The 2012 NTEA Work Truck left me with dreams of propane cranes and hybrid powertrains dancing in my head. Clearly the fleet marketplace is looking to move rapidly away from traditional fossil fuel power vehicles and power take-off accessories – and the new buzz is all about alternative fuel vehicles and the infrastructure to support these assets.
Another significant message was: moving to alternative fuels will come to fruition only through the acquisition of new vehicles and new fueling infrastructure. This comes with challenges. These include acquisition cost in a still lagging economy; managing mixed asset fleets; as well as infrastructure requirements to power, service, and maintain the new equipment. The combination of these challenges will continue to put headwind on a wholesale fleet transition to the new technologies.
The final observation was the “total consciousness” around the impacts of driver behavior on the financial challenges surrounding fleet administration. Pro-active “Driver Performance and Safety Management” is a hot category. Regardless of whether we were discussing CNG, LNG, Hybrid, or fossil fuel vehicles – driver performance is impacting the direct and indirect expenses on the fleet budget. Clearly a major concern is increased fuel costs and the challenges of operating budgets. An underlying theme for the next few years will be to optimize the existing fleet while investing in the alternative strategies of the future. The last bastion of uncontrolled expense, driver behavior, is now at the forefront of fleet policy decisions – enforcing proper vehicle use policies and creating the best drivers on the road to minimize fuel, crash, and wear in tear maintenance expense is the benchmark activity for best in class fleet administration. There’s no controversy: safe driving practices burn less fuel.
A surprise finding is the interest in the hybrid community in needing to explore driving performance and safety measurement on optimizing hybrid engine calibration. Both the overt behavior impacts that cause a hybrid to under-utilize the electric engine, and the impact that driver behavior data has on performance turning during the development process, will be fertile development ground in the near-term.