Author: Sean M. Lyden

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Electric Outlook for the Work Truck Industry

My biggest takeaway from this year’s NTEA Work Truck Show? The industry appears to be headed toward an electric future. But a lot of work still needs to be done for that future to become a mainstream reality anytime soon.

Here’s what I mean: Electrification is building momentum because the cost of battery technology has been trending downward to the point where electrified trucks are becoming a more attractive and financially viable option for fleets to try.

According to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance report, lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 73% per kilowatt-hour since 2010. That trend is expected to continue until EVs become cheaper to buy than their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts by 2025 to 2029.

As battery costs have dropped, this has allowed for more affordable power that extends the battery range between charges, making it comparable to the range of conventional-fueled vehicles – and thus more acceptable for more fleet applications.

That’s why we’re seeing a growing number of OEMs like Tesla, Freightliner, Mitsubishi Fuso and now Ford – with its recent $500 million investment in Rivian to produce an all-electric pickup truck – entering the fray.

But here’s the challenge: charging infrastructure. There’s not enough of it.

After all, what happens when you have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of vehicles that need to be charged – most of them at the same time – putting massive amounts of stress on the existing grid and infrastructure?

What will be the impact on the cost of electricity and thus the cost of “fueling”? Will there be any stability in pricing so that consumers and fleets can budget and plan?

There was a lot of talk at the 2019 Work Truck Show about the need for greater collaboration among fleets, regulators, automakers and utility companies to work toward a solution – to build out charging infrastructure that’s sufficient, stable and affordable enough to meet demand.

So, while the future of the work truck industry appears to be electric, the question is, when will that happen? Watch the developments in charging infrastructure. That will give you an accurate gauge as to when mainstream adoption will become possible.

Sean M. Lyden


New Truck and Van Upfits for Utility Fleets in 2019

As you review the current specs for your truck and van fleet, where are your best opportunities for improvement? Could you decrease the size of your fleet vehicles while improving functionality and usability? Could you upgrade your service bodies for enhanced fuel efficiency and more eco-friendly operations? Or, could you add more versatile service tool storage options to boost accessibility and safety for your crews?

Here are eight new developments from truck and van equipment manufacturers that could help you find and maximize opportunities to strengthen your fleet specs and performance.

What’s New: PHEV System for Ford F-250 Pickup

XL has introduced a new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) system for the Ford F-250 pickup truck. This product expands the company’s PHEV line that also includes the PHEV Ford F-150, which the company began shipping in 2018 to utilities such as CPS Energy, Tacoma Public Utilities and City of Palo Alto.

The PHEV F-250 includes a driveshaft-mounted electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that can be charged using standard Level 2 and Level 1 plugs. The system also features regenerative braking, enabling the vehicle to store energy while stopping and transfer that energy back into the drivetrain to assist the vehicle during acceleration.

The PHEV system works in parallel with the factory gas-powered engine, eliminating the need for fleets to be concerned about vehicle range or charging infrastructure availability. All Ford factory warranties remain intact.

What’s New: CB5 Fiberglass Crane Body

The CB5 is Altec’s new fiberglass crane body capable of supporting a 36,000-foot-pound service crane with a maximum lift capacity of 6,000 pounds. The crane body also features Altec’s newly manufactured aluminum mechanics drawers with single-hand operation. Realizing that an increasing number of utility fleets have to do more with less, the Altec team developed this product with lighter-weight fiberglass construction to allow for higher crane capacity on medium-duty trucks ranging from 19,500-23,500 pounds GVWR.

What’s New: UltimateFX Service Body

BrandFX has introduced the new UltimateFX, an all-composite service body matched with an all-composite understructure. The combined weight of the UltimateFX body and understructure is 60 percent lighter than comparable steel bodies without sacrificing strength.

UltimateFX is available for 56-inch cab-to-axle (CA) single-rear-wheel and 60-inch CA dual-rear-wheel truck chassis. And for fleets that operate natural gas or electric-powered trucks, the lighter weight of the UltimateFX can offset some of the additional weight associated with those power systems.

What’s New: DuraRac Meter Service Shelving Package

Dejana engineers worked closely with utility customers – including line technicians, management and safety personnel – to create a new Meter Service package using the company’s proprietary DuraRac shelving system.

The sliding drawer system reduces the risk of slip-and-fall incidents by allowing technicians to access electric meters, tool bags, parts and other gear from outside the van. With adjustable shelving, technicians can change shelf height to accommodate different types of cargo. The ability to store ladders inside the van’s cargo area helps improve ergonomics and worker safety.

Ranger Design
What’s New: Custom Cargo Management System for Ford Transit Vans

For utility fleets that operate in urban environments, Ranger Design recently announced its custom cargo management offerings for Ford Transit Vans. The new systems enable fleets to downsize from larger vehicles, like box trucks, to Transit cargo vans to improve vehicle maneuverability and worker safety without sacrificing the storage capacity required for the job.

The system also can be spec’d with a shelf installed across the side door and holders for small loose parts built into the back doors to make it easier for technicians to reach tools, parts and components without having to enter the van.

To keep long pipes from rolling around in the cargo area, there is an available extended pipe-holder cabinet that can be installed under the shelves, taking advantage of an infrequently used area of the van.

Maintainer Corp.
What’s New: 30-Foot Service Crane

Maintainer Corporation of Iowa Inc. has introduced a new 30-foot hydraulic crane: the H10030 telescopic crane, with a maximum lift capacity of 10,000 pounds. The new crane features a 60,000-foot-pound crane rating and a boom-mounted planetary winch.

The company said that the H10030 helps fill in the gap for fleets that need a longer reach than Maintainer’s 25-foot cranes but don’t need something as big as the H10034 – the 34-foot model.

The H10030 also features a low-profile boom, a total operating range of 91 degrees (-13 degrees to +78 degrees) and a wireless remote with independently proportional controls.

Custom Truck One Source/Load King
What’s New: Voyager Series Mechanics Bodies

Load King LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Custom Truck One Source, has announced the launch of its Voyager Series mechanics bodies with three new models: the Voyager I mechanics body, an under-CDL model; the Voyager II mechanics body; and the Voyager P propane service body, built for propane marketers.

The Voyager I and II both feature a modular control system with a push-button control panel, an LCD diagnostic monitor, CTECH drawer sets, a custom-designed cab guard and corrosion protection through Load King’s full lining coverage. The Voyager P propane service body features a tri-axis sensor to stay level with ease and a Rumber bed floor for no-slip bed access, with a removable pipe vise attachment and aluminum side rails.

Venco Venturo Industries
What’s New: 7,800-Pound HT45KX Hydraulic Service Crane

Venco Venturo Industries has introduced the new Venturo HT45KX full-hydraulic service crane, offering a maximum lifting capacity of 7,800 pounds and 25-foot boom reach.

The HT45KX provides boom articulation of -8 degrees to +75 degrees and features the new Venturo EZ Stow load block safety stow with a quick-release hook under the boom. This gives the operator a safe way of releasing the load block from being stowed when the crane is raised to 60 degrees, allowing the hook to safely fall away from the crane without the operator having to remove it manually.

The HT45KX also offers Venturo’s all-new proprietary VLCTM crane control management system, featuring a new wireless-remote, pistol-grip controller with safety alerts, including handle vibrations and LCD screen alert and status text.


Budget Talks: Why Fleet Needs a Seat at the Table – And How You Can Earn It

When it comes to fleet, senior leadership may not fully appreciate all that the job entails.

“What I would often hear from folks either in finance or in the senior leadership groups was something along the lines of, ‘Every year, fleet costs go up. But I have a 2004 Honda with 300,000 miles on it. It costs me 421 bucks a year to operate. How come you can’t do the same thing?’” said Chris Lindquist, a 30-year fleet veteran from Colorado Springs Utilities and Xcel Energy, who retired in 2018.

Sound familiar?

“People think they understand fleet, but they really don’t,” Lindquist said. “The reality is that most folks in the higher echelons of utility companies tend to view fleet strictly as an expense that’s large and assume that their fleet must be underperforming because, well, the costs keep going up.”

If leadership doesn’t understand the value that your department brings to the overall business, your budget becomes a prime target for cuts.

“At the beginning of the year, that budget you fought for the previous year would be set in stone,” Lindquist said. “But in the spring, all of sudden there would be an edict that came from the budget officer or the finance department that basically said, ‘Budgets are X. We’re going to have to start cutting from Y.’ Fleet was always one of those departments on the cut side of the budget.”

That’s why it’s crucial for fleet to be involved in the company budget discussions – to help shape the narrative about the value fleet brings to the overall business. Otherwise, you’ll be handed an ill-advised budget with constraints that could set you up to fail.

“You have to educate management by developing your models and business cases so that they understand that what the fleet department does actually dovetails with the company’s strategic objectives – that your fleet really does have an impact on the overall company dynamics, especially on the operational side where these budget dollars are being fought over,” Lindquist said.

But how can you increase your influence and earn your seat at the table? Lindquist offers four tips.

1. Connect the dots between fleet operations and business performance.
Why is the fleet department under pressure for budget cuts?

Think about it: As homes and office buildings become more and more energy efficient, utility customers are using less power. And that’s putting the squeeze on utility profit margins – which, ultimately, trickles down to impacting fleet.

“You’re looking at improved operational technology and increased consumer-based efficiency that has really driven a nail right into the middle of the operating business for utility companies,” Lindquist said. “It still costs them approximately the same amount to run the operations side of the company, but people are using less electricity; or, if it’s a gas utility, people are buying better products that use less gas. I think it goes across all spectrums of utility services. The costs associated with operating the company don’t go down. Labor stays up. Cost of goods stays up. But the revenue is going down. And growth rates aren’t keeping up with costs.”

The idea here is that when you understand the industry dynamics that senior leadership is contending with, you’re better equipped to talk about how the fleet department, with sufficient investment, can offer solutions to help the operations of the overall business.

“As a fleet manager, you really need to understand the company’s business,” Lindquist said. “A utility company is not a transportation company. They don’t understand cost per mile or whatever fleet ideology you’re dealing with. They understand kilowatts and megawatts and BTUs. Utilities do transportation because they have to do it. But it’s not their prime ideology. So, it’s incumbent upon the fleet professionals to understand what the company’s business is. You have to educate yourself on what pain points senior leadership is dealing with so you can figure out a model for how fleet can help address those concerns.”

2. Expand your perspective.
To learn more about what’s going on with the business, get the perspectives of other groups in the company.

“I’ve often found that just visiting with your peers in operations groups across the street or up the stairs or across the parking lot is a good start,” Lindquist said. “Find out their three biggest issues that they deal with on a day-to-day basis. And listen to their story for a while. You’ll start getting good ideas on how to build your narrative.”

What’s an example?

“Suppose you learn that your company’s numbers are not good when it comes to response time to utility outages,” Lindquist said. “You could then build a fleet case that supports better performance in that area by talking about how improved vehicle availability and off-shift maintenance would support their ability to respond to outages more quickly.”

3. Make your case with data.
Once you understand the business issues, you also need to have clear visibility into your fleet’s performance, Lindquist said. “You need to do the data analysis to understand what your fleet organization has been good at, what opportunities that you have to get better and how they overlap.”

Suppose you’re evaluating the performance of a specific vehicle group – digger derricks, for example.

“What’s the average age of your digger derricks?” Lindquist said. “OK, let’s say it’s about 11 years. Now, how are these units performing? What’s the cost per mile? What’s the average number of breakdowns per year? Or however you want to mine the data. Then you’ve got to look at, how is my comprehensive vehicle availability in that vehicle group? If I could be X amount more available to my customers, what would that mean in terms of dollars?”

Then look at the true cost of downtime.

“What is the average crew cost for a digger derrick? Is there one driver? Are there a lineman and an apprentice? What is the cost per hour there?” Lindquist said. “Put downtime and availability in a money context. If you let everybody know that, for this vehicle code class, the true cost of downtime is X – because you’ve factored in the linemen costs, administrative costs and all the other related expenses – you’re in a much stronger position to propose, ‘If I could improve our fleet’s age in this area by 20 percent, here are the cost improvements I can make for the folks on the other side of the parking lot, which is going to improve your outage or response times.’”

4. Keep stakeholders informed about fleet performance.
One of the keys to earning a seat at the table for budget talks is to raise your department’s profile – and credibility – with senior leadership throughout the year with consistent communication. How do you accomplish that?

Lindquist recommended sending out a quarterly newsletter with a fleet scorecard for key leadership groups and stakeholders.

What metrics would he include in the scorecard?

“It could be any number of things,” Lindquist said. “It might be vehicle availability by class, like aerial bucket trucks or digger derricks. We would have our published targets for that area. Here’s where we are today. Here’s the delta and what we’re doing to help close that gap. Or, it could be shop productivity by location. How productive are our technicians?”

The important thing is to ensure the information is relevant and useful to your audience. “The scorecard is always a work in progress because you’re balancing training, safety programs and numerous other things,” Lindquist said. “There are hundreds of data points that you could look at. But you have to figure out what matters most to the leadership groups.”

The Bottom Line
If you’re not telling your story about how fleet helps the overall business, those who don’t understand fleet will tell a far different story – one in which fleet is exclusively a cost center that’s underperforming and needs to be cut. And you’ll be marginalized, with little influence over the budget discussions that directly impact your ability to do your job.

According to Lindquist, “To get the seat at the table, you have to earn it. And to earn it, you have to do the work. You have to develop your business case. You have to own your fleet numbers. You have to educate yourself on the business.”


To Lease or Not to Lease

The conventional wisdom for most utility companies is to purchase their fleet assets outright.

And there are some advantages to that approach: potentially lower vehicle acquisition costs, no debt added to the balance sheet, and greater control over resale timing and pricing.

But as utilities see their profit margins getting squeezed, their fleet departments are becoming bigger targets for budget cuts.

So, when you’re under mounting pressure to do more with the same money as last year – or even less – how do you manage? How can you work within tighter financial constraints without sacrificing your fleet’s performance and reliability?

One option is leasing at least a portion of your fleet. But how do you decide which assets to lease? When does leasing make financial sense? And when doesn’t it?

UFP recently spoke with Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services at ARI (, a fleet management company that works with several utility companies in North America, to get his perspective. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: What trends do you see when it comes to fleet leasing in the utility sector?

Charlie Guthro: We’re starting to see more utility companies looking at leasing and saying, “We might not lease our entire fleet. But we certainly see the potential opportunity to look at our most critical units – the power-line units, the units that are out there keeping the infrastructure rolling.”

The idea is that if we’re going to have constraints on capital, we’re going to need to, at least, consider leasing because we can’t allow the reliability, the downtime and the critical impacts of asset management to be impacted by the slowdown we see in capital investment.

And how would leasing be an effective strategy in those types of situations? What are the benefits it would bring to that utility?

The leasing part of the equation creates a more stable environment for your asset replacement cadence. That’s because the lease brings more structure and discipline to the process. There’s a specific term on the vehicle, which removes the year-over-year emotional outlook, where you’re thinking, “Maybe this year’s not a good year [for replacement], but perhaps next year will be. Our replacement ratio is set at 12 percent this year, but perhaps we should ratchet it down a little bit to, say, 10 percent this year and 9 percent in the next year because we’re a little bit restricted for funds.”

As a result, these fleets tend to make decisions based on emotion instead of making what we call evidence-based decisions. Leasing can bring more structure and stability to the decision-making process, so fleets don’t have to re-evaluate their decisions as much. You have a much better replacement cadence. And because of the discipline that comes with leasing, fleets tend to stick to it.

Why is maintaining discipline in fleet replacement cycles so important for utility fleets?

It’s important because a growing number of utility providers are challenged by shrinking margins and greater productivity demands on fleet to do more with less. All that leads to the question, when’s the best time to replace my fleet? What’s the most opportune time to manage my maintenance within that cost of repair versus replacement?

Then you have to ask, can I get the capital to achieve our replacement objectives? And if not, what are my other funding alternatives? That’s where we see more and more discussion around leasing.

Is there a specific class or application of vehicles or equipment that works well for utility fleets as a starting point to try out leasing?

I recommend looking at your most critical components that have the highest demand for reliability and most significant impact on the infrastructure – so, trouble trucks and other critical fleet units.

The idea is that I can go rent or purchase pickups, vans and other types of units that have a quick turnaround time. But my highly utilized vehicles that are essential to keeping the lights on? They have a long delivery lead time. That’s where leasing can help to ensure you’re able to replace those units in a timely manner.

When does leasing make good financial sense for utility fleets? And in what scenarios is it better for them to fully capitalize the vehicles?

When you’re considering leasing, start by evaluating the cost to finance, what it costs you to get those funds, the economic service life of the vehicle and your ability to turn over those vehicles within an optimal cadence.

But more critical than anything is this question: What can you do with that capital within your organization? You’re comparing it to the cost of transformers and poles and other infrastructure asset items.

So, it really comes down to this: Where’s the best value for your dollar? Is it using capital for other programs? Or is it using capital for your fleet? You want to make intelligent decisions [about the prospect of leasing] based on what the best use of funds would be for the business as a whole.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Traditionally, fleets have looked at leasing as an all-or-nothing strategy. Either we lease our fleet, or we don’t. They would look at it in aggregate to the entire population of their fleet. But now we’re seeing that conversation around leasing shift to a more application-specific approach, where fleet managers are thinking, “Well, maybe there are portions of our fleet that we need to look at for leasing versus owning because those assets have different impacts to the service that we provide.”

Your Job Title Says ‘Fleet,’ But You’re Actually in Sales

Whatever position we’re in, we’re all selling something – an idea, a point of view or a proposal – whether we want to call it “sales” or not. That goes for fleet professionals as well.

In his book “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” best-selling author Daniel H. Pink put it like this: “Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. … Whatever our profession, we deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients. We try to convince the boss to loosen up a few dollars from the budget or the human resources department to add more vacation days.”

But far too many fleet managers believe a myth that’s putting their careers at risk: “My work should speak for itself.” The truth is that, even in fleet, perception is reality. And if you don’t intentionally shape the perception of senior leadership to match the reality of your work, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Think about it: Your fleet could be one of the top performers in the utility industry. But what if leadership doesn’t know what top performance should look like? All they see is that fleet costs keep going up. So, from their perspective, you must be bad at your job, right?

That’s why your long-term success in fleet hinges on your ability to sell yourself, your proposals, and your department’s performance to all stakeholders who have the resources and support you need to do your job right.

What does sales look like for fleet professionals? Check out this issue’s article “Budget Talks: Why Fleet Needs a Seat at the Table – And How You Can Earn It, in which we interviewed 30-year veteran fleet manager Chris Lindquist to help us dive deep into this topic.

The premise is that you can’t expect senior management to “get it” when it comes to fleet performance. That’s on the fleet manager. In the article, Lindquist offers four tips for how you can increase your influence on the discussions that impact your budget.

According to Lindquist: “You have to educate management by developing your models and business cases so that they understand that what the fleet department does actually dovetails with the company’s strategic objectives – that your fleet really does have an impact on the overall company dynamics, especially on the operational side where these budget dollars are being fought over.”

That’s the essence of sales in fleet. It’s not about obnoxiously tooting your own horn. It’s about the subtler arts of education, communication and demonstration to help all key decision-makers to “get it” – to shape the narrative that explains why your department should be entrusted with more dollars.

Sean M. Lyden


Storytelling for Fleet Safety

If you’re rolling out a new fleet safety initiative, you can expect some pushback from crews in the field or technicians in the shop. That’s a given because people tend to resist change.

But what if you could improve the odds that your message will get past that resistance and be more memorable and impactful – that it will actually change behavior?

You can … by telling stories.

Think about it. Even if your organization equips vehicles with all the latest safety systems and provides extensive driver training, you can’t be with operators every day, 24/7, to make sure that they remember to follow through on company policies. But a good story will stick with those employees, reminding them of lessons learned, long after it has been told.

So, what makes storytelling a powerful leadership tool to increase your influence? Why do stories work? Here are three reasons.

Reason 1: Stories open minds and reduce resistance.
Stories are effective at opening the minds and lowering the defenses of the people you’re trying to reach.

“A story activates a different part of the brain, where instead of being critical and analyzing, the audience is just listening to the story,” said Paul Smith, leadership trainer and author of the best-selling book “Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.” “It creates that open frame of mind in people in a way that data alone cannot do.”

The idea here is that you can use stories to influence people without wagging your finger at them or telling them what to do. Stories allow the listener to arrive at conclusions themselves, making them more receptive to you and more motivated to follow through on your message.

For example, suppose you’re rolling out an initiative that could bring significant change to your organization – whether it’s rightsizing the fleet, deploying telematics or rolling out a new safety procedure. You’ll inevitably encounter employees who don’t want that change to happen, who will do everything they can to undermine your efforts. After all, if stakeholders feel like change is being forced upon them, their minds likely will be closed to any opportunities the change could bring to them and the company as a whole.

How, then, can you get your employees to willingly – and, perhaps, enthusiastically – join you on the journey?

That’s where story becomes your tool for influence, your tool to open their minds and reduce their resistance.

You could tell a story about how you and your leadership team arrived at your decision, with a focus on the challenges you were wrestling with and what the stakes would be if you didn’t act.

In your story, be candid about the potential pitfalls that lie ahead. But also reaffirm your deep-down belief that the team can rise to the challenge if everyone works together.

Or, perhaps you could share a story about another company that confronted a similar situation but made it through with a strategy like the one you’re proposing. Then give your employees a vision as to why the change you’re proposing is vital to their success.

Reason 2: Good stories spread and endure.
Good stories are portable. They’re easy to remember and retell. In other words, a good story becomes an ongoing teacher that outlives its original delivery.

In ancient times – before the invention of writing about 5,100 years ago – humans passed on traditions, teachings and warnings through stories because that’s the way we most easily understand and remember important ideas.

But even as writing grew in prominence, stories continued to be a powerful means to influence and shape public opinion and culture.

Consider ancient philosophers and religious teachers, like Plato and Jesus. Plato used the technique of dialogue, involving his teacher Socrates as the main character, to make his philosophical ideas more engaging and easier to understand. And Jesus used parables to significant effect.

Those big ideas packaged in the form of stories have spread and continue to shape our culture today.

But you don’t have to be a philosophical, religious or even a literary genius to tap into the power of storytelling to achieve significant impact. A story can be a simple retelling of an experience that others can benefit from.

Cautionary Tale: The “Todd Story”
For example, I was in eighth grade, and Todd was in seventh.

We were cross-country teammates. And one mile into a six-mile run, both of our lives were about to change.

As we got about halfway up a small bridge, Todd stepped out onto the street to cross; I was still on the sidewalk about to follow him.

But in a split second, a car came over the top of the bridge from the other direction. The driver didn’t see Todd in time and struck him a few feet away from me.

Thankfully, Todd survived, but he was severely injured. And I was shaken up, as you can imagine.

The lesson: Only cross the bridge at the top where you have maximum visibility to traffic coming from both directions. And be a better lookout for your teammate so that you both get back home safely.

But the biggest reason why I share this story with you?

Although this incident happened over 30 years ago, the “Todd Story” is still talked about as a cautionary tale warning young runners at my alma mater to be vigilant about their safety on the streets.

Think about your own organization. What are the stories that carry safety lessons in your company? When you draw those stories out and share them, they can become part of the institutional knowledge that continues to shape the culture and influence behavior long after they’ve been told.

The big takeaway here is that stories endure. They live on – even after you move on.

Reason 3: Humans are wired for story.
The reason why stories endure is that our brains are wired for story.

As Lisa Cron, author of “Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence,” put it: “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

In other words, good stories grab our attention, draw us in and stick with us long after they have been told because our brains are wired to respond that way.

Take, for example, research by the neuroscientist Paul Zak.

Dr. Zak produced an animated story – which can be viewed at – about a 2-1/2-year-old boy named Ben who is suffering from brain cancer, and his dad, who is dealing with the inner turmoil of knowing something that Ben doesn’t – that the boy is dying.

In his research, Zak discovered that this story elicited two primary emotions from viewers: distress and empathy. And those emotions corresponded with the blood test that Zak performed on viewers before and after watching the story.

He found that the brain produces two chemicals when a story is told:

  • Cortisol. This hormone focuses our attention on something important. It correlates with our emotion of distress. The more distress you feel, the more cortisol you release, and the more attention you pay to that stimulus.
  • Oxytocin. This is associated with care, connection and empathy. The more oxytocin released, the more empathic and connected you feel.

Here’s the kicker: Those viewers who produced both cortisol and oxytocin were more likely to generously donate money to a stranger. In fact, the amount of oxytocin released predicted how much money people would give.

This is a prime example that good stories – when properly told – will literally change our minds in a way that also will influence our behavior.

The Bottom Line
Too often, leaders take a heavy-handed approach when trying to change behavior. Or, they’ll rely exclusively on data to hammer home their point. But if you really want to influence people and improve safety performance throughout your organization, try telling a good story instead.


Going Sideways: Technology that Protects Crews in Rollover Incidents

It was early 2017.

A crew for Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) was traveling on the highway in a Class 8 digger derrick when the unforeseen happened.

There was a truck pulling a trailer ahead of them when, suddenly, the axle broke off that trailer and began hurtling, with wheels still attached, toward the digger derrick.

As the OG&E driver swerved to avoid the incoming debris, his truck flipped onto its side before coming to a stop.

“The driver was okay, and the passenger broke his hand, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, who oversees about 2,000 of the utility’s fleet assets.

His crew was indeed fortunate. In fact, rollover crashes account for 55 percent of all commercial truck driver fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The driver did a great job by setting [the truck] down on the shoulder of the road,” he said. “If they had gone any farther, they would have hit the embankment.”

This was an eye-opening experience for Jefferson and his team. After all, even when you equip your trucks with stability control and advanced collision-avoidance technologies, and your drivers consistently follow safety best practices, there still are incidents like this that your people won’t be able to avoid.

So, if you can’t prevent all rollovers through technology and driver training, how can you at least reduce injury risk when a rollover does occur?

That’s the question Jefferson posed to his truck OEM reps.

The consensus: add a seat option equipped with the RollTek side rollover protection system by IMMI (

How It Works
RollTek combines side airbag protection with advancements in seat-belt technology to reduce the potential for death or serious injury in a rollover incident.

How does it work?

When the roll sensor inside the cab detects an imminent rollover, the system deploys three components in about a quarter of a second. The occupant pretensioner tightens the seat belt to keep the occupant secure in the seat. The suspension seat drops to its lowest position to increase survivable space. And the side airbag inflates to cushion the head impact, reducing head and neck injuries.

Passenger Seat Availability
Jefferson now specs RollTek-equipped seats on all of his fleet’s new Class 8 trucks. But when he first started ordering the RollTek option, his truck OEMs only offered it for the driver side.

“At the time, [the OEMs] didn’t have it engineered for the passenger side because there wasn’t a lot of demand,” he said.

But Jefferson pushed for the passenger option – and eventually got it added for his spec.

“I told [the OEMs] that if there’s ever an accident, you can’t tell the widow of the passenger, ‘It’d cost too much money to put [RollTek protection] on the passenger side,’” Jefferson said.

UFP reached out to Julie Cooley, director of marketing communications at IMMI, to get more information on passenger-side availability for RollTek. 

“While IMMI encourages the truck OEM to include the passenger-side version in their engineering project when releasing RollTek in a specific cab model, some OEMs do not elect to release a passenger-side version,” Cooley said. “Some OEMs may elect to release only the driver side initially, while later including the passenger side. A lot of time it is limited engineering resources being deployed to the highest volume.”

But Cooley added that IMMI has noticed a growing interest in the passenger-side version. “In the past, fleets that had included both sides were primarily van trailer applications,” she said. “Now we are seeing more demand of RollTek in vocational applications, and we are seeing vocational fleets that might have a driver and passenger in the truck specifying both sides.”

Under the Radar?
Are most utility fleet professionals aware of this type of safety technology? Or is it still under the radar?

“I think it’s still under the radar,” Jefferson said. “I really do. I’ve talked to some people in the industry about it. Most people don’t know about it.”


Safety Tech to Have on Your Radar
Besides side rollover protection systems, here are three other fleet safety technologies that may not be on your radar – but should be.

1. Anemometers for Aerial and Lift Trucks
Either hand-held or attached to the aerial platform, an anemometer measures wind velocity to ensure crews do not use aerial devices in unsafe wind conditions. One system from Etesian Technologies (, for example, alerts crews with a text message the moment that wind speeds exceed safe levels. 

2. Wheel Lug Nut Indicators
These are directional attachments to the lug nuts that enable the vehicle operator to quickly spot loose wheel nuts with a visual inspection. For example, with Wheel-Check (, the wheel-nut indicators are placed in a uniform pattern on the wheel nuts after the wheel nuts have been torqued to spec. This way, if a wheel nut becomes loose, the indicator will appear out of sequence, making it easy for drivers to spot it on their pre-trip inspection.

3. Voltage Detectors on Construction Equipment
These also are referred to as “power-line proximity devices” that alert operators when the machine gets near high voltage. For example, the Voltek NS by Voltek Systems ( uses a wire antenna running the length of the boom of the equipment to detect the electromagnetic field when working near power lines. The system translates the detected relative strength of the electromagnetic field into usable information for the operator. So, if the system senses a strong voltage signal, it will generate a warning siren with increasing frequency, telling the operator to proceed with caution. But if the machine gets dangerously close to a power line, the siren will alert with a more urgent constant sound, and the system will shut the machine down.


In a pre-show call for a fleet industry podcast, the interviewer asked me to talk about UFP and our audience to get insight into the range of topics we might discuss during the episode.

I shared what I’ve learned from speaking with many of you over the past four years. After I finished, the interviewer responded, “That’s amazing how much [utility fleet professionals] are responsible for and how much they must know compared to other types of fleets.”

He nailed it. Exactly.

As a fleet manager in the utility industry, there’s a high level of sophistication you bring to the job that’s not required in many other sectors. That’s because you have so much more on your plate than what you would deal with, say, managing an urban delivery or pharmaceutical sales fleet, where you may have a handful of vehicle types you’re working with – box trucks, pickups, vans and sedans.

But in the utility world, it’s a whole different realm. You’re managing road vehicles, trailers, off-road equipment and all-terrain vehicles. At some utility companies, even aviation assets, like helicopters and drones, are managed by the fleet department.

With road assets alone, you’re writing specs for the full gamut of vehicle types, from cars all the way up to Class 8 tractors, to accommodate a wide range of jobs. 

And you need to know a lot about accessories and upfits that strike the right balance between crew productivity and safety – such as truck-mounted bodies, strobes, compressors, cranes, aerial buckets and digger derricks.

You’re also a talent evaluator, recruiter and coach who manages a maintenance shop of skilled technicians and provides them with the safest possible environment to work in.

You negotiate complex multimillion-dollar equipment deals with a wide range of suppliers, where only a small mistake can create massive headaches for you, your team and the company as a whole.

And if you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re also leading the way in green fleet initiatives, such as with natural gas and electrification, bringing an even higher level of complexity to your job when it comes to equipment specs, procurement and maintenance.

I’m sure this just scratches the surface of all that you have on your plate. And a lot of what you do often goes unnoticed – until something goes wrong or an issue with a vehicle arises. But as I reflect on your role and responsibilities and all that you do as a utility fleet professional, you have my utmost respect.

Sean M. Lyden



How Technology Can Turn Idle Equipment into Revenue Generators

If you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re under increasing pressure from senior management to do more with less. So, when you’re looking for creative ways to squeeze as much productivity and value as possible from your fleet assets, what are your options?

One idea is to put your underutilized or spare vehicles to work as revenue generators by lending them to other fleets that could use them. But how?

There’s an app for that.

Truck rental and leasing giant Ryder ( recently launched COOP – pronounced “koop” – a commercial vehicle-sharing platform that links fleet owners with idle vehicles to trusted businesses in need of rental vehicles. Think of it as Airbnb for fleet assets, where you’re able to rent out your excess fleet capacity more efficiently and safely to companies that have been vetted by the platform.

The service came out of its pilot phase at the end of the first quarter this year and is live in Atlanta and its surrounding areas in Georgia. The company said that it’s planning to expand to other states beginning in January 2019 but has not yet announced those locations.

So, what types of equipment are on the platform? How does it work? What’s the pricing model? And will asset-sharing technology, like COOP, be useful to utility fleets?

UFP recently spoke with Rich Mohr, vice president and global product manager for Ryder Truck Rental, to get more details. Here are edited highlights from our conversation.

UFP: What types of equipment are available on the platform? Do you only have road vehicles, or is there also off-road and heavy equipment, such as all-terrain utility vehicles, backhoe loaders and excavators?

Rich Mohr: It’s all road equipment right now – from cargo vans and box trucks all the way up to tractors and trailers. We’re looking at offering other types of specialized equipment, such as storage trailers, dump trucks and things like that. But we haven’t had a request for any big specialty providers yet. We will definitely entertain it if the demand is there. It’s an ideal platform for that type of asset-sharing.

What is the onboarding process for both equipment lenders (owners) and borrowers to use the platform? About how long does it take?

The lender onboarding process is easy. Go to and fill out the form letting us know that you’re interested in lending your vehicles on the platform. We’ll call you, get all the information on the vehicles you want to place on the platform and verify your insurance. We’ll then schedule an appointment to walk you through the process for how to post your vehicles with pictures on COOP, or we’ll come out and help post the pictures for you. You’ll get your ID and password, and you’re ready to go the same business day.

For borrowers, it’s a similar process. Sign up on the website. You’ll get a phone call from the COOP customer service center, where they’ll gather information to verify your DOT number and insurance coverage – physical damage and liability. This will usually happen the same business day. And then, once we’ve verified insurance and your DOT number, if you have a good DOT record, we’ll then supply you with an ID and password so you can begin the orientation process.

Are there protection plans for maintenance and physical damage?

The borrower has the option to provide their own physical damage coverage through their insurance carrier or purchase COOP’s supplemental physical damage coverage.

The vehicle lender can either require the borrower to purchase COOP’s physical damage coverage or give the borrower the option to provide their own coverage.

But liability coverage is an absolute requirement to meet our minimum standards. And that protects the borrower and the lender.

What is the pricing model for borrowing the vehicle on the platform? Is it a daily rental fee, a per-mile fee or both?

There’s a daily rental rate and mileage rate. And then there are discounts available on the platform for longer-term rentals.

Who sets the pricing?

Early in our pilot period, we were helping customers set the pricing on their vehicles. And with the latest enhancements on the platform, we’re able to recommend what that piece of equipment should go for on the market. But the lender of the vehicle has ultimate authority to adjust the price up or down depending on their requirements.

As COOP expands beyond Georgia and trucking applications, do you envision this type of asset-sharing technology could be useful in the utility sector?

Yes. There are municipalities, for example, that are trying to keep their fleet as updated as possible, but many of them are strapped for cash. So, they’re looking for options where they can go and acquire equipment to supplement their fleet for the short term and, in some cases, the longer term. And one of the more efficient and affordable ways to get access to that equipment would be to borrow from one of their counterparts in the industry.


Making the Switch to LED Lighting in Utility Fleets

Lighting via the use of light-emitting diodes – more commonly known as LEDs – has been around for over five decades. But only in recent years has the technology surged in popularity, especially among utility fleets.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than conventional incandescent lighting. That’s a big difference in terms of energy consumption and longevity. But historically, LEDs have been too expensive for fleets to justify making the switch.

That is, until the past five years or so, as the price gap has narrowed significantly, presenting a more compelling business case for fleets to convert to LEDs.

Getting Started
Take PPL Electric Utilities based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for example. The fleet department began to expand its use of LEDs in 2014 for safety reasons.

“Our initial push was the safety factor of the brightness of the LEDs for better visibility when working at night,” said John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL. “And the prices were starting to come down at that time, making LEDs more prevalent. So, we decided to give it a shot and see how it goes. So far, the change to LEDs has been well-received by the operators and the crews.”

Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Fairfax, Virginia, said that his organization started spec’ing LEDs on a larger scale about seven years ago.

“The lower power consumption [with LEDs] was a no-brainer,” Collins said. “We could get better illumination and more reliability with less power. This way, we could use the lights without draining the battery or having to idle the engine, which saves fuel.”

What’s the difference in power draw between LEDs and conventional lighting systems in a real-world setting?

“In an LED strobe, the power draw is about 2.5 amps. But a conventional strobe with a power unit could draw anywhere from 8 to 12 amps,” Collins said.

And that difference in power consumption directly impacts crew productivity in the field.

That’s because, if your first-responder vehicles, for example, are equipped with conventional strobes, you’ll need to idle the engine to keep those warning lights on or you’ll drain the battery quickly.

“You better get back to start that engine up in about 20 minutes or the truck is going to fail to start,” Collins said. “But with LEDs on our crew trucks – and I’ve tested it myself – I can turn on all the ancillary lights, warning lights, compartment lights and everything else and shut the engine off. And four hours later, I can come back and still be able to start the truck up.”

LEDs also offer significantly better visibility in daylight than their conventional counterparts, which is an important safety consideration for vehicles with strobe or beacon warning lights.

“You have service tech vehicles with a beacon light on the vehicle to let other drivers know that the vehicle is stopping and starting,” Adkisson said. “The rotary beacons [equipped with conventional lights] aren’t as effective during the daytime – because they’re harder to see in sunlight than they are at night. But with an LED light, whether it’s day or night, you can see it flashing with no problem.”

Opportunities for Conversion
So, for what applications does it make good economic sense to switch to LEDs? Here are four to consider.

1. Warning lights.
“We use LEDs a lot in any vehicle that requires a strobe light, like the amber strobes that you put on, say, pickup trucks or the SUV-type vehicles for the meter readers,” Adkisson said. “The LED systems are programmable and don’t have the failure rates that we saw in the old rotary beacon lights.”

2. Electrified trucks.
Adkisson said that LEDs work well for electrified trucks, such as those equipped with electric power take-off systems, because they provide maximum light for crews in the field while minimizing the drain on the battery, allowing crews to work longer on all-electric power.

3. Workspace lighting.
“We use LEDs for scene lighting on our bucket trucks to provide lighting to the ground or on the deck at night,” Adkisson said.

Besides offering better visibility in the field at night, LEDs also emit very little light in the UV spectrum, which makes them less likely to attract insects in the summertime.

“[Not attracting bugs] might seem like a small benefit, but there’s something to be said for it, especially when your crews are working in an insect-rich environment,” Collins said.

4. Portable shop lighting.
“It’s easy to think that LEDs are just for the vehicle, but the shop is an area of opportunity to use LEDs that we don’t typically think about,” Adkisson said. “LEDs can have the same safety and productivity impact in the shop as they do in the field. And when you think about it, LED flashlights and droplights are not that expensive.”

The Business Case
How much more do LEDs cost upfront compared to conventional lighting systems? And what kind of payback can you expect?

“When we first started purchasing LED lamps [about 2011], they were considerably more expensive, costing at least a third – if not a half – more,” Collins said. “But now, because they’re more commonplace and have achieved economies of scale, LEDs are much more competitively priced, maybe 10 to 20 percent more. I can easily justify paying 10 to 20 percent more for LEDs just for the improved uptime and lack of maintenance.”

The Bottom Line
According to Collins, “We use LEDs wherever they’re available and wherever we can – everything from warning lights to job illumination to scene lights to interior lights at nighttime when our folks are filling out their paperwork. Wherever we can use an LED, we do it.”

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