By Tod Trousdell, Fleet Marketing Consultant, RobertsTrousdell Marketing and Communications
As a marketing consultant working in the space for over a decade, NAFA I&E was my first fleet conference twelve years ago.So, after a decidedly slow convention last year due to Covid, I was eager to see how it would fare with most travel restrictions lifted, and most fleet folks essentially back to normal after more than two years of pandemic-induced malaise.
Making my way to Columbus, Ohio, I was curious to see what kinds of changes the conference had undergone. And while attendance seemed down from pre-pandemic days, what I found was somewhat surprising. With a robust mix of highly engaged professionals equally eager to reconnect, and seemingly re-energized by the opportunity to immerse themselves in all things fleet, I am convinced that while there are still many challenges to overcome, the industry has most likely turned a corner. And if obstacles like chip shortages and supply chain issues ever get straightened out, we could be looking at a golden, new era of fleet as several encouraging initiatives appear to be hitting critical mass.
With that in mind, here are five key takeaways from – and about – last week’s NAFA conference.
1. Fleet Professionals are Energized and Re-engaged
As I saw at last month’s NTEA Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, and last October’s AFLA Corporate Fleet Conference in San Antonio, fleet professionals are definitely excited to be meeting face-to-face, and there was a palpable buzz that could be felt from opening remarks until the final day’s closing keynote. And while it’s been tough to get a beat on NAFA’s trajectory the past few years, it was hard not to notice that even the final session of the Expo floor was awash with both people interested to learn and suppliers eager to showcase their wares. Whether it was merely excitement over a return to in-person attendance or a new direction for the space entirely remains to be seen, but it was obvious to both see and feel that people were energized and engaged.
2. EVs All Day. EVs All Night. EVs Forever!
As I also experienced at last month’s NTEA Work Truck Show, the fleet space has literally gone “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” over all things EV. And whether it’s electric vehicles, EV infrastructure, or even expertise around electrification itself, it seems whatever you’re selling, the industry is buying. In fact, it feels eerily reminiscent of the dot.com explosion when catch phrases and merely attaching one’s name to the movement could result in instant riches and credibility. And while the topic is crackling hot right now, it seems as though challenges around infrastructure, range and even whether EV’s are better for the planet could slow things down. That said, that won’t be happening anytime too soon, as massive government money, corporate sustainability initiatives and even the fact factories are being re-tooled to produce EVs, will make it hard to turn back. From my perspective, the EV movement has barely revved its engine.
3. FMCs Tighten Grip as Fleets are Pressed for Time and Resources
One of the things I hear repeatedly from fleet managers, and even more so from hybrid fleet/procurement professionals, is that they’re being asked to do more with less. This is forcing them to consolidate responsibilities, often in the form of asking their FMCs to handle everything from soup to nuts. And while I have my reservations about whether this is always in a fleet’s best interest, it’s a phenomenon I’m hearing about more and more (and NAFA was no exception).
4. Safety Still Top of Mind
While it may seem like something you’ve been hearing forever, safety is still top of mind despite everything else going on in the space, it’s something the folks at Fleet Management Weekly heard a lot about throughout the week, and it was even the subject of the I & E’s closing keynote. As NHTSA has reported, the nation’s roads have become exponentially more dangerous in the past couple of years, and we look to the automotive and driver safety industries to introduce new solutions to make our highways and those who drive on them even more safe as time goes by.
5. Changes at NAFA
The fleet certification boot camps and CAFM testing have been at the core of what NAFA is all about for years. Beginning next year, however, the boot camps will be conducted at different locations, and testing will be done online, which seems unfortunate to some people I spoke with and fine with others. In addition, there is discussion that NAFA will start recognizing a “Top Corporate Fleets” designation, which would be a welcome development given the fact that all 100 of the “Top 100 Fleets” named at this year’s conference were public fleets, while corporate fleets, a significant part of the industry, received only honorable mention.
Tod Trousdell is the owner of RobertsTrousdell Marketing and Communications and a long-time fleet marketing consultant with over 30 years in practice. His firm specializes in project work of all kinds including research, branding, campaign development and more. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.