hey, our guys are out on the highway, out on the city streets, fixing a gas line or doing a utility pole repair. We want to protect our crew working in front of that vehicle from distracted drivers.’”

A Roadside Crash ‘Pillow’
In theory, orange traffic cones should be sufficient to alert drivers and safely direct them around the job site ahead. But in reality, distracted driving has increased the risk that drivers won’t notice those cones until it’s too late.

“The mobile phone is the biggest distraction of our time,” Kulp said. “We all drive down the road, and you see a distracted driver, the car weaving around, because they’re sending a text message, not paying attention. It’s so dangerous.”

Eric Smith, TTMA (trailer truck-mounted attenuator) product manager and highway marketing manager at Gregory Highway (, agreed that distracted driving has caused fleets to look for ways to provide extra protection for their roadside workers.

“The attenuator protects the impacting vehicle, the motoring public and the workers in that work zone,” Smith said. “It’s like a pillow – a crash cushion – for a vehicle to crash into and safely bring it to a stop.”

How do attenuators work to absorb energy from a collision?

“[The TrafFix] ‘Scorpion’ system works with a series of aluminum honeycomb boxes that are very lightweight, designed to absorb the energy and collapse as a vehicle hits it,” Kulp said. “And then holding those honeycomb boxes are curved aluminum tubes which bend as a vehicle impacts the back of that attenuator, further absorbing the energy.”

According to Smith, “[The Gregory] attenuator uses a guardrail technology, with a mandrel inside of a square tube. In a collision, the force of the mandrel pushes through the square tube, and those forces work against each other to create the energy absorption.”

How much do attenuators cost?

Kulp said the price range is about $20,000 to $30,000 per unit, depending on the attenuator type and other factors.

Truck-Mounted vs. Trailer Attenuators
There are two types of attenuators: truck-mounted and trailer. So, how do you determine which one is right for the job?

Keep these two points in mind.

1. Flexibility
“If the truck will be used in primarily forward-moving or stationary operations, and you want the versatility to switch the attenuator from truck to truck for different jobs, then a trailer attenuator fits that application perfectly,” Smith said.

Kulp agreed. “One day you need to use the truck as an attenuator, so you hook the trailer to it. But maybe the next day, you don’t want an attenuator on that truck because that vehicle will be used for a different operation. The trailer gives you that flexibility.”

One caveat about using a trailer attenuator: It must be hooked to the truck when it’s on the job. “If a vehicle hits that attenuator and it’s not attached to a truck, that trailer is going to get launched,” Kulp said.

2. Maneuverability
If you’re sending crews for roadside work in tight areas, such as city streets, consider the truck-mounted option.

“The truck-mounted attenuator makes the vehicle much easier to maneuver than it would be if it were pulling the trailer,” Kulp said. “The trailer is about 18 feet. But our Scorpion truck mount, when deployed, is only 13 feet. And when the attenuator is stored in the travel position, there’s only about a foot-and-a-half overhang. So, the truck-mounted attenuator is much more compact and makes it much easier to travel to the job site.”

The Bottom Line
As distracted driving becomes more and more of an issue, impact attenuators offer extra protection for roadside utility crews. “It’s all about safety,” Kulp said. “You’re protecting your crews – and the drivers – to be able to walk away from what could have been a catastrophic crash.”


Freightliner: How Electric Trucks Will Change Your Garage Operations

Numerous signs point toward an all-electric future in transportation.

But as more plug-in electric trucks become commercially available for fleets, how will the new technology impact your garage operations? What will change with technician training, equipment and other aspects of your shop?

Daimler Trucks North America plans to start production of its plug-in electric Freightliner eCascadia and eM2 models in 2022. So, UFP spoke with Gregory Bowen, the electric mobility developer and trainer at DTNA, and Jason Ascher, DTNA’s e-mobility engineer, to get their perspective on what you can expect as you prepare your shop to work on EVs in the coming years.

Here’s an edited excerpt of our conversation.

UFP: How will technician training change with battery-electric trucks?

Gregory Bowen: Our technician training philosophy [at DTNA] is that we like to take an A-plus-B approach. We don’t say, “Hey, this is an electric truck, and it’s completely different than anything you’ve ever seen before.” Instead, we start with, “This is an eCascadia, and it’s a Cascadia at heart. You’ve all seen this truck. You’re familiar with it. You know where these components are. Now, let’s talk about what’s different.” This approach makes it a lot easier from a culture shock perspective for a technician to begin by understanding the parallels between the conventional truck and the electric. And then talk about the differences.

As far as skills, we have three types of training we’re going to offer for electric trucks: safety training, technical training on how to work on the vehicle and battery-specific training.

When you say safety training, what does that encompass?

Bowen: The EV safety training program was adopted from the DGUV 8686 E guidelines, which lay out all the training that’s required to work on high-voltage vehicles. Major automotive manufacturers have signed off on these guidelines and teach to that standard. So, we’ve adopted that training program and made sure that it ticks all the OSHA boxes here in the U.S. as well.

There are three training levels depending on a technician’s job description and responsibilities. The high-voltage 3 level is a three-day in-person class. And the two levels below – HV 1 and HV 2 – are web-based courses.

If I understand you correctly, the safety training centers around technicians working with high-voltage electricity?

Bowen: Yes. It’s super easy to turn off the electricity on a truck. You simply turn the key to the off position. And if everything is working the way it’s supposed to, all the high voltage should be turned off. But the nuance we teach is, “Here’s how you make absolutely sure that it’s turned off.” We don’t just take it for granted that, “Oh yeah, well, we turn the key off, and it’s probably safe.” So, the focus of the HV 3 classes is this: How does a technician make absolutely sure, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this truck is safe to work on.

When technicians work on electric vehicles, do they need a different type of personal protective equipment than when they’re working on conventional vehicles?

Jason Ascher: Yes, whenever the status of the high-voltage system is unknown. If you’re in the middle of turning the truck off and haven’t 100% verified that it’s turned off, you still must wear electrical PPE. There is also arc flash PPE that prevents you from getting injured if there is an arc flash event, and that’s a separate thing. We’re still running calculations to determine whether that’s required for our level of battery.

What does the technical training cover?

Bowen: Technical training is going to be a little bit different than what we’ve delivered in the past for diesel mechanics, where the focus has been on troubleshooting, troubleshooting, troubleshooting.

The difference with working on EVs is that techs aren’t allowed to do seat-of-the-pants troubleshooting. Instead, whenever a high-voltage technician services one of these trucks, they must work step by step through a safety-approved procedure.

So, that will most likely be the most significant difference in how fleets do maintenance on these trucks. There won’t be the free-form troubleshooting that techs have been used to and encouraged to do with conventionally powered vehicles.

What does the battery training entail?

Bowen: It provides more safety training specifically for battery hazards. That’s because, in addition to high voltage, you have to account for unlikely events like fires, electrolyte leakage and other potential issues that theoretically could happen. And there are OSHA requirements since batteries are classified as Class 9 hazardous materials. So, our basic battery class will cover the OSHA requirements for safely handling batteries. 

Beyond that, the next step up for the battery specialist will be the ability to determine if the battery – after a crash – is safe and able to be used in a vehicle.

What should utility fleet professionals be thinking about now as they prep their shops to be able to work on electric trucks?

Ascher: The ideal environment would be a dedicated bay for electric vehicles, separate from the rest of the shop. Even if they don’t do high-voltage repairs there in-house, they could have barricades to signify that these are electric trucks. This is a general safety approach that we teach. And then have dedicated technicians trained to safely work on those vehicles.

Why California’s Ban on Gas and Diesel Vehicles Matters

In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that his state will ban the sale of new light-duty gasoline and diesel vehicles, effective in 2035. And by 2045, new medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold in California must also be zero-emissions.

So, what does this news mean for utility fleets?

It means that the transportation industry is trending toward an all-electric future, with vehicles powered by battery only, hydrogen or a hybrid of both “fuels,” depending on a vehicle’s range requirements and duty cycle.

But how does California’s ban impact vehicle sales – and your fleet – outside the state?

Think about it. If California were a sovereign nation, it would rank as the world’s fifth-largest economy. And the state accounts for a massive share of U.S. auto sales. This means that when California talks, the automakers listen.

After all, it doesn’t make financial sense for most OEMs to dedicate one slice of their manufacturing capacity to California-compliant zero-emissions vehicles and then the rest of their capacity to conventional gas and diesel vehicle production.

Instead, OEMs are looking to achieve economies of scale to lower costs and grow profits. So, what’s more than likely to happen is that the California zero-emissions standards will drive what OEMs build and sell throughout the U.S. And the automakers appear to be embracing this “electrification mandate” as the future of the industry.

In the past year, most OEMs have announced significant investments in electric vehicles, with new models expected to launch in the next few years. And despite the plant shutdowns in the spring and early summer due to the coronavirus, automakers have signaled that they’re still moving full speed ahead with their EV rollouts. 

Ford said that its all-electric F-150 pickup would start production in mid-2022, along with the electric Transit full-size cargo van. And a new player in the market, Lordstown Motors, recently unveiled its all-electric pickup for the fleet market, with production expected to begin in 2021. Also, most medium- and heavy-duty truck OEMs, including Freightliner with its eCascadia and eM2, have made big bets on electric trucks.

Look, I’m not saying that electric trucks and vans will be viable for commercial fleets in the near term – say, the next five years or so. But in eight to 10 years? That might be a different story.

While California is the only state (so far) to issue a ban on new gas and diesel vehicles – and it doesn’t go into effect until 15 years from now – the impacts might be felt much sooner.

Will you be ready?

Sean M. Lyden


3 Factors to Consider When Retrofitting LED Lights on Work Trucks

It makes sense that most truck OEMs, body manufacturers and upfitters have made the switch from conventional incandescent bulbs to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting for their latest models.

After all, LEDs last exponentially longer, shine brighter, burn cooler and draw less power. And although LEDs are more expensive upfront, the cost drops significantly over the bulb’s life.

But what about the older vehicles in your fleet that still use incandescent bulbs? Would it pay to retrofit those lights with LEDs? How do you decide? And what factors should you consider before you make the switch?

UFP recently caught up with Ken Gillies, senior work truck consultant at Element Fleet Management (, who offered these three considerations.

1. Cost benefit: Will the LED retrofit be a good investment for the application?
How much work will be involved? Will it be worth the cost?

“Is it a situation where you can do a simple plug-and-play LED switch-out? Or will it require a deeper look?” Gillies said. “This is critical because if you need to change a wiring harness, that will require more expenditure of labor hours and money. So, in some cases, you might want to ask, ‘If my [truck] body is X number of years old, and I’m considering doing a retrofit, how close am I to replacing the body?’ Maybe it doesn’t make sense to do a wholesale conversion. We could just switch the taillight bulbs or a couple of high-use compartment lights and leave the rest as they are.”

2. LED type: Solid state or resistor?
One of the least understood considerations with switching from incandescent to LED is the heat generated by the LED replacement, nullifying the benefits you’d expect from the retrofit.

“Depending on the situation, it might require a resistor to drop the voltage from the nominal 12 volts in the vehicle down to roughly five or six volts for the LED,” Gillies said.

Why does that matter?

“While it seems like the LED would draw less power, in some cases, it can draw as much power as the incandescent bulb. It’s just that some of that voltage needs to be converted downward. And that creates heat, where the LED light and fixture can run hotter than they did with an incandescent bulb,” Gillies said.

In what types of LED retrofit situations do excessive heat issues typically occur?

“It’s usually when you go with the less expensive LED replacement and try to use the existing style of the incandescent bulb as the connection point,” Gillies said. “Take a taillamp assembly, for example. It has small wires that extend around a plastic insulator base that plugs into the socket. Because of the voltage drop necessary for the LED bulb, that area heats up and starts to melt the plastic. The connection becomes loose, and you lose your light.”

The solution?

“Go with a solid-state LED bulb that doesn’t use a voltage resistor; they’re using switching technology with a microchip inside the bulb assembly,” Gillies said.

So, what exactly is the difference between a solid-state LED and one with a voltage resistor?

“With the solid-state bulb, the voltage drop is done with a microchip where it’s switching the power on and off electronically – and it’s so fast that it brings the overall voltage output down to the range needed without generating all the heat,” Gillies said.

How does that compare to LEDs with resistors?

“The resistor operates no different than, say, an electric stove, for example,” Gillies explained. “The coil element on the top of the stove is a resistor. And when you pump electricity through it, it heats up. The same thing happens with a resistor to drop voltage. It has to do something with that energy. So, it creates heat.”

The bottom line: If your retrofit objective is to improve performance, reduce the power draw (and heat), and cut the overall cost of ownership, go with LEDs that utilize solid-state circuitry.

3. Placement: Is the lighting designed with the operator in mind?
A common mistake that fleet managers make with LED retrofits is not thinking about how bulb positioning impacts the end user until the new lighting has been installed.

“I see this regularly where the LED’s placement is not optimized for the operator,” Gillies said. “They’ll have it mounted in such a way that when you open a door – whether it be to a cargo van, a utility body or crane body – the lights shine more in the operator’s eyes than they do in the cabinet.”

So, when you’re working with the upfitter to spec out your LED retrofit, what questions should you ask to ensure they mount the lighting at an angle that helps the operator – and doesn’t blind them?

“It’s a simple question of that supplier: ‘What are your considerations for the light’s mounting angle? Are you accounting for the possibility of the operator opening the door and getting a shot of that LED light right in the eyes?’” Gillies said.  

How do you write that in the spec to make sure it gets done right?

“I would recommend writing something along the lines of, ‘Minimize the light that will be directed at the user’s face. Angle it for a view into the interior,’” Gillies said. “The simpler, the better. You could get into what specific angle it should be and all that sort of stuff. But, at the end of the day, somebody’s going to eyeball it when they put it in anyway.”

LEDs offer the promise of better lighting with fewer bulbs and greater energy efficiency. But when it comes to retrofitting LEDs on work trucks, one size does not fit all fleet applications. So, consider these three factors to realize the full benefits of LEDs in your next lighting retrofit.

Utility Fleet Professional

360 Memorial Drive, Suite 10, Crystal Lake, IL 60014 | 815.459.1796


Utility Fleet Professional is produced by Utility Business Media, Inc.   View Capabilities Statement

Get the Utility Fleet Professional Digital Edition App
Get the Utility Fleet Professional Digital Edition App

Get the iP Digital Edition App

© All rights reserved.
Back to Top