Designing the optimal fleet

Published in the June 2020 issue of Fleet Affiliation

Getting a job done using the right tools is always the most efficient path. When it comes to fleet composition, having appropriate tools becomes a game changer for controlling costs and allowing operations to run at peak efficiency. Taking the advice of a century old proverb, measure twice; cut once, can be applied to vocational truck design. Work truck specifications may become complex, and the details are a critical component to either a cost-saving tool or an underutilized, expensive piece of equipment. Taking time to understand global operations and the mission-related details are the first steps to designing an optimal fleet. Using a systematic approach and having the right team engaged is critical to ensure efficient design, ease of maintenance, and overall best value for effort and resources spent.

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Writing specifications – engaging the team
You’re likely in a position to understand what works and what doesn’t work for fleet operations. Having the right people designing vehicles is critical. Without the correct team in place, fleet managers often fall into the category of not knowing what equipment is needed and not having enough time or resources to design a proper vehicle. One common mistake when replacing equipment is using an apples-to-apples basis. Having representation from people using the equipment provides two main benefits. First, they are most likely to know how the equipment is used. Working with them can illuminate unseen issues. Small details can make a big difference. Understanding on-the-job requirements positions you (as the fleet purchaser) to design the most efficient vehicles. Second, having user representation on the design team often results in pride and ownership. Users with a sense of ownership, tend to take better care of equipment. This extends unit life and lowers maintenance costs.

Selecting the right vehicle
Take a moment, as vehicles are being replaced, to look at the vehicles’ mission. Have the needs changed? Has technology advanced? Are there new product offerings? Is a bigger vehicle better? Don’t assume a larger vehicle will get more work done. As operations become more complex, trucks have gotten bigger and heavier. A previous school of thought: if the unit fails, next time buy a bigger unit. While some may view having heavy duty vehicles at the ready as advantageous, there are, of course, costs involved. Take a look at the global operation. Make a productivity plan. Understand the needs and avoid across-the-board adjustments. In theory, downsizing can save money in the initial purchase. Additionally, less weight to move means less fuel consumed. Other saving opportunities may come from lower maintenance, licensing and insurance costs. Before leaping into purchasing smaller vehicles, it is important to make a productivity plan. On paper, downsizing sounds like a good idea, but it is important to fully understand the real and valid operating requirements. If physical vehicle size is not a changeable option, start looking for ways to reduce curb weight. There are opportunities to include light-weight chassis and body requirements. Furthermore, understanding the drive cycle can be critical. Right sizing components such as fuel tanks and batteries can be an easy way to reduce weight.

In the end, it’s about the bottom line. Engaging the correct stakeholders and having a plan positions you to procure the most cost-effective equipment for the task at hand.

If you would like to discuss this, or other fleet issues with NTEA, contact Chris Lyon, NTEA director of fleet relations.