Author: Sean M. Lyden

Sean M. Lyden has not set their biography yet

What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for Utility Fleets

As you evaluate the specs for your truck and van fleet this year, where do you see the best opportunities for improvement?

Could you take weight out of a truck to reduce fuel costs or increase legal payload?

Could you upgrade equipment so that crews could get more work done in less time with improved safety?

Or, could you electrify certain vehicles to cut both fuel consumption and your fleet’s carbon footprint?

Here are six new developments from truck and van equipment manufacturers that could help you uncover and capitalize on opportunities to improve your fleet specs and performance.

XL Hybrids
What’s New: XLP plug-in hybrid-electric upfit for F-150 SuperCrew; CARB approval

XL Hybrids Inc. recently announced that its XLP plug-in hybrid-electric system is now available for the Ford F-150 SuperCrew. The company also announced its newest approval from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which gives California-based organizations assurance that XL-equipped fleets will meet the Golden State’s rigorous testing and restrictions for carbon emissions.

Vehicles upfitted with the XLP system maintain the full factory warranty and receive a three-year, 75,000-mile warranty from XL Hybrids on the XLP powertrain. The system also includes XL Link cloud-based analytics, which collects millions of operational data points, measuring fuel economy performance and carbon dioxide emissions reductions, along with other key performance indicators.

What’s New: UltimateFX composite body and understructure for 56LS and 60LS configurations

Last fall, BrandFX announced that the UltimateFX, which features a lightweight all-composite service body and understructure combination, is now available for the 56LS (for 56-inch cab-to-axle chassis) and 60LS (for 60-inch cab-to-axle chassis) configurations.

According to the company, the UltimateFX is lighter than aluminum, while meeting the same standards for toughness as conventional steel. And it includes the first all-composite understructure on the market, which BrandFX says enables fleets to remount the body onto several chassis without worrying about corrosion, which traditionally has been a challenge with service bodies constructed with metal understructures.

What’s New: Optima Series added to Hi-Ranger distribution aerial device product line

In the fall, Terex Utilities debuted the Optima TC, TCX, HR and HRX Series, which features product enhancements in the heart of the company’s Hi-Ranger aerial device product line. Upgrades include greater payload capacity, better boom speeds, and enhanced side reach and ground access.

By using high-strength steel to reduce overall vehicle weight, Optima TCX and HRX now offer up to 1,000 pounds more vehicle payload capacity, depending on specific configuration and stability requirements. And Optima TC and HR models offer 3 feet more side reach, with a visual indicator light that shows the operator when the boom moves into the extended reach area of the working range. The optional Load Alert system further enhances safe work practices by monitoring the truck’s jib and basket capacity to reduce the risk of overload.

What’s New: 3/4 DuraRac Interior Shelving System with optional interior ladder rack

In December, Dejana Truck & Utility Equipment introduced the 3/4 DuraRac Interior Shelving System, which provides an additional 10 inches of space along the left side and can be configured with an optional interior ladder rack that eliminates the need for a roof rack, offering better security and improved fuel economy. The space also can be left open for storage of large items, such as signs, plywood or sheetrock.

The DuraRac Interior Shelving System features a design that lets you slide the entire storage system outside the vehicle for easy – and ergonomically safe – access to tools, parts and equipment. And the heavy-duty adjustable shelves can hold up to 300 pounds. Additional shelving units and inserts are available so fleets can configure the DuraRac system to fit their specific needs.

What’s New: Low-profile fiberglass enclosed service body

Altec recently introduced the company’s new low-profile fiberglass enclosed service body for three-quarter-ton and 1-ton trucks. The fiberglass construction reduces weight of the body to increase fuel efficiency and payload capacity, without sacrificing durability. And the body’s low-profile design allows for easier access into parking garages and other low-clearance areas.

On the exterior, the new body offers horizontal and vertical compartments with an integrated ergonomic ladder rack system on top that can hold two large ladders. The lightweight composite core material is manufactured with cross-linked polymer foam and fiberglass, which Altec says gives the body superior strength and increased payload capacity for heavy-duty utility fleet applications.

What’s New: Embossed aluminum van interior packages

Masterack recently introduced its embossed aluminum van interior system that offers the same level of strength and durability as the company’s other aluminum products, but with an embossed texture that gives the system a cleaner look – to conceal minor scratches and fingerprints that are usually difficult to remove from conventional aluminum products.

This aluminum system – which the company says is about 30 percent lighter than comparable steel shelving – features toolbox cradles, full-length drawers and a wide range of customizable accessories. And aluminum’s noncorrosive properties mean that the system will not rust, increasing its usable life while reducing total cost of ownership.


Utility Fleets to the Rescue in Puerto Rico

This story hasn’t been getting a lot of attention in the national press, but there has been a massive mobilization effort by utilities across the U.S. to send thousands of lineworkers, trucks and pieces of heavy equipment to help restore power to Puerto Rico, where many residents have suffered without electricity since Hurricane Maria pummeled the island last fall.

In December, several electric companies began mobilizing crews at the request of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in a coordinated effort with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, deploying nearly 1,500 additional restoration workers and support personnel to the island as of press time.

One of those utilities is Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), based in Oklahoma City, which is assigned to the Arecibo region on the northwest side of the island, along with Dallas-based Oncor and Houston-based CenterPoint Energy.

On January 18, about 60 of OG&E’s trademark orange trucks arrived at the port in Ponce, Puerto Rico, taking about two weeks to complete the 1,900-mile trek from Lake Charles, Louisiana. The plan is for OG&E’s first wave of 50 crew members to work for 20 days and then relieve those workers by sending a second wave of 50 to continue work for at least another 20 days.

Although 60 vehicles is a small percentage of OG&E’s nearly 2,000 fleet assets, a mobilization effort that involves sending that many pieces of equipment to an island a couple thousand miles away is no small task.

So, what exactly is a fleet department’s role in coordinating an overseas mobilization effort like this one? What are the key factors fleet managers need to think through to ensure things go as smoothly as possible for the crews?

UFP recently spoke with Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, to get a glimpse into the Puerto Rico storm-response process and any lessons he has learned along the way. Here’s an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: When you received word that OG&E was going to participate in the Puerto Rico assistance effort, what were some of the initial steps from there? How did you determine the number of fleet assets to send?

Paul Jefferson: [EEI] asked for 50 linemen from us, and we needed to also send a couple mechanics, safety personnel and supervisors – so about 60 trucks total. Once OG&E’s [transmission and distribution] management figured out which crews were going, they selected the trucks to bring. Then my role was to review the list and approve or substitute units so we don’t send any equipment that’s not up to the job. 

There’s also a lot that goes into getting the barge ready to haul the vehicles. In the area [of Puerto Rico] we’re working in, we’ve teamed up with Oncor and CenterPoint. And CenterPoint has a lot of experience with barges, so they took the lead with the barge. But we needed to pull together quite a bit of information to give to the barge company – truck weight, size, height and so forth – for all the assets we were sending over.

Then you have insurance, where we needed to state the value of the vehicles so that our corporate risk department could get coverage in case something happens to the vehicles on the barge on the way over.

When you were evaluating the initial list of vehicles, what were some of the things you were looking for to help you determine whether to approve an asset or substitute it with something else?  

The biggest thing for me is that I didn’t want us sending over our oldest trucks or spare trucks or stuff like that. I wanted to make sure all the vehicles were good to go, and I ended up substituting a couple of them.

But even with the best equipment, things break down. How do you manage maintenance, parts inventory and repairs on vehicles that are operating on an island a couple thousand miles away? 

We’re primarily an International truck fleet, so I got online to see if there were International dealerships that we could use near us in Puerto Rico. And we found a dealership where we could use our fleet charge account, which was good because we get national pricing.

In terms of parts, we took quite a few of what we thought would be high-moving items with us on the trucks. And we’ll use those first. If we need any parts that we don’t have, we’ll then go to the dealer.

But one challenge is that we run Goodyear Tires but [Goodyear] doesn’t have a commercial tire center over there. They just have automotive stuff.

How did you and your team address the tire situation?

We ramped up the number of tires we took with us, putting them on our flatbed trucks and mechanics’ trucks for shipping on the barge, and then storing them at our staging area in Puerto Rico. Worst-case scenario, we may have to put on a different brand tire.

What has been the impact on your operations?

One impact on the company is that while the trucks were being shipped for two to three weeks, some of the linemen didn’t have a truck. So, they had to share equipment with each other during that time.

How does the fleet department go about planning for a large-scale mutual-assistance effort like this one – especially when it’s overseas?

A lot of it comes from our knowledge from past storms. We’ve worked ice storms and tornadoes and hurricanes on mutual assistance before. So, our team got together and talked about what we might need to come up with for a list. We then reached out to our vendors, telling them what we wanted and when we needed those things by. And they palletized the cargo for us, sent it to our garage and put it on our trucks.

And we have a document for storm response that we follow. We have a list of volunteers, mechanics who want to work on these mutual-assistance efforts. We have a list of standard truck parts and tires we take on mutual-assistance storms. And we have a list of phone numbers of our vendors. So, for example, Goodyear Tires has a special phone number for utility companies working on mutual assistance so that when you have a tire problem, there’s a phone number that puts you at the front of the list. And, for our International trucks, we have a fleet charge account that is part of the package that mechanics take with them that has our fleet charge number there, so if they’re at an unfamiliar dealership, they can still use our account.

Was there anything unique that wasn’t on your typical storm-response list because this was for Puerto Rico?

One thing we did is that we got with Altec and Terex to add Spanish versions to our warning decals on our bucket and line trucks, which typically are only in English.

Was that something PREPA requested or required?

No, we just did that on our own. We felt like it was the safe thing to do.

What advice do you have for other utility fleet managers on how they can best prepare and execute their storm-response plans?

I think the main thing is to make sure you have a base plan in place. It may change, but at least you have a starting point to follow. I never dreamed we’d be going to Puerto Rico two years ago. So, try to think outside the box of any place you might be going and think through plans accordingly.


Is Cash Still King?

The potential for lower acquisition costs, greater control over resale pricing, no debt added to the balance sheet – these are a few advantages of purchasing vehicles outright, which traditionally has been the prominent fleet acquisition strategy for many utility companies.

But according to Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates (, a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Maryland, there’s also a big downside to cash: It can lead to “suboptimal decision-making” that undermines your fleet’s performance, especially in an era of low interest rates. Lauria contends that paying for equipment over time – whether with a loan or lease – or as needed with short-term rentals creates a more flexible structure where fleet departments can improve the age, condition and performance of their vehicles at a significantly lower total cost of ownership.

“Any organization that wants to optimize the total cost of ownership of its fleet has to figure out the right balance of capital and operating expenditures,” Lauria said. “A lot of organizations don’t do this; they underspend on fleet replacement costs, with the result that they overspend on fleet operating costs.”  

So, why has the utility industry traditionally resisted financing equipment purchases? In what ways does cash purchase impact fleet decision-making? And how can fleets strike a more optimal balance between capital and operating expenditures? During UFP’s recent conversation with Lauria, who has advised hundreds of government and utility fleets since 1985, we dug deeper into these questions. Here are edited highlights.

UFP: From your perspective, why have utilities tended to resist the idea of financing their vehicles?

Paul Lauria: Traditionally, investor-owned utilities have preferred to own their fleet assets because the amount of fixed assets carried on their balance sheet is one of the things that goes into setting rates. So, having assets on the balance sheet can be advantageous financially, even though it may be disadvantageous from a fleet management perspective. Leased assets are owned by the lessor, not the lessee, so switching from ownership to leasing might adversely affect a company’s rate base.

A company can finance the purchase and ownership of fleet assets with debt, which does not create this problem. However, many utilities have statutorily established or self-imposed limits on how much debt they can carry on their balance sheet. So, if they have to choose between borrowing money for infrastructure projects – such as building a new power plant or transmission line – and borrowing money to buy vehicles, it’s not surprising that they’re going to want to use their borrowing capacity for more expensive capital projects.

But when you say that cash can lead to “suboptimal decision-making” by fleet departments, what do you mean by that? In what ways?

The first thing you see with organizations that purchase vehicles outright with cash is that they tend to put off the replacement of vehicles as long as possible. That’s because, in the short term, from a financial impact standpoint, fixing an old vehicle is always going to require less cash than replacing that vehicle.

If the only way management will let me buy a new truck is to secure $50,000 in funds to pay for that truck up front, then it will always be easier for me to scrounge up $5,000 or even $15,000 to repair that truck than get $50,000 to replace it. This incentivizes fleets to put off purchasing replacement vehicles as long as possible, despite the ongoing costs from repairs and downtime. Decisions that make no sense from an economic or total cost of ownership perspective can make perfect sense from a short-term budgeting and cash flow perspective.

The second drawback of purchasing fleet assets outright with cash is that, once an asset is in the fleet, users of the asset tend to treat it as though that capital cost doesn’t exist anymore.

What do you mean?

Say two years ago we bought a $50,000 truck, but the mission of the business unit for which the truck was acquired has changed. They’re not using the truck very much anymore, but hey, it’s “paid for.” We paid for it two years ago, right? So, let’s hang on to it just in case we need it. Or maybe we’ll keep it and use it for some other purpose – even if it’s not necessarily the best type of truck for that purpose. This one’s paid for, so we’ll make do with it.

The problem with this type of thinking is that, in reality, a vehicle is not paid for until it is no longer in the fleet. The capital cost of a vehicle is what you paid to acquire it minus the proceeds you received when you disposed of it. In other words, this type of thinking ignores the fact that there is an opportunity cost – the cash that can obtained by selling an asset – that is incurred when a company holds onto that asset when it no longer needs it to fulfill a bona fide business need.

So, with outright cash purchase, you’re less inclined to get rid of that asset even though, in real economic terms, it is depreciating every day. In contrast to when you acquire an asset using a loan or lease, there’s not an awareness of the ongoing cost of having that piece of equipment sitting out in your yard.

But how does paying for the vehicle over time help change this dynamic?

When an organization leases or debt finances fleet replacement costs, it is better attuned to the management of the total cost of ownership of those assets than is the case when it purchases them outright. These financing methods make it hard to ignore the 40 percent or so of a fleet’s TCO that is depreciation. Spending $15,000 to repair an old truck doesn’t seem very logical if you can acquire a $50,000 replacement truck under a loan or lease where the capital cost of that truck in the next year is only $7,000 or so. So, whether we’re talking about a lease or a loan, those kinds of pay-as-you-go financing methods lead to better decision-making related to the allocation, repair and replacement of fleet assets.

Why do you think it’s important for utility fleet managers to explore alternative vehicle acquisition strategies in today’s market?

We’re in the latter stages of a long economic expansion. At some point in the not-too-distant future, there will be another recession, and with that – as many fleet professionals know from painful past experience – there will be a cutback in fleet replacement funding levels. So, the time to be getting your fleet replacement house in order – to institute a multiyear replacement planning process, to determine appropriate replacement cycles for the key types of vehicles in your fleet, to assess the merits of alternative financing methods – is now, while the economy’s still good and interest rates are still low. Once that window closes, it will be too late for many companies to do these things until the next recession is just a memory.

Fleet’s Expanding Role in Making Sure Lineworkers Get Home Safely

Lineworkers truly are heroes in our industry – and in our communities. I’ve gotten to see this firsthand as a resident of Central Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma last fall, leaving many of us without power for over a week. So, you can imagine how heartening it was to see all the convoys of bucket trucks from out of state and Canada coming down to Florida, with lineworkers who had left their families to work around the clock to restore power to our area.

Now we’re seeing a massive mobilization effort by utilities across North America to help Puerto Rico, where many residents have been without power for several months since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

As fleet leaders, you play a big role in making these storm-response missions successful by ensuring that crews have the equipment they need to serve our local communities, often in harsh weather conditions, and return home safely to their families.

It’s this safety component that I want to zero in on in this letter. When your crews are performing storm-response work, how can you give them complete confidence that their fleet equipment is safe and up to the task? That begins with you making sure that you’re continually covering all your bases when it comes to fleet safety. And we’re here to help you do just that.

At Utility Fleet Professional, we’re dedicated to safe fleet operations. That’s why we’re partnering with the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo to offer an all-new fleet safety track in Loveland, Colorado, April 24-26, 2018.

The fleet safety track brings in utility fleet leaders, safety professionals and industry experts to talk about these topics:

  • Advanced Ergonomics: Spec’ing Truck Bodies & Equipment with Ergonomics & Economics in Mind
  • Autonomous Vehicles are Coming Sooner Than You Think: What You Need to Know to be Ready for the Safety Challenges They Will Bring
  • How Technology is Improving Tool Safety
  • Going into Autopilot: Is Technology Preventing or Causing Increases in Driver Incidents?
  • Aerial Platform Safety: How Florida Power & Light Uses Automatic Load-Sensing Technology to Reduce Risk
  • Spec’ing Aerial Equipment for Maximum Safety: Best Practices that Protect Your Workers
  • Eyes in the Skies: How You Can Use Drone Technology to Mitigate Utility Safety Risks

The bottom line is that fleet safety requires continuing education as new safety challenges emerge. So, if you’re interested in learning the latest trends and best practices to build a safer fleet – to ensure utility crews get safely home to their families each and every day – then consider joining us at the iP Utility Safety Conference in Loveland. For more information and to register, visit

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sean M. Lyden


The Final 3

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

This issue’s Final 3 participant is John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL Electric Utilities (, based in Allentown, Pa. The company serves 1.4 million residential, commercial and industrial customers in central and eastern Pennsylvania and has about 1,800 total assets in its fleet.

#1. Build relationships.
“One of the most important keys to success for any fleet manager is having good relationships with internal stakeholders [fleet/transportation personnel, field management, finance, executive leadership] and external stakeholders [vendors, regulatory agencies]. Your success as a fleet manager will be tied directly to your effectiveness at building these key relationships.”

#2. Don’t be afraid of change.
“Ever-changing conditions both within and outside of your control will require you to adapt the way you manage your fleet. Instead of wasting energy fighting to keep things the same – and possibly destroying the relationships you’ve built – focus that energy to manage the change and build on the new.”

#3. Communicate.
“And I don’t mean email, either. In today’s technology-driven environment, it is easy to lean heavily on email and other electronic communications to get things done. However, the effective fleet manager will take the extra effort to make the phone call or do the face-to-face visit with key stakeholders. The time you invest in this one area will pay huge dividends when you need buy-in from your stakeholders for a required spec change or when you need help answering a question on a topic outside of your comfort zone.”


4 Leadership Lessons from Utility Fleet Conference 2017 at ICUEE

Highly effective fleet professionals are also great leaders. That’s because the job of fleet manager is about more than managing assets; you also have to work through people to get things done.

And that was one of the key themes discussed at Utility Fleet Conference 2017, an intensive three-day fleet education and networking event held October 2-4, produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine and co-located with the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville, Ky.

If you missed the conference, here are four leadership lessons that were shared over the course of the event that can help you become a more influential and effective fleet leader.

1. Avoid generational stereotypes.
In today’s utility fleet work environment, there could be as many as five generations represented – with ages ranging from 18 to 80 – each bringing a substantially different perspective toward their work and life. And this dynamic is likely causing a degree of generational tension and conflict on your team. So, how can you more effectively manage employees across multiple generations to create a positive, highly productive work environment?

The starting point is to resist the urge to see employees through the lens of generational stereotypes, said Jim Finkelstein, author of the book “Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace,” in his keynote address that kicked off the conference.

You know the stereotypes: “Well, he’s one of those lazy, entitled millennials, and that’s why he calls in sick so often.” Or, “He’s just so old school. What does he know about how things are done today? Why should I listen to him?”

Instead, Finkelstein said, develop unique motivational profiles of your employees. What truly motivates this person? Or, as Finkelstein put it, “What melts their butter?”

That’s because when you invest the time to get to know each team member on an individual basis, you discover that their motivations often defy the stereotypes. And this gives you better insight into how to lead these workers most effectively and create a vibrant culture where people want to come to work – no matter what generation they represent.

2. Redefine your success by redefining your customers.
“Optimum success [in fleet management] is based on customer perception,” said author and longtime utility fleet professional Tim C. King during his presentation on “Fleet Services: Managing to Redefine Success.”

In other words, your success is defined by how effectively you can help your customers achieve their definition of success. And that begins by understanding the customer’s needs, desires and expectations.

But the challenge is that many fleet managers have a narrow view of exactly who their customers are, often defining them as only the business unit managers and end users, which limits their capacity for reaching their full potential.

So, if you want to achieve optimum success in your fleet career, King said, then expand your definition of “customer” to include any stakeholder who – whether directly or indirectly – impacts your success. These could include:

  • The company owners and executives
  • Midlevel managers and supervisors
  • Drivers and operators
  • Ancillary customers, including peer support groups
  • External customers, including regulators, vendors and the local communities

The idea here is that when you take a wider view of who your customers are, you put yourself in a frame of mind where you can more effectively serve each stakeholder in a way that makes you more valuable and indispensable to your organization.

3. Expand your influence throughout the company.
A common misconception by senior management is to view fleet as a cost center – a “necessary evil” – with little appreciation for the value the fleet department brings to the business as a whole. So, when it’s time to cut spending, the fleet budget becomes a primary target, putting greater pressure on the fleet manager to do more with less.

How do you counter this impulse at your company and bolster your influence with senior management?

Matt Gilliland, director of transportation, aviation and facilities at Nebraska Public Power District, tackled this topic in his session on “Communication Strategies and Tactics: How to Expand Your Influence.”

He said that if fleet managers want to lead and direct their teams more effectively, they must correct the perception that they have limited influence within their organizations. And one way to do that is to continually reinforce to all stakeholders the idea that fleet is irreplaceable and vital to the organization’s success. After all, Gilliland said, “No truck, no work.”

A tactic that Gilliland and his team have found effective for keeping fleet top of mind at Nebraska Public Power District is to put together a periodic “Fleet Focus” e-newsletter that’s sent to about 750 company employees. Each newsletter provides high-level summaries of the fleet’s performance and other relevant news, with links that recipients can click to dig deeper into the details that interest them most.

Some of the other key points Gilliland shared:

  • Be known as the fleet expert, not only within the company but in the industry as well.
  • Look and dress the part.
  • Foster collaboration by bringing together specification teams that include a wide range of stakeholders – beyond fleet – in the equipment spec’ing process.
  • Invite decision-makers to join you at professional events, trade shows and vehicle/equipment in-services.

4. Leverage your influence to help shape the future of the industry.
When using aerial devices, lineworkers must know the weight of personnel, tools and the load they’re lifting with respect to the position of the jib and boom. But inaccurate weight information or assumptions in the field can undermine job site safety. And this was becoming a serious concern at Florida Power & Light.

So, a couple years ago, Joe Suarez, director of fleet operations at FP&L, teamed up with Terex Utilities to develop a solution: an automatic load-sensing system that supports safe work practices when using aerial platforms.

In their session, “Fleet Safety Case Study: Using Technology to Alert Users to Overload in Aerial Platforms,” Suarez and Dan Brenden, director of engineering at Terex Utilities, shared their story about how they collaborated to design a technology solution that gives crews greater confidence when operating the equipment.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this session is the fact that this product did not exist until a fleet manager took the initiative and risk to help bring forth an important safety system that could be available for the entire utility industry to use.

As Suarez encouraged other fleet managers at the conference to leverage their influence in the industry: “Be willing to take the lead to try something that has never been done before.”


Save the Date: April 24-26, 2018
If you missed Utility Fleet Conference at ICUEE in October, you have another opportunity to learn, grow and network as a utility fleet leader. From April 24-26, we’ll be offering the Utility Fleet Track, an intensive three-day fleet education event produced by Utility Fleet Professional magazine and co-located at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo ( in Loveland, Colo.


Tips for Spec’ing Truck-Mounted Compressors

Utility fleets use truck-mounted compressors to power air tools that break pavement, pressurize gas or water mains, blow in fiber optic cable and perform numerous other jobs depending on the type of utility.

And these compressors are available in a wide range of configurations that directly impact your initial cost, ongoing maintenance expenses, the truck’s payload capacity and cargo area, and worker productivity.

So, how do you filter through all the options to select the optimal compressor for the job? Use these “3 P’s” as a guide.

1. Purpose
Begin with the end in mind. What exactly are the jobs you will need an onboard compressor to perform? What air tools will you be attaching to the system to do that work? And will you ever need that system to power multiple tools simultaneously?

Also consider the environmental conditions the compressor will be operating in, said Ralph Kokot, chief executive officer at Vanair Manufacturing (, a mobile power system provider based in Michigan City, Ind. “Is the truck going up to the Alaska North Slope? Then you’d want to have a cold-weather kit on [the compressor] versus if the system is being operated in South Florida.”

2. Power
Once you know the compressor’s purpose, you’re able to address the next question: How much power, in terms of standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM), will you need to operate your air tools with optimal efficiency?

This is an important question because a common mistake fleet managers make is to spec much more power than they’ll ever need because “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” said Chris Lamb, national accounts manager for VMAC (, a British Columbia, Canada-based manufacturer of air compressors and multipower systems.

As a result, Lamb said, those fleets pay more upfront than they need to. And they also often pay more for ongoing maintenance, particularly when they spec a larger abovedeck compressor – also called a utility-mount or cross-body air compressor – mounted on top of the truck body, that’s powered by a separate gas or diesel motor and not by the truck’s engine.

But selecting an underpowered compressor also can be costly for fleets by negatively impacting worker productivity. 

So, how do you strike the right balance when determining the best SCFM for your application?

A good starting point is to consult an air consumption guide for the air tools your crews operate. As an example, see Vanair’s “Air Tool Consumption Guide” at

Dale Collins, fleet supervisor with Fairfax Water, also offered this rule of thumb: “I spec the compressor according to the highest SCFM tool that is going to be used. Most times, a rock drill consumes the highest amount, around 115 SCFM at 100 psi. Then we add 30 percent for surge to develop the rating of the minimum required compressor. And when you add 30 percent to 115 SCFM, that’s a total of 149.5 SCFM minimum. So, in this case, a 150 SCFM compressor will work just fine for running one tool at a time.”

3. Placement
Your power requirements will dictate your options available in terms of the type and placement of the compressor – whether it’s an underhood, underdeck or abovedeck system.

What’s the difference? Here’s the breakdown. 

Mounted inside the engine compartment, this compressor is powered by the truck’s engine and typically spec’d for light- to medium-duty compressor applications. Lamb with VMAC said that underhood systems can provide as much as 150 CFM or “power up to two 90-pound pavement breakers,” depending on the class, make and model of the vehicle. 

This compressor is mounted within the vehicle’s frame rails – underneath the truck’s deck (or body) – and connected to the vehicle’s power-take-off system. Kokot with Vanair said that underdeck compressors usually fit applications that require between 125 and 200 CFM, “and that’s really where the center of the [compressor] market is right now.”

Powered by a separate gas or diesel motor, this compressor is mounted on the truck’s body. Unlike underhood or underdeck systems that must fit within tighter areas, abovedeck compressors can be larger to offer more power for heavier-duty jobs.

But make sure your application absolutely requires the size and power of an abovedeck configuration before spec’ing that type of system, Kokot said. That’s because abovedeck compressors cost more money upfront, take up valuable cargo space on the body, are heavier than other options and require having to maintain a second motor on the truck. 

The Bottom Line
So, what size and type compressor best fits your application?

“The answer really depends upon the air consumption requirements of the tools that you’re using,” Kokot said. “And that dictates the direction you’ll consider to determine whether you should choose an underhood versus an underdeck versus an abovedeck system.”


What’s Accelerating Electric Vehicle Growth?

It wasn’t long ago that relatively low fuel prices put the brakes on momentum for alternative fuels. But electric vehicles (EVs) appear to be defying that trend, even as conventional fuel prices remain low.

Consider the recent headlines. Norway intends to ban the sale of new diesel- and gas-powered cars and trucks in favor of EVs by 2025. China is planning to follow suit by 2030, with France and the U.K. each setting their targets for 2040. And, as of press time, the state of California is considering its own ban on non-EVs, which could have a huge ripple effect throughout the U.S. market.

Then there are major automakers – beyond Tesla – pushing the pace toward electrification. In October, General Motors announced that it’s pursuing an “all-electric future,” with 20 new fully electric models to be launched by 2023. Volvo, Aston Martin and Land Rover have introduced similar plans.

And according to a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EVs could represent the majority – 54 percent – of new car sales by 2040.

So, what’s driving this momentum toward EVs? Here are three factors.

1. Battery cost continues to drop, while range increases.
The battery is the primary contributor to the price premium of EVs, but that’s starting to change – fast.

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

Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst with Navigant Research (, predicts a similar time frame. “As battery prices continue to drop, you get to a point – about 2024 – where some electric vehicle models become cost competitive with internal combustion engine cars without the [government] subsidies. And when you then factor in how much cheaper EVs are to run, you’ll really see this market taking off.”

As batteries drop in price, they also need to last longer for mainstream buyers to embrace EVs. Recent developments are making this possible, said Karl Popham, the head of emerging technologies and electric vehicles at Austin Energy (, the nation’s eighth-largest publicly owned electric utility.

“We’re not only seeing major advancements in lithium-ion technology, we’re also starting to see some real disrupters in the market – a new chemistry, a new technology that could offer four times the [energy] density, really increasing the range,” Popham said. “We could see battery ranges of 400 to 500 miles in the not-too-distant future.”

2. EV charging infrastructure is readily available.
Why does electrification appear to be gaining traction in an era of low fuel prices, while other green fuel technologies, like compressed natural gas and propane autogas, seem to be hitting some resistance?

The answer lies in the wider availability and significantly lower cost of the “fueling” infrastructure, according to Popham.

“The fueling infrastructure for EVs is already there,” he said. “With those other fuels, it can be very expensive to build a sufficient number of fueling stations to adequately serve the market. But with EVs, drivers can simply plug into an existing standard electrical outlet, something over half of the cars in our territory do today to meet the majority of their charging needs.”

What about consumer resistance to changing behavior when it comes to remembering to charge their vehicles?

“Typically, I don’t hear a lot of complaints on plugging in,” Popham said. “Once they buy a car, it’s more like remembering to charge their cellphone. And even though in Austin we have over 600 Level 2 charging ports and growing, over 85 percent of EV charging is still done at home, behind their existing meter.”

3. Electrification is expanding into the truck segment.
One of the challenges of electrifying this segment has been that trucks typically require bigger, more powerful batteries, putting the price tag out of reach for most consumer and fleet buyers alike. But now, as battery range improves and costs continue to drop, a growing number of OEMs and third-party companies have begun offering more affordable electric-drive systems for trucks.

Consider these developments from just the past few months.

  • In May, Workhorse ( unveiled its plug-in electric W-15 pickup that’s expected to be available in 2018.
  • In August, Chanje Energy (, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of electric commercial vehicles, unveiled its new electric delivery van that, as of press time, is expected to be available by the end of 2017.
  • In September, Boston-based XL Hybrids ( introduced the first-ever hybrid-electric upfit for Ford F-250 pickups and chassis for commercial fleets.
  • At the Tokyo Motor Show in October, Daimler Trucks ( unveiled its all-electric heavy-duty E-FUSO Vision One with a range of up to 350 kilometers (217 miles).
  • Tesla ( CEO Elon Musk said the automaker will introduce its all-electric semitruck before the end of the year.

The Bottom Line
Momentum is building for EVs, which will give you more electrified options to consider for your fleet in the coming months and years, so continue to watch this space.

How Will You Adapt?

Our story begins in 2009.

It was only eight years ago, but so much has happened since then.

At that time, we were in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The idea of calling an Uber using your smartphone was still about a year away from happening. And a niche electric carmaker, Tesla, had just received a major cash infusion to pull the struggling company from the brink of bankruptcy.

That’s also when search engine giant Google launched its self-driving car project.

If you recall, at the time, the idea of robot cars still seemed like science fiction – a long way out in the future. And any work being done in this space was primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That’s what makes Google’s foray into this space so remarkable. Here was this young private-sector company willing to put significant resources into what the firm has described as a “moon shot.” This bet on autonomous vehicles represented an unprecedented level of commitment by the private sector for an unproven, highly expensive technology.

But today that bet is starting to pay off with wide-ranging ramifications.

To date, Google’s self-driving car project – now branded as Waymo – has logged over 3 million autonomous miles. And that success has spurred on a lot of healthy competition, with traditional automakers and other Silicon Valley companies entering the race. Industry consensus is that we’ll start seeing at least Level 3 autonomous vehicles – where the human driver must still be ready to take back control when the system requests – legally hitting the market in 2021.

Let that sink in for a moment. That’s less than four years from now. 

And sure, there are still big hurdles and many questions – beyond the technology – that government, industry and citizens must answer before robots will rule the roads. But the U.S. and other world governments are actively working on developing legal frameworks to address societal concerns and give automakers the regulatory clarity they need to go all-in with autonomous vehicle production.

As a journalist who has covered the fleet industry for over a decade, I spend a lot of time talking with smart people about the intersection of technology and transportation. From what I’m hearing – and if the past year is any indication – we’re accelerating toward a self-driving world.

So, what’s your plan? How will you adapt to the big changes coming soon to our industry?

Sean M. Lyden


Joining Forces to Accelerate Green Fleet Adoption

If you’re looking to green your fleet in a way that’s good for both the environment and the business, you don’t have to go about it alone.

That’s the message of Clean Cities (, which was formed in 1993 by the U.S. Department of Energy and, today, has nearly 100 local coalitions that bring together businesses, fuel providers, vehicle fleets, government agencies and community organizations all pursuing the same goal: cutting petroleum use in transportation. Some of the program’s recent utility fleet success stories include Pacific Gas and Electric, Public Service Company of New Mexico and Atlantic County Utilities Authority in New Jersey.

The idea behind Clean Cities is that investing in green technologies at a meaningful scale can be a high-risk, high-cost endeavor for most fleets to shoulder alone. But what if you could connect with other fleet managers and experts who have real-world experience with vehicle electrification, natural gas, propane autogas, biodiesel or whatever technology you’re looking to deploy?

You could significantly reduce risk and tap into economies of scale that make your green initiative more affordable – and more compelling to the business.

It’s Clean Cities that helps make those connections happen at the local level and across the country, said Dennis Smith, Clean Cities national director, who, prior to joining the program in 2001, served as director of energy services at Atlanta Gas Light Co., a large Atlanta-based utility.

“The basis of what makes the Clean Cities coalition network successful is this idea of teaming up – not just locally but also with different cities around the country – to share their experiences and lessons learned,” Smith said. “And by joining forces, they can really accelerate the adoption of the technology.”

Matching the Technology with the Application
One area where Clean Cities assists fleet managers is providing access to technical experts who can help you determine which alternative fuel technology would best fit the fleet application and your organization.

For example, what fueling infrastructure do you need to have in place to ensure the technology is practical for day-to-day use in a particular application? What will be the impact on vehicle maintenance and the qualifications of the technicians you need to work on those vehicles? What modifications, if any, do you need to make to your maintenance shop to safely accommodate working with certain alternative fuels?

Getting informed answers to questions like these is important because, when you consider that the technology could add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of each vehicle, along with any capital investment for fueling infrastructure and potential shop modifications, a major mistake today could seriously undermine support for future green fleet proposals in your organization.

“A lot of what Clean Cities does is to play matchmaker – to help fleets decide which fuel or which specific vehicle would work best in a particular application,” Smith said. “Each of these green technologies performs a little differently or would be better suited for a different application.”

Smith said that fleet managers can also get access to tools and calculators through Clean Cities that can help them perform feasibility studies to determine which types of technologies could save them the most fuel and achieve the quickest payback.

The Power of Collaboration
When it comes to adopting green fleet technology, fueling infrastructure is a major hurdle for many fleets to overcome. Clean Cities provides a forum where you can connect with other fleets that are looking to engage in similar initiatives, presenting opportunities to collaborate in ways that might reduce infrastructure costs for all parties involved.

“With most of these alternative fuels, you need to have a new kind of fueling station or electric charger or something,” Smith said. “And it’s not cost-effective for everybody to always have their own fuel station. So, you need to combine forces with other fleets, utilities or other entities in the area to see who’s like-minded and wants to do something similar. And maybe by teaming up, you’re going to use enough fuel to make it cost-effective for either you or another outside group to come in and help build those fueling stations.”

But you not only have to consider potential capital costs of building on-site fueling, you also need to learn about the logistics and permitting processes to make those projects happen.

“If fleet managers have never done this before and don’t understand what permits they need from the city to install their fueling station, many times the Clean Cities coalition can help with that by introducing them to the fire marshal or to another fleet that did exactly the same thing and can show them how that was done,” Smith said. “So, a lot of what happens is forming the right teams and partnerships so that people can benefit from all of that kind of knowledge. That’s the real value, I think, of why people would want to be involved [with Clean Cities]. Otherwise, they’re left feeling that they’re doing it on their own, or they’re the first to try to do this, and they’re a pioneer. But they can really do it so much more quickly and effectively – and almost guarantee success – if they’re teaming up with people who’ve done it before.”

Navigating the Funding Landscape
Government incentives and grant programs for certain alternative fuel technologies are in a constant state of flux and differ across states and municipalities. So, how do you keep up? How do you navigate this shifting landscape to determine which programs your fleet qualifies for?

“One of the first things that people usually think about when they approach the Clean Cities coalition is, ‘Do you have access to any grant money or any funding sources to help us?’ And that is something that the coalitions are good at,” Smith said. “Sometimes, over the years, Clean Cities has had some grants or award money where we can help with projects, and other times when we don’t, sometimes the states have funding. Or there may be other incentives available. Clean Cities can help connect the dots to make sure that fleets are aware of all of the incentives or the local or regional or state laws that may have benefits for them.”

Getting Involved
What level in the organization usually takes the lead in working with Clean Cities to launch a green fleet initiative? Is it the fleet manager, or does senior management drive this process?

“Most of the time it’s the fleet manager, but with some of the big fleets, senior management does get involved, particularly when you’re talking about large vehicle purchases and the millions of dollars that need to be justified to a board of directors or at public hearings, particularly where utilities are involved,” Smith said. “But fleet managers definitely have to be involved because they’re usually crunching the numbers and specifying the vehicles. And they’re the ones responsible on a day-by-day basis to make sure the vehicles do what they need to do.”

So, what’s the first step for fleet managers to get involved with Clean Cities?

“Each Clean Cities coalition is a little different, but the best starting point is to go to the Clean Cities home page and enter your ZIP code to see where the closest Clean Cities coalition is to you,” Smith said. “It tells you who the local coordinator – the lead person – is, along with their contact information. Then contact them to find out when the next meeting is scheduled.”

What can fleet managers expect at the meetings?

Smith offered this description: “It’s like a Rotary Club of sorts for people who are interested in [alternative fuel technology] topics. Sometimes the meetings are at fleet locations so that you can talk to the fleet manager or drivers at that location to see what their experiences have been with a particular technology.”

Utility Fleets Leading the Way
Smith said that many utility fleets have been especially active leaders in Clean Cities over the years. “The utility fleets have a unique perspective in that many of them serve as the pace-setters – the pioneers – in trying out these technologies. Whether it’s a gas or electric utility, they’re some of the first organizations that get out there to try the natural gas or the electric vehicles. They feel like they should lead by example, and many of those utilities have served that role.”

Utility Fleet Professional

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


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

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

Get the iP Digital Edition App

© All rights reserved.
Back to Top