One of the most pressing issues facing modern fleets is how to deal with fleet maintenance and increasing technological disruption. As methods, technologies and vehicle construction change on near constant basis, how does an enterprising motor carrier keep up?
Today, fleets of all shapes and sizes are dealing with the unfortunate side effects of increased vehicle maintenance and service costs. As expenses mount, whether it be through new technologies or increased regulations, new methods are required to keep up with the change and keep costs down.
The evolution of the sector also causes planning for future costs that much more difficult. As regulations, technology and a diminishing labor pool make it even more difficult for today’s motor carriers to find talent, it’s especially important for those that are on the payroll to understand the ins-and-outs of fleet needs of today, especially technicians.
In today’s blog post, we will take a look at a number of fleet maintenance and technology changes that are impacting technical trucking trends of today. As motor carriers adjust their strategies to meet new challenges, they will need to stay on the forefront of the technological maintenance revolution. So, let’s dig a little deeper.
Profit Building Through Emissions and Fuel Standards
One of the most significant trends affecting fleets today is the ever-changing level of government regulation. While the new administration has made decreasing regulations one of its over-arching goals, there are still plenty of pending and “in-the-works” regulations today’s motor carriers will have to deal with.
Consider that fleets are still dealing with a change in 2014 engine technology standards and it’s not hard to see where new proposed regulations could cause further headaches, especially around vehicle emissions and fuel standards. The new front is in the EPA’s Phase II regulations, which are designed to remove around a billion tons of carbon emissions emitted from commercial motor vehicles between 2018 and 2027.
Although there’s time to adjust, what can fleets do today to prepare for the impending change? They will need to meet the challenge, but how to do that is an ever-present question.
One way to do this is through forging extensive partnerships with third-party logistics companies. These organizations’ sole focus is on developing methods to improve fleet vehicle fuel efficiency, and they have become quite adept at doing just that.
Here are some ways to lower transportation costs and provide yourself with a strategic advantage:
- Reduce the number of CMVs on the road through the use of technology and better route planning.
- Use fuels, vehicles and accessories that generate the lowest emissions per mile.
- Consider different trailer weight strategies.
- Spec your vehicles to maximize fuel usage and emissions.
By keeping these principles in mind, not only can you save money, but you can also make sure you stay in compliance with governmental regulations.
Addressing the Fleet Technician Shortage
It’s no secret that diesel engines and their components have gone through a series of upgrades and a major evolution over the past five-to-ten years. This is one of the core reasons why fleet technicians are so hard to come by these days.
The modern fleet technician needs to have a thorough understanding not only of – shall we say – “old-style” components, but they also must be knowledgeable in computer systems, software programs, alert codes, telematics components, sensor and video technology and so much more. This altered landscape makes it even harder to find qualified technicians who can get the job done correctly and efficiently.
If you take a look at the raw numbers, only 3,500 diesel and big rig technicians graduate from technical schools on an annual basis. To be frank, that number is simply not sufficient to meet the needs of our ever-increasing supply chain activities.
Current estimates are that around one million jobs are required, which by 2020 could see that number grow by another 17 percent. That’s a huge number of people; people who simply aren’t there.
Even worse, it’s not just motor carriers who are scrambling to find new technicians, dealers, service centers, independent garages and OEMs are also on a constant lookout.
So, what’s a fleet to do?
One way is to try getting involved with trade schools. By being present and visible to perspective graduates, you put your fleet at the front of their mind when they graduate and begin looking for gainful employment.
You could also establish intern programs, designed to offer potential technicians the ability to work alongside those they will be replacing when future jobs open. This method also provides them hands-on experience working with the methods they will employ in the future when it times for them to step up to the plate.
The Evolution of the Powertrain
Consider that three years ago more than eight out of 10 heavy duty Class 8 vehicles sold in Europe came equipped with an electronic automated transmission (AMT) and it’s not hard to imagine how much higher that number has risen since then. In the U.S., estimates put the current standard AMT option at around five in 10.
Going back to the EPA’s Phase II regulations, you’ll see that AMT-mandates are part of the package. The rule itself specifically states that the use of AMT transmissions will significantly reduce carbon emissions. They mention not only climate change, but energy security as reasons to make the switch.
Beyond EPA regulations and a general trend among OEMs, another driving force in AMT adoption is the fact that many new truck drivers consider operating a manual transmission as more of a choice, rather than a necessity.
Operating manual transmission CMVs has also led to the current truck driver shortage, as fleets have a difficult time finding potential truck drivers able to operate a manual vehicle. Offering AMT-equipped trucks is one way to help mitigate the shortage and pull more operators into the fleet pool.
But the AMT conversation isn’t all sunny skies and roses. The major potential downside to any fleet lies in the cost. AMT installation generally adds a $3,000 to $5,000 upfront cost to the initial vehicle purchase price.
One way to get around this cost is to consider leasing vehicles, rather than owning them. Signing onto a lease prevents you from having to shell out the upfront cost, while you still reap the benefits of operating under such a system.
Trucking Cost of Ownership
Discussing technician shortages and expensive AMT options logically leads us to our next trend, which is your typical truck cost of ownership (TCO). Today, maintenance and repair sits at around 15 cents per mile, per CMV you have operating in your fleet.
Behind fuel and the upfront capital required to purchase the vehicle, maintenance and repair costs are the costliest to a fleet’s bottom line. Still, a motor carrier’s total cost of ownership doesn’t end there.
Hidden costs include ancillary equipment costs, whether it be things like safety or data analytics, regulatory costs, insurance costs, idle time, or truck driver and fleet technician training costs.
The fact is, for a motor carrier to be truly successful and viable in the current environment, they’ve got to complete a thorough TCO analysis. By doing so, fleet managers can make better decisions on how to operate more efficiently and eliminate unnecessary costs.
A major driver in today’s higher cost environment is the increasing complexity of engine development and maintenance. Ensuring these aspects of a fleet’s expenses are included in the final analysis are crucial to keeping the bottom line intact. The best way to do that is to utilize the power of data. Speaking of which…
Utilizing Big Data
We’ve reported on it before in the QuickTSI blog and that’s because it’s a huge driver in today’s fleet management operations: The use of big data. CMV intelligence gathering technology has the potential to change the trucking landscape, and quite certainly, how your fleet does business.
New and innovative technologies enable fleets to better analyze the treasure-trove of information coming in regarding route control, maintenance schedules, employment scheduling and so much more. Just one way of using this information involves reducing the number of diagnostic steps required by at least half.
If a tool can be used to isolate a root cause and address it before it becomes a major problem, then it could be a life-saver in lowering costs and keeping fleet uptime at a maximum. As we’ve mentioned before, if fleets aren’t on the big data bandwagon, they are leaving a crucial tool behind in ensuring their operations are running at optimal efficiency.
And although these systems can be somewhat expensive, consider that they typically deliver a significant return on investment over the long term.
The fact is, the trucking maintenance landscape has been changing for quite some time, yet it’s never been more challenging then it is today. By ensuring your fleet is doing its best to both understand and harness these technologies, you’ll be settings yourself up to operate far above-and-beyond your competitors, who may be slower in adopting these technologies and adjusting to these new trends.
By always keeping maintenance and technological evolution in mind, you’ll be positioned for the future in a profitable, efficient and very beneficial way.
What’s not to like about that?