Nobody Asked Me, But...

The System is Still Broken

July 7, 2015

by - Also by this author

My daughter recently had a dance “emergency.” They happen fairly regularly and typically are accompanied by all the usual histrionics preteen girls are known for. This one involved a broken makeup case and the need for a new one in two days — or less — to be available for an upcoming competition. Amazon rode to the rescue, again, as it usually does. A quick Web search, a click of a button, free Prime shipping, and it was on the way. And, my daughter was able to track it from packing, shipping, receipt by UPS, and receipt by various shipping centers, and was eventually able to find out when it was loaded on a truck for delivery and what time it was going to be delivered.

When “Brown” showed up outside our house, she was waiting for him. It’s a testament to technology, logistics, and the modern age of convenience.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have to look at the modern OEM vehicle ordering and delivery process. It was broken when I started in this industry more than 20 years ago. I can remember Ed Bobit regaling us with stories about lost vehicles, fleet vehicles being sold off the dealer lot, and vehicles being lost in the system for weeks or even months.

This was before the Internet was an everyday business tool. This was before GPS was commonplace. This was before RFID tags could be had for pennies. But, gather any group of fleet professionals and you will still hear those same stories. And, if anything, it has gotten worse over time.

The system is broken in a few places. To the outside observer, both areas seem quite fixable. The first breakdown occurs when the vehicle leaves the assembly plant. There are rail car problems, upfitter backlogs, and a hundred other potential trouble points in the transit process.

But, if Amazon and UPS can track a $12 makeup case with almost hourly updates, then I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that someone should be able to track a $35,000 vehicle with a similar level of accuracy. GPS is cheap. RFID is even cheaper. Walmart uses RFID tags to track how many cans of soup are on their shelves.

Surely the upfitters, railroads, and manufacturers can put together some sort of similar system. Fleet managers don’t necessarily need to take delivery any more quickly than the system currently provides, but they do need to know where the vehicle is and when, within reason, they can expect delivery.

The second breakdown in the system occurs during the actual delivery process. There is a real shortage of professional fleet dealers today. And, the delivery process itself isn’t any better than it was 20 years ago.

A seemingly obvious solution would be to outsource the whole delivery process to a third party. There are several fleet vendors who are perfectly positioned to pick up the vehicle from the dealer, deliver it personally to the fleet driver, do a thorough walk around, and make the process generally painless for the driver. But, there is a Catch-22 in the process that would make even Joseph Heller jealous.

Dealers, for the most part, do not want to be bothered with low-margin courtesy deliveries. Their business is booming and this is often seen as an unnecessary distraction. The manufacturers, on the other hand, are terrified of offending their dealers by taking away this part of their business.

Until someone blinks here, fleet managers will continue to deal with a broken system. But, when someone does solve this problem, it will be a heck of a competitive advantage for some manufacturer (or maybe a lessor) and there will be much joy in the fleet business.


  1. 1. Sheryl Grossman [ July 07, 2015 @ 11:20AM ]

    This has and still is one of the biggest issues for fleets...and you hit the nail on the head. Hope someone blinks to put a workable solution into the system with some urgency. It may not be broke in totality, but maybe someone should break it and rebuild it!

  2. 2. Ricky Beggs [ July 07, 2015 @ 01:32PM ]

    Sherb, right on target and I agree there are solutions to the 'knowing where the car is all through the process' but getting all that are part of the shipping together with this technology is imperative. You may be planting the seed to get the ball rolling. Thanks for always thinking and supporting the fleet industry.

  3. 3. Julie Bromley [ July 10, 2015 @ 10:13AM ]

    Absolutely true! I will never understand - or accept - the inability to track a vehicle through the production and upfit process. This limitation results in vehicles literally being "lost" for weeks on end and, when "found" they are often nowhere near being ready to ship and deliver. Which, as you say, is another problem entirely. I hope all our voices will be heard and the system fixed. It is an operational imperative for our industry.

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Sherb Brown

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Sherb Brown is the vice president and group publisher for BBM's AutoGroup. Sherb has covered the auto industry for more than 12 years in various positions with Bobit Business Media.

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