Steve, what are some of the trends you are seeing in the marketplace?
First, I would say alternative fuels. We are being asked about everything from CNG to diesel fuel, as well as B5-B20, propane, electric, alternative electric over fuel. With fuel being fleets’ number one expense, this is one area that they (fleets) are really trying to home in on and trying to control.
Telematics would be another trend that is very high on everyone’s list. The questions that we are asked are “Will your telematics read hard stops, quick starts?” This ties back to fuel; they are using telematics to reduce fuel costs. “Can we breadcrumb? Can we see where my vehicle has been all day? Will your telematics read if there is an engine failure? Will we get a fail code off the engine that we can see back on our PC without relying on our driver?” I would say telematics is the next big trend that I am seeing.
Another trend that goes without saying and is becoming more and more of an issue is safety. Not just safety as a big picture problem, but specific issues like rear sensing and backing issues. Backing still remains the number one problem that fleets are having and the number one cause of accidents. We are getting a lot of calls about spec’ing a backing camera and other types of backing alarm devices. These warning devices help prevent drivers from backing over mail boxes, other cars and more importantly pedestrians and pets.
Another trend is application selection. By that, I mean buying the right vehicle for the right application. Before, fleet managers would buy a fleet of 350s, 3500s, a one ton pickup. Now, they are going back, analyzing and saying that drivers don’t really need that big of a vehicle, let’s get him a 150, or let’s get him a smaller van instead of a full sized van. Clients are starting to really focus on getting the right vehicles for the job instead of having one spec available to everyone so that nobody is upset because they have a bigger truck or a smaller truck. Here again, back to fuel — if you don’t have to drive the large truck why don’t I buy you a smaller truck and save on fuel costs.
And the last one, being driven more from the financial side of the companies, is a fixed term lease. CFOs like this type of lease for a couple of reasons: when they are forecasting they are able to forecast the same amount for 60 months that the vehicle is in service and they are also able to take advantage of low rates for the next 5 years. They know exactly what the lease cost is going to be. This has really grown in popularity; and is a product that we do really well at Donlen. Ultimately, providers have to do a very good job at providing the right solutions.
What are some of the other issues that your clients are bringing to you?
Many of our clients are asking for our help on understanding fleet data, and how to leverage the data that is in front of them. Our Strategic Consulting team analyzes our clients’ data. They extrapolate data from fuel to fleet age to repairs as well as how long it takes to get a preventive maintenance done, how long it has been between preventive maintenance cycles and if they are overdue for maintenance. With oil being the lifeblood of the vehicle, we can help clients identify if the oil is being changed at 5,000 miles like it is called for, or are they letting it go to 7,500 miles? Ultimately you can have some failures that you shouldn’t normally have.
Our Strategic Consulting group does a phenomenal job. They can help with cycle times and they can show that PM repairs are higher because PMs are not done as recommended. We have so much fleet data out there it can be overwhelming if not analyzed correctly. A lot of the companies that we work with want to take advantage of their analytics so our Strategic Consulting group analyzes, and recommends solutions to problems that are visible specifically through the data.
Another issue that clients have challenges with is toll management. Different states have different tolling systems. Does a driver receive a 5 dollar bill at the beginning of the day and the company collects whatever is left? Do we let him pay $3.00 during the day and reimburse them? Different states have different tolling systems. With a toll management program, customers can track expenses.
We get a lot of customers asking us if they are paying too much for the repairs by not being on a maintenance program. “I know a fleet management company can probably do a better job… prove it to me.” We have an entire maintenance team comprised of master mechanics and world mechanics for truck and cars that are all ASE certified mechanics. They are on the phone advising on appropriate repairs and negotiating the price of every repair with the vendor. As an example, a vendor will call in with a pickup truck that needs an alternator. He will talk to our ASE certified mechanic who at one time could have been the mechanic on the other end of the phone. He may have even worked for an OEM. He used to work with alternators and he knows everything that the vendor is calling about. He knows exactly what they are talking about. So, if the guy wants $400.00 for the alternator and says it will take three hours to change it, our team says stop, wait a minute, let’s discuss this.
I will mention that with our FleetWeb platform, we can track all POs as well as any activity that affects clients’ vehicles. When our technicians type in ‘alternator,’ they automatically can see the cost of alternators on that vehicle type within the same geographic area. This includes labor. Our technicians then go back to the mechanic on the phone and advise him that we only paid $250.00 for the last ten repairs, and that the $400.00 quote needs to be adjusted. Our clients then will be able to see the data and they are confident that the savings are generally better than they realized just because we have professional technicians talking to a mechanic on the other line. That is kind of what people are coming to us for.
What do you believe sets Donlen apart from the competition?
What sets Donlen apart from some of the other fleet maintenance companies are our people. I remember when I started at Donlen; I was so impressed with the customer service focus that resonates throughout the whole company. We can track all of the questions that our clients have called in with and anybody in our company can answer our clients’ questions quickly and accurately. I have done this type work for a long time and this is one of the greatest groups of people that I think I have worked with. Certainly, our people set us apart in the industry.
Steve Jansen, Director, Truck Fleet Services, Donlen
Steve Jansen has more than 35 years of experience in the transportation arena. He has held a variety of positions that included responsibility for more than 4,000 drivers, 850 mechanics, and labor contract negotiations, as well as General Manager for a large trailer dealership.
He holds a CTP certification from the National Private Truck Council, Hazardous Material certification and has successfully completed TMI’s COURSE III — Heavy trucks and tractors.