Controlling costs from the captain's chair

Published in the April 2016 issue of Fleet Affiliation

As a fleet professional – whether you are a spec writer, purchasing analyst, or fleet manager – you have direct input and responsibility on cost control. You may not be the “Captain” of the organization, but your contributions can be extremely impactful on the overall operation.

We’ve discussed how fleets are often the unsung heroes – viewed as a cost of doing business. A properly run and managed fleet is actually an invaluable asset to the organization; the potential is limitless. Professionals in a position to influence vehicle design can influence operational costs.

Cost management can start with vehicle design
Typical vocational work trucks are, as we know, not mass produced. They’re generally purchased for a specific application or job function. They often have detailed parameters and regularly require high levels of customization. Inadequate research paired with poor planning generally results in a pitfall of unintended consequences. How do you control these costs? The most obvious answer is proper vehicle design. A little more time spent on the front end with a well thought plan can:

  • Reduce initial acquisition costs
  • Reduce maintenance costs
  • Improve vehicle productivity
  • Reduce direct and indirect operating costs

It begins with vehicle design
Cost control can be directly impacted your vehicle design approach. These impacts will positively or negatively impact the bottom line of your next purchase. Before you begin your next vehicle design, research the application to fully understand the scope and requirements of the unit being purchased. Understand that you or your superior will have to live with the decisions for the life of the unit.

In beginning the design process, understand that there is no one right answer, as each organization’s dynamics can be fluid and require constant adjustment. Evaluating the performance and utilization of current vehicles can give insight into the functional requirements of your operation, while avoiding the pitfall of solely relying on what’s been done in the past. This is your first step to saving money. Requirements and equipment specifications often change from year to year. Advances and improvements in new technologies and regulations are constant.

Logical truck design
It cannot be stressed enough that the application should be completely defined. Lacking a complete understanding of functional requirements will almost certainly guarantee less than satisfactory, and often costly, results. Identify critical design constraints. This requires a reality check. Will all the pieces fit? Put ideas on paper and visualize the end result; this can often highlight design conflicts.



Don’t forget the functional requirements
How often is the specification for a truck chassis written first? This happens more often than professionals would like to admit. Designing the second unit (i.e., dump box utility body) first is critical to following logical truck design. This is where the functional requirements are designed.

Once this is completed, match the second unit to the chassis. Take a moment and do a final sanity check. Did you identify everything such as overall weight and dimensions? Regulatory requirements and impacts?

Keep the users involved
Keep the users and maintenance stake holders close in the design process. Look at current productivity: Are units over- or under-utilized? Why?

Talk with your maintenance personnel and review maintenance records to identify failure patterns and specific problems. Talk with your operators: Is the job environment they are working in effect vehicle design changes? Understand you will always have to make compromises. Finally, review and evaluate productivity after the unit has been in service to continue the cycle of improvement.

To discuss this or any other fleet issue with the NTEA, contact NTEA Director of Fleet Relations Chris Lyon at