How do you determine which technologies make the most sense for your fleet operations? The first thing you need to do is change your mindset.
Which technology is right for your fleet? I can’t answer that question for you. And, in fact, it’s possible you can’t even answer it for yourself at this point.
I suspect that for many fleets the answer about any new technology—but particularly powertrain technologies—is not going to be just one thing. Determining which technologies to invest in is a serious decision. Choose wrong and it can reduce your fleet’s efficiency and/or cost you money. However, not investing in any new technologies is not an option, either, as failure to modernize will put you at a competitive disadvantage and will hamper your driver recruiting and retention efforts.
So, how do you determine which technologies make sense for you? The first thing you need to do is change your mindset. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. The next step is to start gathering data. Begin looking internally at your own operations and what your various duty cycles are. Things may have changed with your customers because of COVID-19 and because of other market changes, so make sure to check in with them to review whether the way you are serving them is still working.
Once you have the data from your customers, do an internal audit of your existing assets to see how they align with what you need to meet customer demand. Also look at the fuel efficiency of each vehicle. Are your assets as efficient as they can be? If not, start gathering information on some of technologies that are available—aerodynamic devices, tire pressure monitoring, idle reduction, solar, etc.—to determine where the total cost of ownership equation works in your favor.
Alternative power options
But beyond existing technology, it’s now time to start looking at alternative power sources for your future truck orders. From time to time, I hear people saying that NACFE is pushing electric vehicles. While we do see the future as electric, we also know that today electric is not right for every application. However, based on the data from Run on Less—Electric (we will publish a detailed report on what the data told us in the spring), there are several applications where electric vehicles are working well. This includes vans and step vans, terminal tractors, medium-duty box trucks, and even some heavy-duty regional haul.
You won’t know where alternative-fueled vehicles—including battery-electric ones—will make sense without looking at the data. It’s no different than the process you go through when looking at changing vehicle specs. The answer is in the data, and when it comes to battery-electric vehicles in commercial applications, there are a number of fleets that have been willing to share their data with the industry.
While there are still some challenges with commercial battery-electric vehicles—unclear residual value and concerns over charging infrastructure, to name two—the data is telling me that more fleets need to begin analyzing which power sources make sense for them.
This is one of those times when there is more than one right answer. The data will tell you what you should do. Study it and rely on it. We’re here to help.
Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.