Author: Sean M. Lyden

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The Impact of COVID-19 on Order-to-Delivery Time Frames – and How to Respond Effectively

In early March, the coronavirus caused automakers to shut down production completely for two months. But even after reopening in late June, they’ve still had to deal with temporary plant closures as positive cases emerge.

As you can imagine, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on vehicle and equipment production schedules and supply chains, causing significant delays that have put many utility fleets in a bind.

So, what exactly is the current state of order-to-delivery (OTD) time frames? What can you expect to see over the next several months? And how can you minimize any disruption to your fleet operations?

UFP spoke with Cindy Gomez, vice president of vehicle acquisitions services at Donlen (, a fleet management company, to get her outlook on OTD time frames and advice on how you can handle the issue.

Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: What are you seeing as the state of lead times right now?

Cindy Gomez: The typical lead time for sedans is about six to eight weeks. But sedans being built right now have been pushed to 12 to 14 weeks.

I think the biggest challenge that the OEMs are facing is people. There’s a lot of absenteeism occurring right now. So, they’re trying to shuffle things around.

And then, in the middle of a pandemic, you also have model-year changeover, which the OEMs have extended because they had all these orders for 2020 still unbuilt. So, they have these backlogs that they have to get through. All of this increases the lead time to our customers’ orders.

How far out have the new model-year production dates been extended beyond the typical late summer/early fall changeover?

We’re looking at later in the fall. For example, GM originally had their cargo vans scheduled to start production for the 2021 model year in September. But they’ve now extended that to mid-October.

You mentioned the delays for sedans. What about the other vehicle segments – pickups, cargo vans, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks?

Pickup trucks are typically 14 to 16 weeks. Now they’re more like 16 to 20 weeks. So, there’s not as big of a spike with pickups. But on your cargo van, we see a considerable increase. The market is hot for cargo vans. Orders placed in August probably will not get produced until December, maybe even January.

I’m assuming that what’s driving demand for the cargo van segment is the surge in last-mile delivery?

That’s correct.

Now, what about the medium- and heavy-duty trucks?

In terms of OEM production of medium- and heavy-duties, we aren’t seeing much increase in lead times on those models. Many of our clients pre-plan, so we have tight relationships with the OEMs on the medium- and heavy-duty side. And when clients pre-plan, we’re able to get orders in sooner versus later. But I’d say that some of these chassis are 90 days out, which is typical.

As a frame of reference, how does 2020 compare to 2019? If I recall correctly, there were longer than usual OTD time frames in 2019 as well.

I really think that we experienced major challenges in 2019 due to railcar shortages, especially on your high-roof and medium-roof type vans that go on special railcars. There are not enough railcars in the industry to accommodate the transportation of those vehicles. So, that was a big issue that we encountered in 2019.

But with production output being so slow right now, the challenge that we’re seeing is not necessarily railcar shortages but getting a full load to ship the vehicles. That’s because the trucking companies and railcars won’t stop at the upfitter or the plant if there’s not a full load to pick up. So, vehicles will sit until a full load is readily available.

Now, let’s drill down into possible solutions. What can utility fleet professionals do to minimize disruptions from vehicle order delays?

Look at opportunities to develop an agreement between the OEM, their fleet management company and the upfitter to create bailment pool units.

The bailment pool allows you to stagger the build throughout the year, continually replenishing vehicles sitting on the ground at the upfitter. It’s cost effective because you get factory pricing from the OEM, and the upfitter will typically create an agreement up to 90 days interest free. So, that’s a best-case scenario.

What about other strategies?

You can look at purchasing from upfitters that have their own chassis already sitting on the ground. But the caveat is that although the chassis is still treated like a factory order with factory pricing, that upfitter is responsible for performing the upfit on that vehicle.

Your third option is acquiring a vehicle out of dealer inventory. And this is where fleet management companies can assist with evaluating data to determine whether or not it makes sense to acquire a used asset to get them through that project, or if they should acquire a new one.

And a fourth option is bridge rentals. This is where you put drivers in a rental in the interim while those factory-ordered vehicles are being built, so you can keep those employees on the road and busy.

When it comes to purchasing from dealer stock, what advice do you have for fleet managers to establish and cultivate relationships with dealer partners?

I would focus on one or two dealerships centrally located in the regions where these vehicles will be needed. And then give that purchase volume to those dealerships. This is important because – and most dealers will do this – they will spec a vehicle, put it in retail and hold onto it for X number of days. If they have a buyer, they will sell it, but they’ll also replenish it for inventory to have on hand for you.

This way, you can keep your spec’d vehicle on the ground at a dealership at all times. You can now negotiate pricing based on the volume you plan on acquiring for the year and set that up when you start developing these relationships with the dealers. And then you would need to work on finding a preferred transportation partner that can move these vehicles to different locations throughout the country.

Is there anything we haven’t talked about when it comes to OTD delays or how to navigate them that you think would be important for our audience to know about?

The biggest thing I would recommend is to negotiate your incentive programs as much as you can with the OEM. When you’re acquiring a vehicle out of stock, and it falls within a specific program year, there are opportunities to renegotiate that program year to get a better discount applied to new stock purchases.

For example, we had a customer who needed X number of vehicles, but they were in the 2020 program year that was already negotiated. Now we’re in the middle of the program year, and the customer needs these vehicles because they could not wait for the factory order. So, our strategy was to work with the OEM partner and get a higher incentive for the 20 to 30 out-of-stock units they needed, which they successfully obtained. So, if you’re having to purchase from dealer stock, definitely renegotiate your incentives.


Smart Hiring Tips for Fleet Professionals

You’re looking to hire a mechanic, shop supervisor or data analyst. You’ve sorted through the applications and resumes, creating a shortlist of candidates who look great on paper.

Now, it’s time for the interviews to assess who would be the best choice for the job.

But when candidates operate as their own public relations agent, selective about what they share – and don’t share – to put themselves in the best light, how do you get to the truth about whether they really have “the goods” for the job?

Enter Robin Dreeke, the former head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program.

Dreeke spent over three decades developing high-trust relationships with informants, including many unsavory characters, to gather intelligence to help the FBI and other agencies prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. So, he knows a thing or two about how to read people to quickly determine whether you can trust them – and work with them.

And he writes extensively about his system, which he calls “The Six Signs of Behavior Prediction,” in his latest bestselling book, “Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction.” 

UFP recently spoke with Dreeke to get his take on how you can apply his behavior prediction model to make better-informed hiring decisions that can take your fleet’s performance – and your career – to the next level.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from our conversation.

1. Look for clues of commitment.
Would this person fit in well with your culture? Would they make a positive impact on the team? After all, anybody can say they’re a great team player. But how can you verify that?

Look for signs that they believe they would have a vested interest in helping the team succeed.

“Whether it’s in the resume, the interview or in an email, are they demonstrating to me that they’re looking to build a long-term relationship? Are they seeking my thoughts and opinions? Are they talking in terms of my priorities, the priorities of the job and the mission of the company?” Dreeke said.

How can you draw this out in an interview?

“One of my favorite questions I would ask potential [FBI] team members during the interview is really simple: ‘Tell me about one or two of your strengths.’ But what I would want to hear is them talking about their strengths in terms of how they can help the organization,” Dreeke said.

In other words, you want to know: Has this person invested the time up front to think about what they can bring to the table to help your department succeed?

If so, that’s a signal of commitment – that they’re vested in your team’s success – which enables you to predict that they would likely behave in ways that contribute to a positive team dynamic.

2. Test for transparency.
But what if you’re interviewing a well-coached candidate who knows it’s smart to speak to the employer’s priorities? How can you determine if they’re just telling you what you want to hear?

Ask questions that probe into uncomfortable topics that test whether they are being genuine and shooting straight with you. 

“After the ‘strengths’ question, then the really critical question is, ‘Tell me about some of your challenges, your weaknesses.’ Then follow up with questions like, ‘What kind of things did you learn? What would you do differently?’” Dreeke said.

What should you be looking for?

“I’m looking for transparency and openness,” Dreeke said. “I want to hear what those weaknesses are and what you’re doing about it. In other words, I want to see if you have the ability to put your shield down and share openly about what your personal challenges are. I’m looking for self-awareness – ‘I’ve put in place X, Y and Z to help me counter this.’”

Conversations that test for transparency are important because they give you a baseline of what you’re likely to deal with if you hire that candidate. As Dreeke put it, “If they’re not open enough during the interview when they’re putting their best foot forward, what’s the likelihood they’re not going to be open later on? Pretty high.”

3. ‘Read’ the references.
References can help you verify whether the candidate has the skills, work ethic and attitude you want on your team. But when the candidate handpicks who they’d like you to contact, how can you tell if the reference is giving you the truth? 

“I’m looking for exactly the same thing I was looking for from the individual: transparency. I’m looking for free flow. I’m looking for direct, quick answers to questions, some of which might not be relevant to what was on the resume,” Dreeke said. “Is this person uptight about talking to me? Or, are they comfortable?”

The Bottom Line
When you’ve had only a few interactions with each candidate, these three tips can help you improve your odds of predicting a candidate’s performance and making a great hire.


The 6 Signs for Predicting Behavior
The big idea in Robin Dreeke’s book, “Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction,” is that trust is tied to predictable behavior. If you can reasonably predict what someone will do, you can usually trust them.

But what should you look for to help you discern whether you can – and should – trust someone? Dreeke said to look for these six signs.

1. Vesting
Does this person believe they will benefit from your success?

2. Longevity
Does this person think they will have a long relationship with you?

3. Reliability
Can this person do what they say they will do? And will they?

4. Actions
Does this person consistently demonstrate patterns of positive behavior?

5. Language
What does this person’s communication reveal?

6. Stability
Does this person consistently demonstrate emotional maturity, self-awareness and social skills?


Shop Talk: Reimagining the PM as Predictive Maintenance

A thorough and consistent preventive maintenance (PM) program is a core best practice of any high-performing fleet.

But the challenge is that too many fleets still base their PM schedules on OEM recommendations and not on field-specific data that takes into account higher-idle scenarios, hilly terrain, extreme climate conditions and operator behaviors – all of which accelerate wear and tear on the vehicle.

As a result, you could achieve near 100% PM compliance per OEM schedules and still get blindsided by higher than acceptable failure rates that lead to costly downtime and productivity loss.

So, how can you improve maintenance performance?

George Survant, principal at Fleet Mace Consulting, recommended that fleets adopt a predictive maintenance model, which requires a different way of thinking and operating than traditional PM.

What exactly is predictive maintenance? And how do you execute an effective predictive maintenance program?

Here’s an edited version of my conversation with Survant, a fleet leader in the utility and telecom industry for over four decades, including stints at Florida Power & Light and Time Warner Cable.

UFP: How do you define “predictive maintenance”?

George Survant: Smart fleet operators start with their preventive maintenance routine, account for their specific operating factors and working conditions and the missions they’re using that truck for, and then evolve their PM program into a more complex maintenance routine with their own service intervals.

Now, predictive maintenance would say, “We know from our data that this water pump has a service life of about 3,000 hours.” Well, it’s prudent that if a water pump failure could lead to a significant downtime event or perhaps critical failure, then it makes good sense on your next service routine to replace that $500 part while you have it under your control. It’s already out of service, and you’re not in an additional productivity-loss environment.

So, predictive maintenance is maintenance that you take in anticipation of failure.

What’s an example of predictive maintenance in action?

Take, for example, the joystick on your aerial equipment.

Suppose the vehicle operates in South Florida, where there’s relentless UV light exposure. You can expect the rubber boot around the joystick to age and start to crack after year four. And by year five, that boot is now leaking water down into the control mechanism and shorting these things out.

So, rather than waiting for the failure to happen and replacing the whole $2,700 joystick assembly, let’s buy a new rubber boot and put it on every four years.

The point here is that, with predictive maintenance, you identify the root cause – the sun-damaged rubber boot – and then establish intervals to fix the issue before it leads to a much more costly failure.

How do you execute a predictive maintenance program?

The first step is to ensure accurate data capture.

Fleets that struggle with data capture often struggle not because the technician doesn’t know what failed. They can tell you what they had to replace and with great accuracy. But traditional shops very often have a clerk who inputs data from the technician into the maintenance system. And what happens is that it’s like watching a football game without the color commentator. You see it, but you don’t really understand what happened unless somebody gives you the detail. And all too often, the critical information gets lost in the translation.

With a more traditional maintenance model, where you didn’t really ask your technician to do the direct data capture, you struggle with understanding why you have failures. And if you can’t understand why something is failing, if you don’t understand that root cause, you don’t fix it correctly.

How do you ensure the data capture actually happens?

There are structures available that make it much easier for technicians to capture high-quality data. One is the American Trucking Associations’ failure code system, where you have an extensive array of codes for the power plant system, engine cooling system, exhaust system and so forth.

And the nice thing about the ATA model is that you can put a big laminated sheet up on the wall with the vehicle systems and the failure codes under those systems. The techs can look up the relevant codes and type them in, with no need for a lot of narrative or interpretation later.

When you analyze that data, what do you look for?

You look at the data and say, “Hey, we had this ATA failure code 66AB” – or whatever it was – and say, “All right, why is this part failing? Is it a design deficiency? Is it an application issue? Or is it a service issue?”

An application issue is where we’re using a truck in the wrong way, causing that part to fail.

For example, suppose you notice a spike in transmissions needing replacement. You look deeper into the issue. You notice that a common thread is that the trucks are going off-road, and the guys are getting stuck. If they’re rocking the trucks back and forth, putting a lot of punishment on the automatic transmission, they’ll burn up those transmissions pretty quickly.

So, a counterintuitive – and much less expensive – solution is to put a front winch on the truck, let them winch themselves out and leave the transmission alone.

Predictive maintenance is about understanding why you have the failure. Because once you frame the problem correctly, very often you will arrive at a very different solution that actually fixes the problem.

Who Can You Trust?

Whatever task you’re performing as a fleet professional – whether it’s purchasing equipment, hiring new technicians or presenting your case for a budget increase – you have to work with a wide range of different types of people to accomplish your objectives.

But how can you tell who you can trust? Try using a system called “The Six Signs of Behavior Prediction,” which you can learn more about in the book “Sizing People Up” by Robin Dreeke, the former head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. Here’s an overview of what to look for with each of the six signs.

Sign 1: Vesting

  1. They talk in terms of your best interests.
  2. They talk about how they can help you fulfill your goals.
  3. They pay full attention to you while you’re talking.

Sign 2: Longevity

  1. They try to connect with you on a personal level.
  2. They ask about your long-term goals.
  3. They talk in terms of how you would fit in their future.

Sign 3: Reliability

  1. They’re genuinely confident because they know what they’re doing.
  2. They’re transparent about their mistakes and weaknesses.
  3. They follow through on what they say they’ll do.

Sign 4: Actions

  1. Their actions match their words and commitments.
  2. They treat people fairly and do everything they can to avoid favoritism.
  3. They are the same person in public as they are behind closed doors.

Sign 5: Language

  1. They’re easy to understand.
  2. They talk more about you than themselves.
  3. They make you feel comfortable when they talk.

Sign 6: Stability

  1. They’re consistently calm, especially under fire.
  2. They take responsibility and don’t throw other people under the bus.
  3. They offer you options, not orders.

The bottom line: When it comes to trusting people, we often follow the advice of “listen to your gut,” which, Dreeke said, can cloud our judgment. Instead, do this: Trust but verify. Assume you can trust the person but check your gut with these six signs.

Sean M. Lyden


What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets?

When the job is to dig trenches, drill holes or dig in tight spaces, how can utility crews get more work done in less time at lower cost?

That’s the question many heavy-equipment manufacturers ask themselves as they design and develop new digging machines and accessories.

So, what new products have emerged within the past six to nine months to help utility companies and contractors improve worker productivity and cut operational costs? Here are seven new developments to keep your eye on.

What’s New: 19C-1E Fully Electric Mini Excavator

As JCB’s first fully electric mini excavator, the 19C-1E is suited for construction and excavation applications in enclosed or urban job sites, or noise- and emissions-sensitive environments, such as hospitals and schools. The machine offers comparable power to JCB’s diesel 19C excavator, while producing zero exhaust emissions and one-fifth the noise.

Powered by three lithium-ion batteries creating 15 kWh of capacity, the 19C-1E can complete a typical day’s work on a single charge. An optional four-battery pack increases capacity to 20 kWh, delivering an additional two hours of continuous use.

JCB estimates that the electric charging costs for the 19C-1E will be 50% lower than the fuel cost for a comparable diesel machine over a five-year period, with maintenance costs being about 70% lower.

Ditch Witch
What’s New: JT24 Directional Drill

Ditch Witch’s new JT24, a compact horizontal directional drill, is designed for ease of use in a wide range of urban and residential gas, fiber and other utility installations.

The JT24 is equipped with a 101-gross-horsepower, Tier 4- and European Stage V-compliant Cummins diesel engine, offering 24,000 pounds of thrust and pullback. A new hydraulic platform maximizes drilling efficiency to conserve horsepower for where it matters most – downhole.

The company said that the JT24 offers a wider frame than competitive units, improving stability without sacrificing maneuverability in tight urban environments. And the JT24’s maximum carriage speed of 216 feet per minute decreases cycle times to boost job-site productivity.

Volvo CE
What’s New: EC300E Hybrid Excavator

Volvo CE’s new EC300E hybrid excavator made its North American debut earlier this year at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 in Las Vegas.

The machine’s hybrid technology captures energy generated by the boom’s down motion to charge 5.2-gallon hydraulic accumulators. The system then delivers that energy to the motors that power the hydraulic pump, reducing load on the engine to cut fuel consumption by 15% and CO₂ emissions by 12%, compared to conventional excavators.

According to the company, the payback period from fuel savings is approximately two years when the EC300E is used in high-production “dig and dump” applications – especially those where the machine operates within a 90-degree swing.

What’s New: Digger Derrick Spin Bottom Drill Bucket

Terex Utilities released a new Spin Bottom Drill Bucket for digger derricks to boost productivity when drilling in unstable ground conditions, such as wet or sandy environments.

As the tool drills into the ground, barrel teeth cut through the material while the bucket captures it, allowing the operator to dump the material outside of the hole. The spin bottom is simple to control with forward and reverse motions to open and close the tool.

The tool features 5/8-inch wall thickness, 30-inch barrel length and 104-inch overall length. Dirt teeth and pilot bit are standard.

What’s New: 306 CR Mini Hydraulic Excavator

The new Cat 306 CR Mini Hydraulic Excavator marks Caterpillar’s entry into the 6-ton class, featuring heavy-duty main structures, a fuel-efficient engine, load-sensing hydraulics, a spacious cab and the exclusive Cat Stick Steer system.

With its long-stick option, the 306 CR delivers a maximum dig depth of 162 inches and a 15,821-pound maximum operating weight when equipped with the sealed and pressurized cab. A canopy alternative to the pressurized cab will be available later this year. Built with a swing boom, this machine’s compact radius design provides a low 58-inch tail swing with counterweight for maneuvering and working in tight areas.

The 306 CR shares components with other models in the Cat mini excavator lineup to reduce repair costs, service time and repair parts inventories. And the machine’s major structures are modeled after their larger Cat excavator counterparts to ensure long-term durability.

What’s New: Small Articulated Loader Utility Bucket

Bobcat Co.’s new small articulated loader utility bucket is designed for standard-duty grading and leveling applications.

The utility bucket’s pre-drilled holes make it easy to install many of Bobcat’s bucket accessories. It also features an upper flat surface edge, which functions as a level indicator to show when the bucket is level during operation.

What’s New: VXT500 Vacuum Excavator

Vermeer Corp. recently purchased a minority equity investment in and signed a distribution agreement with Vacuum X-Traction Products Inc. (VXP). Through the agreement, VXP will supply a series of Vermeer-branded high-capacity truck-mounted vacuum excavators to be sold exclusively through Vermeer industrial dealers. The first of these machines is the VXT500 Vacuum Excavator that was introduced during the 2020 WWETT Show held in February in Indianapolis.

The VXT500 fits utility applications that require a higher-capacity machine with a smaller footprint, offering an 8-inch vac with an 8-yard spoil tank capacity.

The company said that the strategic partnership with VXP is the next step in Vermeer’s goal to offer the widest range of specialized vacuum excavation machines for the underground utility market. VXP will begin supplying Vermeer machines to Vermeer dealers in mid-2020, starting in North America and then expanding globally.


6 All-Electric Pickups in the Pipeline

For utility fleets committed to electrification, the holy grail is to electrify pickup trucks.

That’s because pickups represent the largest vehicle segment for most fleets in the industry. So, if you can electrify a wide range of pickup applications, you’ll make a huge dent in your company’s sustainability efforts.

The challenge is that high battery costs and low range between charges have historically made the idea of all-electric pickups seem impractical for widespread fleet use. And there are no products commercially available for fleets to choose from.

But that could be changing soon. Here’s an overview of six electric pickups currently in development that are expected to launch in the next one to two years.

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla’s Cybertruck is expected to offer a 500-mile range, 14,000 pounds of towing capacity, a 3,500-pound payload capacity and – not really relevant to work trucks but still interesting – 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 2.9 seconds.

Pricing should start at $39,900, but the first trucks slated for production in late 2021 will be tri-motor models with a starting price of $69,900.

The truck seats six with additional storage under the second-row seats. And there will be an advanced 17-inch touch screen with an all-new customized user interface.

Tesla has over 650,000 reservations for the Cybertruck, according to a recent report from Wedbush Securities.

Rivian R1T
Rivian has garnered a lot of attention and credibility behind its upcoming EV pickup thanks to big investments from companies such as Amazon and Ford.

The R1T pickup offers three different battery pack options with 230-, 300- and 400-mile ranges. And the truck is expected to produce up to 750 horsepower with a maximum towing capacity of 11,000 pounds.

Production was supposed to start this year, but the company pushed its timeline back to sometime in early 2021 because of the coronavirus. Prices are expected to start at $69,000.

You can preorder the R1T on Rivian’s website ( with a refundable deposit of $1,000. 

GMC Hummer
There are not a whole lot of details yet on the GMC Hummer, which is expected to produce 1,000 horsepower and up to 11,500 pound-feet of torque, with a range around 400 miles between charges.

GM originally scheduled the electric Hummer reveal for May 20 but postponed the event amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The truck is slated to hit the market in fall 2021 as a 2022 model, and Car and Driver estimates a starting price of $70,000.

Electric Ford F-150
In January 2019, Ford first announced its intention to build an electric F-150, and last July they put the prototype into action with a stunt to pull 1 million pounds.

But since then, Ford has kept pretty quiet on the details of performance specs. The company said the electric pickup will go on sale by the middle of 2022. There’s no word on pricing yet. 

Lordstown Motors Endurance
On June 25, startup Lordstown Motors unveiled its all-electric pickup truck, the Endurance, at its Lordstown, Ohio, headquarters.

The company was established by former Workhorse CEO Steve Burns, who purchased the GM Lordstown plant in 2019.

The Endurance appears to be targeting the commercial fleet sector, as Lordstown Motors has inked a deal with SERVPRO, a fire-and-water-damage restoration company, which has committed to purchasing 1,200 trucks.

The truck can seat five people, produce 600 horsepower and reach a top speed of 80 mph, with a range of over 250 miles and a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds.

The Endurance can be charged 95% in 0.5 to 1.5 hours on a Level 3 DC charger or in 10 hours on a Level 2 7-kilowatt charger.

The company said that it plans to produce 20,000 Endurance trucks in 2021. The base price is expected to be $52,500.

Nikola Badger
You may be familiar with Nikola, which is best known for its work to bring fuel-cell-powered semi trucks to market. But this March, it entered the electric pickup race.

The Badger will combine batteries with a hydrogen fuel-cell system to produce a 600-mile range – with 300 miles on battery power alone – and a towing capacity of about 8,000 pounds.

Early specs tease 906 horsepower and 980 pound-feet of torque, plus a 0 to 60 mph time of 2.9 seconds.

Customers can preorder the Badger with a fully refundable $5,000 deposit. Nikola founder and CEO Trevor Milton told Reuters that the pickup will enter production in 2022 or earlier.

In an interview with CNBC, Milton said the Badger will cost about $60,000 to $90,000.

How Far Away are We?
So, how far away are we from being able to grab hold of that holy grail – with plug-in electric pickup trucks?

We’re looking at one to two years for production models, but it’s unclear when fully electric trucks will really make a dent in the fleet pickup truck segment. It could still take several more years before there are electric trucks available that meet the performance and price-point requirements for large-scale fleet use, although the Lordstown Motors Endurance appears to be the early front-runner.

Then there’s this question: Can OEMs make money in building electric trucks?

As a May 7 article in The New York Times put it:

Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive, underlined that automakers, including Tesla, had yet to prove that E.V.s could be a profitable long-term business. “To say, ‘We’ve made a full E.V. truck, and we’re actually making money on it,’ will be quite an accomplishment,” Mr. Brauer said.

This is an important consideration because if OEMs cannot find a way to turn a profit and build a sustainable business around EVs, that could put the brakes on electric truck development. So, watch this space.


Shop Talk: Verizon Communications

In February, as the novel coronavirus spread overseas and cases began to trickle into the U.S., Verizon Communications, as a company, started grappling with how the pandemic might impact its operations.

“Before the media and most people were talking about what you should do, we’re thinking, ‘How would we operate? How do we keep our people safe?’” said Herb Pruitt, director of fleet operations for Verizon Communications.

UFP recently spoke with Pruitt to learn about the adjustments Verizon’s Fleet Operations team of over 400 employees, mostly mechanics, has made to ensure worker safety while maintaining a large fleet of about 29,000 vehicles during a pandemic. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

Home Garaging
One major change was a shift to home garaging. “The field technicians are ‘essential services’ and need to be out servicing customers,” Pruitt said. “So, we asked ourselves, ‘Can we lessen their exposure [to the virus] by not having them come to the garage at the end of their shift?’ This meant that our fleet would need to go from having vehicles parked at centralized locations, where the garages – the repair facilities – are, to being parked at home.”

But this new approach could create a logistics nightmare with scheduling preventive maintenance service and repairs if it’s not executed properly. “We knew we would need to really work smart to schedule those vehicles in this new environment,” Pruitt said.

That’s because, before home garaging, the field technicians would drive their vehicles during the day and park them at a facility, where the garage is, at the end of their shift. Then the mechanics would do the maintenance on those vehicles in the evening, without the end users having to take any action.

But now, drivers must be more deliberate about ensuring that PMs get done on their vehicles, and shop mechanics have adjusted their work hours.

Pruitt said that, before home garaging, nearly 90% of his mechanics worked the evening shift, which was either 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., depending on the location, because that’s when most of the work would get done.

Today, however, that ratio is closer to 60-40 – day shift to evening shift – with day shift hours being 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We talked with our customers and asked, ‘What works for you?’ And many of them would say, ‘If the vehicle is parked at home, we’d prefer not having to drop it off at night.’ So, we made adjustments where we brought more mechanics to day shift to accommodate – to do more of the PM and repair work during the day at a time the field technicians could bring their vehicles in.”

Communication and Coordination
Despite the logistical challenges that come with home garaging Verizon’s tens of thousands of vehicles, Pruitt said that his team has still been able to achieve a PM compliance rate – the percentage of PMs completed by the due date – of 98%.

How? One reason, Pruitt said, is because of a greater emphasis on communication and coordination between fleet and the user groups.

“We send an email to the supervisor along the lines of, ‘These 10 vehicles need to come into this location within this one-week period of time.’ And then the supervisor directs their technician to that garage,” Pruitt said.

Those technicians can also use Verizon’s self-service app for scheduling repairs.

“They open the app from their tablet, smartphone or PC and put in their vehicle number,” Pruitt said. “There’s a box with systems and components listed – brakes, lights, windshield and so forth. They click on the relevant issue and there’s a subset of boxes that gets more specific. For example, if it’s a light, which light? Where? And then they type in specific comments for the mechanic. When they submit the request, they get an email confirmation that fleet has received it, and their supervisor gets an email confirmation that somebody on their team has submitted a work request.”

Each morning, Pruitt’s team reviews and prioritizes the work requests, assigns them to the appropriate mechanics, and schedules the repairs with the end users.

“If a dome light is out, it’s not really an imminent safety issue, but we need to fix it,” he said. “So, we’ll put that in the queue. But if someone submits a request along the lines of, ‘Brakes are spongy,’ we take the vehicle immediately out of service before we see or touch it.”

Shop Sanitization Safety
In a COVID-19 environment, it’s essential to effectively communicate new procedures and expectations when employees drop off their vehicles for service.

“When you come to the garage, there is no contact between you and the mechanic,” Pruitt said. “We are going to wipe down the high-traffic areas – the door handles, exterior, interior, seats, steering wheel and shifter – before we get into the vehicle. We perform the maintenance, service and repairs and repeat the wipe-down process before we give it back to the user group. We also tell the user group, ‘We want you to do the same thing when you bring in the vehicle – to wipe it down.’ This way, any time there’s a change of user of a vehicle, it’s wiped down.”

The Bottom Line
Pruitt’s advice to other fleet professionals as it relates to shop management in a COVID-19 world?

“First, focus on being excellent at the basics of fleet management because that gives you maximum flexibility when dealing with unexpected events like COVID-19,” he said. “When you’re properly managing your fleet with efficient day-to-day shop operations, developing effective relationships with your user groups, and setting high expectations around shop safety and cleanliness in normal times, you have greater capacity for dealing with situations like the one we’re in.”

And if you’re not sure what to do, reach out to your peers at other companies, Pruitt said. “I’ve been in [fleet management] for 37 years, and I don’t know everything. So, I pick up the phone and call people: ‘What are you doing? How did that work? Did you get the desired result?’ Sometimes I may continue in the direction I was headed. But many times, they either give me some advice that improves my idea, or I change course completely based on the advice they’ve given me.”

You Ask, We Answer: Your Research Team for Navigating These Uncharted Waters

One of the challenges of providing you with content that offers timely and interesting insights is that so much is changing so quickly in the world and in our industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed utility fleets to re-evaluate how they operate, spec vehicles and manage their shops.

For example, in cases where vehicles are no longer centrally garaged because they’re being driven home, how do you ensure that all PMs get done on time? (In this month’s “Shop Talk,” we spoke with Herb Pruitt at Verizon Communications, who offers lessons learned and best practices on this topic.)

When crews hand off vehicles to garage staff for maintenance and repairs, what should be the process to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus? What PPE should be worn and when? What types of disinfectants should be used?

And what will be the impact on vehicle and equipment manufacturers regarding their production and delivery timelines over the next 12 to 18 months? In what ways will you need to adjust to ensure all business units and their crews have the equipment they need when they need it?

The bottom line: You’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now that none of us could have foreseen in January. And it looks like COVID-19 will continue to be a factor through the remainder of 2020.

So, how can you gather the information you need to effectively navigate the uncharted waters ahead?

Use Utility Fleet Professional as your on-demand research team to talk with the experts and your peers to dig up the best answers for you.

Chances are, there are thousands of other fleet professionals in our community who have the same questions and are dealing with similar issues.

So, lean on us to help uncover the solutions and best practices to help you succeed – and keep your team safe – in these uncertain times.

Email me at with your fleet management questions, concerns and challenges in this COVID-19 era, and our team will get to work for you.

Sean M. Lyden


New Developments to Watch in Telematics

The fleet telematics industry has come a long way since 2000, when Geotab’s ( executive vice president of sales and marketing, Colin Sutherland, joined the Ontario, Canada-based telematics company.

“Back then, [telematics] was all about collecting data on board the vehicle itself and, in many cases, having to manually transfer that data to a computing environment using [thumb drives],” Sutherland said.

But with today’s telematics, vehicles can automatically transmit real-time location and operational data to the cloud at a significantly lower cost. And as wireless technology has gotten faster and cheaper, telematics capabilities have expanded considerably to include onboard cameras, workforce management systems and machine learning to generate more comprehensive and useful reports.

So, what’s on the horizon? What new developments in telematics should you keep your eye on in the next 12 months?

As the U.S. and the world grapple with the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, these are challenging times to get an accurate read on any market, let alone telematics. But UFP recently spoke with Geotab’s Sutherland and Mathew Long, product success for North America at Verizon Connect (, and asked them to give it their best shot.

Here are three new developments they say utility fleet professionals should have on their radar.

1. “Central Dispatch” capabilities to improve storm response coordination across multiple organizations and states.
“A problem we’ve been hearing a lot about is the lack of coordination when multiple utilities and agencies share assets across state lines for storm response,” Sutherland said. “These organizations say, ‘We need all these assets that are coming together to be sharing their location with Central Dispatch. And we need more efficient FEMA funding recovery.’ This way, if it’s the aftermath of a hurricane, and Florida is the host state for all those resources coming in to help, you’re able to account for all the collective miles more efficiently and accurately – to reimburse all those organizations that came into the state.”

In other words, if you’re coordinating the response effort, you could get temporary visibility into the vehicle location and other pertinent data from assets outside of your own fleet, all streamed into a central dashboard, no matter which third-party manufacturer’s hardware is on the vehicle.

“Most utility vehicles out there already have some form of a telematics device,” Sutherland said. “So, what we can do is take pieces of data from those third-party telematics devices and populate only the information that’s needed by the central dispatcher without giving up the private information that’s specific to the driver in the home fleet.”

How would Central Dispatch capabilities help organizations recover FEMA funds more efficiently?

“If we could bring the data from all those resources to a common data center, we’d know where the assets are, the mileage driven and fuel consumed for faster and easier reporting,” Sutherland said. “And that’s a capability that Geotab has at its disposal – a multi-stream environment to have all these different hardware devices combine into a single common database.”

2. Expanded asset tracking beyond vehicles.
As GPS device and wireless connectivity prices continue to drop, it’s becoming more cost-effective to install telematics devices on a broader range of assets beyond vehicles and heavy equipment.

What kind of assets?

“It could be a variety of things, depending on the segment,” Long said. “It could be something as simple as tagging a drill, a trailer, a set of generators or any high-value piece of utility equipment that only gets moved from time to time. This way, you can know exactly where they are at any moment. And with geofencing, you’ll receive alerts if they go outside of a particular territory.”

Sutherland agreed. “We see an expansion of telematics tracking beyond the on-road or even off-road powered assets to some of the non-powered assets that would be part of the fleet, like generators, spool trailers, pole trailers and things like that.”

But since these trackers would not be attached to an on-vehicle power source, how would they retain sufficient power to be useful?

“One way is to use a battery-operated, low-energy Bluetooth tag that’s inexpensive and lasts for a long time,” Sutherland said. “And then in the cab, you have a low-energy Bluetooth reader. Essentially, all the assets each have a signature ID that pings constantly. And the in-cab Bluetooth reader detects all the IDs for the equipment and gear you’d expect to be part of the trip, whether it’s a trailer or generator or whatever might be in the vehicle. If any piece of that inventory is missing or got left behind at a job site, you receive an instant alert saying, ‘You just left something behind.'”

3. Tighter integration of GPS tracking, onboard cameras and machine learning to enhance driver safety.
It’s one thing for a telematics device to record and then report a harsh driving event. But it would be even more valuable if that system could also offer unbiased context as to how that event occurred and make that information instantly available to management.

That’s what tighter integration between GPS tracking, video footage and machine learning can offer fleets, Long said. The machine-learning component helps, among other functions, to tie together vehicle data with the precise video clip associated with an event – to give organizations the most comprehensive and accurate information about that incident as quickly as possible.

“You could take a harsh driving event and no longer have to look through hours upon hours of video footage or rely exclusively on the driver’s account,” Long said. “Instead, you can look at the harsh driving event alert that has the video clip automatically attached to give you insight into what was actually happening on the road at that time. And now, you can take your understanding from that video and talk with the driver to get their take on what transpired. That video clip serves as an ‘unbiased witness’ to help coach drivers with improving their safe driving practices.”


Flattening the Curve? The State of Transportation Electrification During a Pandemic

A perfect storm of geopolitical forces flooding the world’s oil supply and COVID-19 causing global governments to temporarily shut down their economies has precipitated a steep drop in gasoline and diesel prices in recent weeks.

So, what does this mean for the electric vehicle market?

After all, conventional wisdom says that cheap gas will put the brakes on the demand for alternative fuels, including electricity.

But Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy, a public power utility and a department of The City of Austin, Texas, believes that demand for electrified transportation likely will continue to grow despite oil prices at historic lows.

Why? Popham points to four trends.

1. Electricity prices should remain stable while oil costs continue to fluctuate.
“Anyone who’s betting long term that the price of oil is going to stay at historic lows, I think their head’s in the sand a little bit,” Popham said. “Electric has, for decades, been extremely stable at just under $1 per gallon of gas equivalent energy output. It’s arguably the most stable commodity in the world. When you look at the historic trends, electricity prices stay flat. But prices at the gas pump swing up and down.”

U.S. Department of Energy data supports Popham’s claim. Take a look at the DOE’s “Average Retail Fuel Prices in the United States” chart. The electricity “fuel” price trend is the light green, relatively flat line toward the bottom of the pricing chart compared to the roller-coaster volatility of most of the other fuels, including gasoline and diesel.

Web Photo Credit to U.S. DOE

What is it that makes electricity prices more stable than oil?

“[Oil prices] can be impacted by a crisis in the Middle East or even a major storm in the U.S. coming through and knocking out some refineries,” Popham said. “And then you have the speculator market that causes the prices at the pump to fluctuate daily versus the go-to stability of electricity, which is produced locally. All the supply chain [for electricity] is handled locally and regionally versus being at the whim of global factors, like conflicts in the Middle East and other geopolitical events outside of our control.”

If you’re interested in digging deeper into the assumptions behind the DOE’s eGallon calculations, visit

2. The business case for electrification involves more than fuel savings.
Historically, the lower the price of gasoline and diesel, the longer it would take to recoup the higher incremental cost of electrifying the vehicle.

In other words, plummeting oil prices should equal lower EV demand.

But that correlation doesn’t appear to be as dependable today. Why?

As battery costs have dropped in recent years, the price gap between EVs and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles has narrowed significantly, dampening the impact of low oil prices on the demand for electrification.

To give you a frame of reference, according to the latest forecast from research company BloombergNEF (, battery prices – which were above $1,100 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 – have fallen 87% to $156/kWh in 2019. And that trend is expected to continue with average prices falling to $100/kWh by 2023.

But then consider that regardless of where oil prices might be on any given day, EVs still cost less to maintain because they have fewer moving parts and don’t require oil changes and other types of service like their ICE counterparts.

How much less?

Popham pointed to a 2018 study by Rocky Mountain Institute conducted in partnership with The City of Austin and Austin Energy titled “Ride-Hailing Drivers Are Ideal Candidates for Electric Vehicles” to offer a frame of reference (you can find the full report at

“[The RMI study] shows that Uber drivers who drive sedans can save about $5,200 per year in Austin by going electric,” Popham said. “And that savings is almost evenly split between fuel and maintenance.”

In other words, even if you take out potential fuel savings in your business case calculations, you could expect around $2,500 to $2,700 (for sedans) in annual savings in maintenance costs alone.

3. EV charging infrastructure continues to expand.
Fueling infrastructure is a critical factor in driving demand for any type of alt-fuel vehicle development.

And Volkswagen Group of America’s 2016 emissions scandal settlement with the U.S. government is helping spur EV demand by funding fast-charging infrastructure development to the tune of $2 billion over 10 years.

To fulfill the requirements of the settlement, Volkswagen created Electrify America LLC (, which expects to install or have under development approximately 800 total charging stations with about 3,500 DC fast chargers by December 2021. During this period, the company will be expanding to 29 metro areas and 45 states, including two cross-country routes.

“Just about every state is rolling out funds from the Volkswagen settlement funds,” Popham said. “California got the biggest allocation. But Texas still got a pretty big chunk – just shy of about $200 million for several programs, which we’re starting to see come to fruition.”

4. The pandemic may impact consumer sentiment around fueling habits.
COVID-19 may have caused the public to rethink their daily habits to avoid getting sick.

A case in point: Touching fuel pumps at public stations.

“You can look at just about any study and see how dirty gas-pump handles can be,” Popham said. “With the number of people who touch that pump every day, you can imagine the exposure people can get to all kinds of nasty germs. But with electric, instead of having to touch a public gas station nozzle, people can treat their EV like their smartphone. They go home, plug it in – or, in some cases, drive over an inductive [wireless] charging mat. You go to sleep, wake up and the vehicle is ready to go. That’s emerging as a powerful business case today.”

The Bottom Line
Before the coronavirus shutdowns and the steep drop in oil prices, EVs represented a tiny, low-single-digit percentage of the overall vehicle sales in the U.S. Still, most signs appeared to be pointing toward an all-electric future in transportation at some point in the next couple of decades.

The question is, have recent events “flattened the curve” of EV growth?

According to Popham, the answer is no. And these four trends help explain why.

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