As we start a new year, here is my forecast of the top 10 trends that will influence truck fleet management in the coming years.

1. Reducing Fuel Spend
The high cost of fuel will continue to have a major impact on fleet operating expense in 2008. Especially hard-hit will be truck fleets, since the cost of a gallon of diesel is predicted to remain higher than unleaded gasoline. Higher fuel prices will have a domino effect on increasing prices for other oil-based products, such as replacement tires.

2. Telematics Proliferation
Since the late 1980s, telematics has been used by the over-the-road truck industry for delivery scheduling, route optimization, and driver communication. The widespread use of satellite tracking and communication technology in the Class 8 market will continue to migrate to the Class 3-7 market. Fleets are using telematics to capture and report key data related to the truck’s diagnostics, idling, drive time, and fuel economy. In addition, companies are using telematics to enhance driver productivity and route management. For a service fleet, just adding one more stop per day/per vehicle can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bottom line. In the coming years, telematics will play a larger role in maximizing cargo space for increased delivery capacity, fuel savings, and increase productivity.

3. Diesel Emission Standards
A new diesel engine emission standard will be implemented in the 2010 model-year. As was the case with the 2007 emission standard, a significant pre-buy is anticipated since the cost of the new engines is expected to increase. If past events are a prelude to the future, there will be a shortage of diesel-powered trucks during the 2009 model-year as many large fleets will order additional units beyond their normal replacement cycle to beat the large price increase anticipated for 2010 engines. Other fleets will try to manage their replacement schedules to delay purchase until past the effective date to avoid any early problems with the new engines.

4. Green Fleet Initiatives
A growing trend starting to exert influence on vehicle selection is corporate “green” initiatives to reduce a company’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. These initiatives are being felt at major truck fleets such as Wal-Mart, UPS, FedEx, and Coca-Cola. Corporate green initiatives often go hand-in-hand with fuel reduction initiatives. Many fleets are looking to offset petroleum usage with biofuels. Biodiesel is growing in popularity with truck fleets since it requires no modification to the truck engine and can be applied toward meeting EPAct mandates. Also, more non-traditional trucks, such as hybrid trucks, will enter the market.

5. Ergonomics
Ergonomics is playing a greater role in upfitting decisions to minimize Workers’ Comp claims. The aging workforce is also playing a greater role in work truck design. More fleets are specifying low-profile chassis, which make it easier for drivers to enter and exit, and equipment, such as hydraulic-assisted drop-down ladder racks, liftgates, and slide-out beds.

6. Upfitting Trends
The technician shortage for upfitters will continue to be an industry issue. The technician shortage will exert stress on cycle times. Another upfitting trend is that fleets are increasingly using LED lighting technology on service vehicles. With an average life span of 10 years, increased intensity, and ease of installation, there is a trend towards an increased use of LED lighting instead of strobe lighting historically employed on service vehicles.

7. Longer Service Life
Fleets are keeping trucks in service for longer periods. This trend is adding importance to up-front decisions in vehicle spec’ing, which can achieve a longer lifecycle without the related costs.

8. Technician Shortage
Maintenance turnaround and downtime will play a greater factor as the shortage of qualified service technicians becomes more exacerbating in the coming years. In addition, technologies employed to meet the 2007 and 2010 emission regulations require technicians to have a higher skill set since maintenance/repairs have become more complex.

9. Increased Fees
States with budgetary shortfalls are targeting private fleets for tax revenue generation. As budgets are squeezed tighter, a common target for generating new funds is to increase registration and other fees for commercial trucks.

10. Ongoing Shortage of CDL Drivers
Fleets will continue to struggle with a shortage of CDL drivers. Demand for CDL drivers is greater than supply.

Let me know what you think.

What trends have I missed?

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet