By Tod Trousdell, Contributor
A full two months after it wrapped perhaps its most successful expo in a decade, the afterglow of this year’s NAFA I & E is still shining brightly as exhibitors and participants continue to buzz about their positive experiences at this year’s conference. For many, the 2022 I & E was the first trade show they’d attended since Covid restrictions kicked in over two years ago. Excitement was palpable as masks were few and hugs were plenty in what seemed to be a jam-packed two days on the show floor.
As it did at this year’s NTEA Work Truck Show in March, EV’s and all things electric took center stage with a plethora of new exhibitors supremely focused on electrification. This included everything from vehicle manufacturers to charging providers to a veritable smorgasbord of allied service providers peddling everything. Even traditional internal combustion vehicle manufacturers like Ford and GM seemed to go “all in” on the electrification theme, with Ford’s “PRO” booth touting all things EV with nary an ICE engine in sight.
Sensing perhaps their biggest opportunities in decades, fleet management companies were out in force touting their “EV” credentials. And while the recent Wheels, Donlen and LeasePlan announcement will undoubtedly change the face of FMCs, that didn’t stop the majority of the big ones from being active at NAFA. This included LeasePlan USA, which was so eager to demonstrate its commitment to EV’s that it had two executives drive a rented EV from the company’s Atlanta headquarters to the conference so it could recount the experience to interested attendees.
According to LeasePlan USA’s VP of Product Kris Bush, who delivered an overview of his drive to the show, the I & E not only offered the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the company’s commitment to the growing EV phenomena, it also allowed it to highlight LeasePlan’s newest telematics offering, “OneConnect,” as well as the latest release of its popular “My LeasePlan” driver app. Perhaps even more importantly, it gave Bush and his colleagues their first really solid opportunity to interact with customers and partners in ways they hadn’t for nearly two years.
“I know that for me personally – and for many of my colleagues as well – it was simply great to be back in-person with our clients and strategic partners at the NAFA I&E,” said Bush, a sentiment that was echoed by many attendees.
One of those – Masterack – reported perhaps the busiest booth activity it had seen in years. According to Vice President of Commercial Sales Brian Barber, the Masterack booth “was packed from the opening morning until even after it was time to clean up .”It was great to see folks, and we were excited by their reaction to our products and solutions,” said Barber. “Honestly, it was busier than we could have imagined, something we feel bodes well for our future.”
Competitor Ranger Design – an upfitter for over 30 years – also reported a busy show as it seeks to push further into the fleet and OEM spaces. The company showed up in full force and was pleasantly surprised by not only the amount of booth traffic it saw, but to attendees’ reaction to Ranger’s focus on helping fleets increase vehicle range with lighter, stronger products like their new carbon fiber offering.
And while talk of EVs dominated the show floor, several other hot topics were front and center throughout the busy two days. Among those, finding ways to enhance productivity while helping busy fleet professionals do more with less – an important benefit at a time when staff is being cut, companies are merging, and people are demanding to work from home.
That was especially good news for G. Satish, a CEO and first-time attendee whose company Connixt has a mobile app suite that helps customers quickly and easily automate and digitize things like maintenance and compliance, saving hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars a day in many cases. Satish said he was pleasantly surprised by his company’s booth activity, especially given that they had never attended NAFA before. “We had some really great conversations and were pleased to have a lot of meaningful contacts stop by,” Satish said. “People quickly grasped our ability to help them save a lot of time and money. We’ll certainly look forward to attending again in the future.”
Yet another hot topic – safety – seemed to be top of mind with the majority of both attendees and exhibitors, with many stating that the pandemic had negatively affected how dangerous America’s highways and byways.That was a fact that was reinforced by Phil Moser, Vice President of Customer Development for Driving Dynamics, a leading provider of driver safety training, coaching and fleet risk management. Moser, who has been attending NAFA conventions for 29 years, said many people he spoke with seemed saddened but not surprised that figures like traffic fatalities – up 19% from 2019 to 2021 – had worsened during the pandemic, even though fewer people were driving.
“It seems as though people became even more dependent on their electronics during Covid”, said Moser. This was an inconvenient truth highlighted in former LeasePlan USA CEO Mike Pitcher’s final keynote: “How To Save A Life.” “It’s unfortunate but until we bring electronics use while driving under control, I’m afraid numbers may continue to spiral. It’s unfortunate, and we’re afraid the numbers are only going to get worse if people – fleets included – don’t make a serious effort to rein it in.”
For their part, the NAFA team also seemed encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response to this year’s show. Officially, there were slightly more than 1,400 attendees and exhibitors. And while those numbers were still below pre-pandemic I & Es, “everyone could feel a new spirit and energy running through this year’s show floor,” said NAFA CEO Bill Schankel, CAE.
“We were definitely happy with the turnout and the fact that there was so much excitement around big topics like EVs,” said Schankel. “And we were especially happy with the fact that it seemed like a lot of people came to find answers to big questions, and they were able to vet those topics and discuss them with thought leaders and exhibitors. We heard a lot of robust conversations.”
Schankel also said the organization had received many positive comments about the leadership track and the ability to earn a certificate and learn new skills by attending the event. He also said he heard from many people who were excited to learn that NAFA will be splitting its popular “Best Fleets” awards into separate government and commercial fleet sides.
“There’s a lot of momentum and excitement in the industry this year,” said Schankel, who acknowledged that NAFA had suffered through a few less-than-optimal years before the pandemic. “We’re already busy planning for next year and we think the I & E will become even more relevant over time and that’s good for fleet.”
About the Author
Tod Trousdell is a marketing consultant and occasional contributor to Fleet Management Weekly. His firm, RobertsTrousdell specializes in branding, marketing, creative development and messaging and he can be reached at [email protected] or at 770-572-3453.