Reading the Signs

Could telematics be the ultimate fleet maintenance solution?


When the NAFA Fleet Management Association held its annual meeting and exposition this past April in New Orleans, Mark Smith, general manager of strategic consulting with GE Capital Fleet Services, was there to learn from the attendees. During the event, the Eden Prairie, MN-based company conducted an informal survey of NAFA members to see what approaches they're taking to address some of the more pressing fleet operations issues of the day.

Fleet Maintenance: What was it about the attendees at the NAFA meeting made them such a valuable demographic for you to survey?

Mark Smith: NAFA members tend to be the fleet managers and directors that are very interested in staying connected with what's happening within the fleet industry. You can go down there and pretty quickly get the pulse of what people are thinking, how they're responding, what changes they see.

FM: In your survey, did you find that fleet managers are enthusiastic about green initiatives, or are they uncomfortable?

MS: Sixty-six percent of the fleet managers who participated in the survey indicated that their companies already have 'green initiatives' in place, while only about ten percent said that their companies aren't focused on going green yet. Some of the drivers behind that are increasing fuel prices, corporate sustainability initiatives, potential regulations, and taxes; they're all factors leading to an increase in green initiatives.
Another contributing factor is the technology improvements such as hybrids, smaller, stronger engines, cylinder management options, and other innovations that make it easier and more cost-effective to implement green initiatives than it was even five years ago.

FM: How many of the survey respondents were already showing positive results from their green initiatives?

MS: We didn't address this in the survey, however, we know from working with fleet clients over the years that the vast majority of them have been able to significantly reduce their emissions as well as their costs. Often, people tend to go green with hybrids, but there are a great many options available, including telematics, reducing or eliminating the use of SUVs, shifting to smaller vehicles, and selecting vehicles with smaller engines.

Typically, one of the first things we do when we work with customers on green fleet initiatives is to establish emissions and cost baselines, so that we can effectively set targets and track progress as initiatives are implemented. That's really important, because otherwise it's hard to show change. If you're trying to get driver support, manager support, executive support, you need to be able to say, 'Here's where we're at today, and here's where we want to be,' and then on a regular basis--monthly, or quarterly, or semi-annually--to be able to point back to that and say, 'All these things that we're doing are making a difference, both from a cost perspective and an emissions perspective.'”

FM: Were the survey respondents open to using new technologies, such as telematics, as part of their initiatives?

MS: Absolutely. More than 75 percent of those who participated in the survey indicated that the information provided by new technologies such as telematics will be critical to their ability to manage their fleets effectively in the future.

FM: Did the survey respondents indicate that they were taking full advantage of the capabilities of their telematics systems?

MS: Telematics should be integrated into many aspects of fleet management, so maintenance is definitely one benefit that comes out of it. Routing and scheduling is another one, keeping your pulse on driver productivity, in terms of how long it takes to service a particular customer--there are many ways that you can use telematics to change your business.

I believe that eventually telematics will become standard equipment on every vehicle that goes out the door. We're not there yet, but that day is coming, as the costs of the systems and the cost of staying connected continue to decrease. Eventually it will be very difficult for a professional fleet manager to be effective in their role if they don't have some kind of a telematics solution.

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