August 2008, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature
AT&T maintains extensive telecommunications networks to keep nearly 300 million people around the world connected each and every day. That responsibility requires a large corporate fleet — approximately 80,000 vehicles in total.
The Bigger, the Better
Last June, the company added more than 100 alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs)to its fleet, including compressed natural gas (CNG) vans, electric-hybrid OEM vehicles, and electric-hybrid conversion work trucks. Deployed throughout the country, the additional AFVs build on the company’s 2007 initial acquisition of Ford Escape Hybrids.
Considering that the 109 hybrids (four in 2007 and 105 in 2008) constitute only about a tenth of a percent of AT&T’s fleet, this may seem like a slow change. However, the strategy is deliberate. AT&T fleet managers know any implemented change will yield positive and negative outcomes on a large scale, and they must carefully select the right vehicles for their unique purposes. “Even the smallest improvement in fuel use across our corporate fleet can make a meaningful impact,” said Jerome Webber, vice president of fleet operations, AT&T Services Inc.
Choosing the Right Fit
“We require a fleet with multiple vehicle types, and one alternative-fuel technology does not fit all solutions,” Webber said. “For a relatively large number of our vehicles, no alternative vehicle substitutes are available from U.S. vehicle manufacturers at this time.”
To tackle this problem, AT&T is working with several key domestic suppliers to upfit vehicles into alternative-fuel vehicles for fleet use. “We can’t wait until the manufacturing of these vehicles is standard to start using them. We need to understand now how they work for our business, and we hope to signal to the manufacturers that there is a need for these vehicles,” Webber said.
Webber and his team conducted exhaustive research to accurately weigh the benefits and costs associated with different types of vehicles. “We were very selective in choosing which types of alternative-fuel and more fuel-efficient vehicles to deploy and where,” Webber said. “We’re exploring multiple fuel-saving and emissions-reducing solutions suited for diverse driving situations and locations.”
In their research, Webber and his team investigated vehicles for:
- Commercial availability.
- Technology maturity.
- Vehicle acquisition costs.
- Average cost per gallon.
- Greenhouse gas emissions.
- Associated tax benefits.
- Average miles per gallon.
Additional anticipated infrastructure (i.e., mechanic training, equipment, inspections, or refueling stations).
It was important for Webber and his team to find vehicles that supported their unique needs, particularly since AT&T has a relatively low-mileage fleet, and many AFVs are geared toward fleets that log significant miles and make frequent stops and starts.
“Most of our vehicles travel relatively short distances each day, primarily in concentrated neighborhoods. That’s why we’re placing our electric-hybrid vehicles in locations with a lot of stop-and-go traffic,” said Webber.