Fleet Management Weekly asked leaders of fleet management companies to identify industry trends that their clients must focus on in the “new normal” that is anything but normal. Here are their top trends, substantiated with some additional reports:
By Ed Pierce, Contributing Editor
Overcoming Supply Chain Disruption
The supply chain has been chaotic for months due to factory closures, material and parts shortages, as well as delivery problems. This has created a domino effect that fleet managers must overcome.
The number of available fleet vehicles is still very limited. Manufacturers are focusing on reestablishing adequate supplies of retail vehicles for their dealers across the country, while also dealing with production delays due to the model year changeover as well as component shortages such as the ongoing microchip shortage.
This is due to many fleet operators choosing to delay or skip their order cycles during the peak of the pandemic, creating a perfect storm of unprecedented demand.
Fleet management companies and other transportation-related providers have worked hard to work around vehicle availability disruptions and have developed contingency plans to minimize any negative impact on our customers’ businesses.
The Transition to Electric Vehicles
A growing number of companies are looking into EVs as part of their sustainability strategies. Trends that are driving a transition include:
- Battery pricing – While the battery once represented 57% of the total cost of a light-duty EV, battery prices will account for just over 20% of total cost by 2025.
- Heavy-duty vehicle EVs – Most traditional van manufacturers have now launched electric models and sales are expected to accelerate in the 2020s. It is expected that 56% of light commercial vehicle sales and 31% of medium commercial vehicle sales will be electric by 2040.
- Although medium- and heavy-duty trucks are currently lagging behind, the use of electric trucks for urban duty cycles is likely to increase as battery capacity is less of a limiting factor.
- Fleet management companies are partnering with charging station companies, looking into charging card alternatives, detailing the entire EV ecosystem and ecosystem, sharing ‘best practices’ in the management EVs with clients.
Most FMC leaders confirmed that fleets are moving from the past decades’ gradual, niche-only sustainability programs to broader adoption. The reasons include:
- Natural gas, propane, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are all growing in terms of vehicle sales, fuel sales, and investment.
- Sustainability is the top motivator for purchasing decisions among early adopter public, private, and for-hire fleets
- Fleets report no material performance loss when switching and are more likely to switch if the sustainable alternative is a cost-neutral, drop-in replacement.
North America Gets Mobility
Like EVs, mobility is another industry trend that emerged in Europe before North America. As North American businesses are emerging from the pandemic and as CO2 reduction becomes a more urgent national priority, mobility can become another option in the toolkit of fleet managers as they focus on digitization, process improvement, operational efficiency, and competitive funding strategies.
Fleet management companies are looking beyond their role as asset managers and strengthening their value as integrated mobility providers that also offer services beyond vehicles.
Two inhibitors remain in the broad use of mobility:
- First, the large percentage of North American fleet vehicles tied to job functions compared to the large number of European vehicles provided as part of compensation,
- Second, the sheer land mass of the North American continent and long distances to be traversed by drivers in performing their jobs.
As one FMC leader noted that providing a budget for transportation instead of the automatic presumption of a company vehicle will encourage the use of alternative transportation in certain metropolitan areas.
Technology Drives Enhanced Performance Measurement
Data visualization, analytics, cloud computing, and telematics continue to be catalysts for change. They help companies make data-driven business decisions that result in tangible business improvement. New technology advances have led fleet managers to look for increased capabilities to make the most of data and use it to improve their operational efficiency and control costs.
They are no longer content to use historical data alone for planning because the quickening speed of change obscures future implementation possibilities. This raises the importance of predictive analytics. Fortunately, increased processing power, benchmarking capabilities, and data collection sources raise the accuracy of predictive analytics.
AI Fleet Management Applications Grow
Fleet management companies are currently evaluating artificial intelligence (AI) for several potential opportunities. AI is being used to scan invoices from repair service centers to determine if anything looks amiss. AI could impact renewal services in the license- and title space. AI can ensure that turn times and handle times are consistent across different landscapes, too.
One FMC recently introduced a service that facilitates digital transactions via an inbound telephone call that allows drivers to return to the road quicker, vendors to obtain credit, and customers to have the best overall experience with best-in-class cost management!
Business Intelligence at the Service Level
From a business intelligence (BI) perspective, fleet managers want to know what’s happening from a process output perspective. But they also want to be able to measure at a service level perspective or quality perspective, measuring the processes inside step by step. With that level of rigor, it’s possible to course correct, to build and manage statistically sound processes, and to create more predictable processes.
Last-Mile Delivery and Work Trucks
Before the pandemic hit, consumers were already shifting to online shopping. However, the pandemic accelerated this trend, and the demand for packaged goods is still on the rise, hastening the growth of last-mile delivery. It has changed the way that companies do business.
This unprecedented increase in volume calls for innovation. Fleet managers are looking at a range of management and vehicle strategies to maximize efficiency while lowering total ownership costs.
The recently published “North American Class 6-8 Truck Market – 2021-2026” by ResearchAndMarkets.com reports registrations in the U.S. have been recovering steadily since the second half of 2020 led by ongoing economic recovery driving up freight volumes and rates. The reports states that replacement demand across operators is likely to drive fleet expansion through 2022.
The industry also continues to make steady progress towards development of sustainable technologies geared towards de-carbonization of transportation. The rapid move towards de-carbonization of transportation and transition towards sustainability, along with connectivity and autonomous technologies is likely to drive significant replacement demand over medium-term across most traditional markets.
As with other vehicle sectors, managing supply side delays and disruptions, especially for semi-conductor chips, owing to the pandemic and its uncertain trajectory going forward, will be crucial to sustaining a recovery.