North American Fleet, Lease, and Remarketing Operations of Ford Motor Company is dedicated to the procurement, service, and remarketing of fleet vehicles.
“Our goal is to maintain our status as the best total fleet provider in the business,” said Kevin Koswick, director of Ford Fleet.
Koswick pointed out that Ford Fleet’s customers benefit from the efficiencies of a single-source contact and find value in the exclusive benefits specifically tailored to the needs of managing an automotive fleet. Benefits include special fleet incentives, advance notice and preview of new product information, special vehicle options, and priority scheduling and allocation to meet specific production requirements.
Ford’s Newest Offerings Increase Capabilities for Fleet Drivers
Ford’s newest product offerings for the 2009 model-year continue the manufacturer’s focus on developing vehicles targeted to the needs of the fleet industry. For 2009, Ford’s best-selling full-size pickup offers more capability, more choice, and more “smart features.” In addition to an all-new front appearance and interior package, the 2009 F-Series has many new features, including an industry-exclusive tailgate step previously introduced on Super Duty. Cargo management and midbox storage applications are available to assist customers with managing equipment and cargo.
Also for the 2009 model-year, Ford’s class-leading E-Series full-size vans receive an interior face-lift with greatly enhanced functionality. With a redesigned instrument panel and console, new door trim panels, and functional enhancements that include upfitter switches, engine hour meter, and a reverse camera system, E-Series continues to deliver features important to fleet customers.
“We are also continuing to focus on sustainability by offering E-85 capability on both the 4.6L and 5.4L engines,” said Koswick.
Another vehicle milestone for Ford includes the all-new Flex, which redefines the crossover segment by offering greater cargo and people-carrying capabilities, including best-in-class second-row legroom, a rear backup camera, and front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Flex offers fleet customers who require room to carry large displays, merchandising materials, and product samples the flexibility to “do it all.”
Ford Work Solutions Provides Better Flexibility and Security
Ford’s new innovation Work Solutions application is now available on F-Series, Super Duty, and E-Series. The product offers customers new technology features designed to improve productivity.
Ford Work Solutions delivers an in-dash computer developed with Magneti Marelli and powered by Microsoft Auto that provides full high-speed Internet access via the Sprint Mobile Broadband Network and navigation by Garmin. It’s the first broadband-capable in-dash computer in production, according to Ford. This system allows customers to print invoices, check inventories, and access documents stored on home or office computer networks — right on the job site.
The system also features Tool Link, a radio-frequency identification (RFID) asset tracking system developed in partnership with DEWALT and ThingMagic. The system enables customers to maintain a detailed real-time inventory of tools or equipment stored in the pickup box.
Ford Work Solutions also offers Crew Chief, a fleet telematics and diagnostics system that allows small fleet owners to efficiently manage their vehicles, quickly dispatches workers to job sites, and keeps detailed vehicle maintenance records.
The Cable Lock feature, a security system developed in partnership with Master Lock, discourages theft of expensive tools too large to fit in the cab.
Customer Feedback Critical in Ford’s Product Design Phase
When designing new vehicles, Ford relies heavily on the voice of fleet customers to assist in identifying future feature requirements and forward-model product planning.
“We are committed to the fleet market and realize that for us to continue our success, we need to provide customers with products that meet and exceed their needs,” Koswick said. “Our Fleet Advisory Board provides us valuable information, and we use its members often as a sounding board for product- and service-related questions.”
The Advisory Board’s role has expanded greatly over the past few years. Now, several Ford engineering and product strategy teams contact Ford Fleet regularly with requests to meet with the Advisory Board members to obtain or confirm product direction.
In addition, when Ford Fleet requires information and feedback from customers, focus groups are scheduled at a central U.S. location and customers are brought in to see the product or meet with engineers and product strategy team members.
“We are committed to meeting the present and future needs of our customers, and we value the feedback they provide during these discussions,” Koswick said.
Alternative-Fuel Vehicle Lineup Expands at Ford
Ford has expanded its ethanol-capable products to include the Expedition, Expedition EL, Navigator, and E-Series. Both the 4.6L and 5.4L engines will be flex-fuel capable on E-Series, enabling customers to select the powertrain that best meets their needs. E-Series will be the only over-8,500-lb. GVW full-size van available with flex fuel.
For customers who have sustainability initiatives or are required to meet EPAct mandates, these new flex-fuel offerings give them greater flexibility, according to Koswick.
“The expansion of our flexible-fuel vehicle products has been well received by our customers and complements our existing Crown Victoria and F-Series flex-fuel vehicles,” he said. “Last year, we set a record on the sales of Escape Hybrids to fleet customers. With full hybrid technology and a no-compromise package, fleet customers have found the Escape Hybrid a great vehicle for all business applications.”
Later this year, Ford will launch the Fusion and Milan full-hybrid vehicles, providing customers a mid-size sedan that delivers quality, an excellent interior package, and hybrid technology, according to the automaker.
Recognizing that no one knows what the long-term future holds for alternative-fuel technology, Ford is working to leverage a flexible array of powertrain options to ensure it is prepared to meet market and customer requirements.
In addition to hybrid, clean diesel, biodiesel, and ethanol, the manufacturer is working on advanced technologies, including lithium-ion battery hybrids (also known as plug-in hybrids), hydrogen internal combustion engines (H2ICE), and fuel cells.
For all of these products, Ford has demonstration fleets in place to assess the technologies’ capabilities.
“In the longer term, it will be the customers who decide which technology best meets their needs for the future,” Koswick said.
Crossover Segment to Test Fleet Market
Looking toward the future, Koswick does not expect to see many segment changes within the fleet industry that will dramatically change the product mix.
“We expect the traditional segments including mid-size cars, full-size vans, and full-size pickups will continue to be strong,” he said. “What will be of interest is how the fleet industry adapts to new product offerings, especially crossovers.”
The crossover segment is the fastest-growing segment in the automotive industry. Over time, Ford expects that fleet customers will recognize the strength and flexibility of these new products and, in turn, fleet volume will increase.
Customer feedback on Ford’s Transit Connect since its launch at the Chicago Auto Show has been strong.
“We have heard from many fleet customers expressing strong interest in adding this vehicle to their product portfolio,” Koswick said. “This demonstrates the need for commercial fleet vehicles that may have a smaller overall vehicle footprint and lower displacement powertrains, but still offer excellent package, driving dynamics, and fuel economy.”
And as far as Ford’s fleet operations are concerned, Koswick anticipates continued stability moving forward.
“We successfully completed our field reorganization in 2007, and I believe we are positioned to serve our customers and business partners better than ever,” he said. “Surveys have indicated that our customer service level is the best in the industry, and we plan to continue to deliver the products, processes, and service that our fleet customers expect.”