Streamlining Choices

A valuable resource for utility fleet managers, the industry’s providers of rental and leasing services use their understanding of each fleet’s unique needs and objectives to match the most appropriate financing and acquisition strategies to particular operations.

For most fleets, a balance of ownership, rental and leasing is an effective choice. Utility Equipment Leasing Corporation (UELC) points out that understanding the benefits of those options is an effective way to run a fleet. Ownership is the clear choice for fleet managers, but gaps in fleet portfolios are a reality. Rental units maximize the immediate demand necessary to fill current gaps while leasing can be structured for longer-term, fixed and potentially lower payments that preserve capital for investment in a business and may not impact existing lines of credit. Depending on their structure, lease payments may offer a tax advantage and leasing can also avoid the risk of equipment obsolescence that comes with ownership through upgrade, trade-in and return provisions designed to provide flexibility.

In business since 1967, UELC provides utilities, municipalities, contractors and other fleets with a single source for their equipment rental and leasing needs. UELC has a complete rental fleet to meet daily, weekly, monthly or long-term needs. Late-model equipment in the nationwide rental operation averages 2.5 years old. This equipment is offered at a fixed cost without hidden charges for mileage or hours of use. The all-inclusive rental rate also includes maintenance for hassle-free utilization of the equipment. Customers are only responsible for fuel, lubricants and daily inspections to ensure safe operation.

Lease programs from the company include standard packages or customized solutions for long-term lease options toward the purchase of new or late-model equipment. Through DUECO Inc., a UELC sister company, Terex bucket trucks, digger derricks and cranes can be built to each fleet’s specifications. UELC structures financing programs for the equipment using capital, operating, municipal and split lease solutions.

Other UELC rental options include a rental purchase agreement that gives fleets the option to purchase or return the vehicle at any time during the term of the rental. This enables operations to test equipment prior to purchasing and to leverage the payments already incurred toward the purchase of the vehicle.

To learn more about UELC, visit

Empowering Solutions for Utility Fleets
When the cold winter winds whip across the prairie, folks there count on NorthWestern Energy to supply the gas and electricity they need to heat and light their homes. And the folks at this innovative and award-winning utility company count on ARI to help them manage a complex fleet of nearly 1,000 vehicles – from passenger cars and pickups to service vehicles to bucket trucks and digger derricks – ensuring vehicle readiness and reliability while providing up-to-date reporting, visibility, accountability and significant savings.

“We picked ARI because of the services they offered, their software and the way they managed vehicles,” said Ron Anderson, manager of fleet and equipment for NorthWestern Energy. Throughout its expansive service area, customers count on NorthWestern for dependable service – and ARI helps keep NorthWestern’s fleet on the road so the company can maintain its reputation for reliability.

The relationship dates back to 1995, when ARI began providing fueling and maintenance services for a South Dakota utility that NorthWestern later acquired. As NorthWestern grew into the company it is today, its relationship with ARI grew. Today, ARI provides a comprehensive range of fleet services for NorthWestern, including accident management for leased vehicles, licensing and title management, fuel management, renewal management, fleet administration, preventive maintenance and more.

“NorthWestern is a growing company, and we’re always looking for ways to support them, whether by reducing fleet-related costs or by helping make sure their vehicles are always ready for the road,” said Rob Hoysgaard, a utility fleet expert at ARI.

Recognized by Forbes as one of the nation’s 100 most trustworthy companies, and a five-time winner of the utility industry’s prestigious ServiceOne Award, NorthWestern operates in 121,000 square miles spread across Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. For vehicle maintenance, the company often relies on vendors throughout the area, in towns large and small. In-house mechanics can’t always check up on shops in outlying towns. As a result, it can be difficult to ensure that preventive maintenance is done on schedule and to maintain high quality standards. To address this issue, ARI recently implemented its Garage Management System (GMS) application, customizing it to meet NorthWestern’s needs.

“We took a look at the system and said, ‘What if …?’” said Anderson. ARI responded by streamlining the process of opening and closing work orders, eliminating functionality not essential to NorthWestern’s operation, like scheduling, and making other changes to reflect the way NorthWestern works. ARI customizes all of its technology solutions in this fashion to meet clients’ needs.

A part of ARI’s Integrated Fleet Solution, the Web-based GMS combines maintenance data from internal and external sources for more efficient, accurate, up-to-date reporting and – ultimately – lower operating costs. It feeds cost information into the ARI insights system and tracks parts.

The GMS increases productivity, streamlining the maintenance process by helping the company manage technicians, vehicle preventive maintenance schedules, unscheduled repairs and parts inventories, while consolidating all vendor-in/vendor-out data with other fleet activities.

Using ARI insights, NorthWestern can capture all vehicle activity, including new vehicle delivery, licensing renewal, IFTA/IRP, DOT and ANSI inspections, accident repairs, and used vehicle removal and remarketing. The ARI fuel management program automatically captures fuel transactions and uploads them within 24 hours. All the company’s fleet information is available on the secure ARI portal – vehicles, preventive maintenance fuel costs and more.

“When I open the ARI website, I can take a look at the alerts we’ve established, look at fuel costs on an ongoing or monthly basis. It’s very helpful for my budgeting,” said Anderson. “If someone calls me about maintenance, I can put in the vehicle number and the information is all there – the last service, what was done. When we get ready to sell, if we take the vehicle to a local auction, we can print out a complete record from the day the vehicle came into the system.”
The site is easy to navigate and customize. Most important, NorthWestern can use ARI insights to improve operations, enhance productivity and, ultimately, reduce costs – and that all supports a better bottom line.

ARI is committed to its partners’ success, and it demonstrates that commitment every day. Robb Zavitz, ARI’s Minneapolis-based account manager, is often in touch with NorthWestern. Dave Robinson, the account coordinator, provides a daily single point of contact within ARI to ensure that everything is working smoothly. Jerry Allen, an ARI regional manager, served NorthWestern from 1995 until he retired from ARI in December 2009. That longevity is unusual in fleet management, but typical for ARI. In fact, most of the ARI team has more than 20 years of vocational fleet experience.

Whether it’s handling the paperwork for licensing and titling in every county in the three states where NorthWestern has operations, or providing insight into vehicle specifications, ARI does what it takes.

“If we have a question on specs, we can go to one person at ARI, and it gets taken care of,” said Anderson. Once the company, which has a contract with a vehicle manufacturer, finalizes the specs, ARI handles the ordering and then provides updates on the status of production and delivery, including everyone from the chassis manufacturer to the upfitters of bucket trucks or digger derricks. When it’s time to look at replacements, NorthWestern relies on a unique vehicle replacement analysis model (VRAM) designed to save maintenance dollars and ensure that mission-critical vehicles remain up and running. In addition to age and mileage, VRAM incorporates maintenance costs, model year, criticality and other factors that impact life cycle – all based on data already in the ARI insights system. VRAM then ranks each vehicle in the fleet for replacement priority.

“We can tell you which vehicle is No. 1 for replacement, and which is 956,” Anderson said. A faster, more accurate vehicle replacement model delivers value by helping companies like NorthWestern optimize their assets, lower their cost of ownership and ensure that mission-critical vehicles are available when they need them.

For more information, visit

Expert Advice
Each fleet has unique financing needs, notes PHH Arval, a provider of fleet management services. At the company, consultants work with fleets to tailor lease financing to meet needs while also making sound economic sense. Among the many variables considered are the expected service life of vehicles, current interest rates, and a company’s risk profile and business culture.

PHH offers multiple fleet lease structures to best meet each operation’s requirements. Included are fixed or floating rates, open or closed-end leases, and self-funding or bank plan options.

PHH integrates its experience with information provided by vehicle manufacturers, safety-rating agencies, and its own data to help select and order fleet vehicles appropriate to each set of needs. Online tools make it easy to perform side-by-side comparisons of fleet vehicles, and analyze life-cycle costs based on replacement policies.

PHH also offers a pool of fleet vehicles ready for immediate delivery and an out-of-stock vehicle locator system, which finds vehicles in existing dealer inventories.

For more information, visit


Seth Skydel

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Utility Fleet Professional

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