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Plumbing & HVAC Vocational Fleet Spotlight

April 2016, Work Truck - Feature

by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author

Having vehicles ready to travel each and every day is a must for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and plumbing fleets. And, with large fleets of vehicles ranging the gamut from cars to vans to trucks of all sizes, in dispersed geographic locations, just about all requiring some upfit or branding, a number of challenges face these vocational fleet managers.

Upfitting & OTD Dilemmas

The 2,000-plus vehicle Service Experts HVAC fleet, which includes the Eveready brand, supports residential and commercial HVAC repair and installation services. (PHOTO: Service Experts)
The 2,000-plus vehicle Service Experts HVAC fleet, which includes the Eveready brand, supports residential and commercial HVAC repair and installation services. (PHOTO: Service Experts)

Due to their unique needs and configuration requirements, upfit specifications are one challenge especially faced by HVAC and plumbing fleets. And, one of the top challenges faced by David McCauley, North America fleet manager for Service Experts, is determining what is the “correct” upfit.

“Right now, we use the standard HVAC package, but that varies from supplier to supplier. We are working on a Service Experts upfit package,” McCauley explained.

The provider of residential and commercial HVAC repairs and installations operates a 2,000-plus vehicle fleet, which consists of approximately 1,470 vans, with the remainder of the fleet including cars, light-, and medium-duty trucks.

Order-to-delivery (OTD) time is also a challenge. When adding an upfit onto a vehicle, there is added time between vehicle ordering and the time it’s finally delivered and ready for work.

“OTD time is getting longer and more troublesome. OEM traffic and upfitter timelines are making OTD time longer,” McCauley said. “A better vehicle replacement plan will help meet this challenge.”

In addition, the company is examining the use of OEM and/or supplier pools to acquire vehicles as quickly as possible.

Service Experts runs a slightly older fleet, according to McCauley, so out-of-stock purchases and vehicle lifecycle analysis can be challenging.

“With an older fleet, making the correct decisions of terminating a vehicle versus repairing a vehicle is a concern,” he added.

McCauley offered the following advice: “Listen to your customer, the driver, especially when upfitting is concerned; they are the users and our job is to make their job easier. Also, partner with your suppliers; they can assist you in reaching your goals. And, communicate. Let everyone know of changes and challenges. That minimizes surprises and keeps everyone informed.”

Reducing Costs & Accidents

The almost 3,000-vehicle plumbing fleet, which includes the ARS-Rescue Rooter brand, makes more than 1.25 million service calls per year. (PHOTO: ARS/Rescue Rooter)
The almost 3,000-vehicle plumbing fleet, which includes the ARS-Rescue Rooter brand, makes more than 1.25 million service calls per year. (PHOTO: ARS/Rescue Rooter)

With a fleet that is constantly on the move, consisting of 3,800 technicians making 1.25 million service calls per year, accidents are a concern. But, Kevin O’Donnell, director of Purchasing and Fleet at American Residential Services (ARS)-Rescue Rooter, has good news.

“Accident rates are down, and fuel usage by the gallon is down,” he explained. “Limiting speed seems to be the main reason.”

Looking to improve fuel savings, safety, and help meet their corporate sustainability efforts, the plumbing fleet looked for a solution on vehicles that could not be factory governed. The almost 4,000-vehicle fleet is comprised of all vehicle types, from cars to vans, and light-, medium-, and heavy-duty trucks.

A custom software solution was provided by Derive, implementing speed limiters, idle reduction, and optimized torque and throttle. On the portion of the fleet that was flashed with Derive Efficiency, we were expecting the fuel savings to be $800,000, conservatively speaking,” O’Donnell said.

And, today, the fuel savings have been realized, but, according to O’Donnell, “The greatest impact has been the overall reduction in severe collisions.”

Finding Alternative Routes

by Amy Hercher, Business Fleet magazine

The 15-vehicle HVAC fleet turned to alternative fuels to save on changing fuel expenses. (PHOTO: Watkins Heating & Air)
The 15-vehicle HVAC fleet turned to alternative fuels to save on changing fuel expenses. (PHOTO: Watkins Heating & Air)

When David Watkins, vice president of Watkins Heating & Cooling, started reading up on alternative-fuel options for his company’s fleet, he looked at several options, including mild hybrids, compressed natural gas (CNG), and propane autogas.

The family-owned and operated HVAC service company, headquartered in Springboro, Ohio, took the mild hybrid route with XL Hybrids.

So far, Watkins has added the XL3 hybrid electric drive system to three of his fleet’s GMC Savana vans, with plans to eventually replace his entire 15-vehicle fleet with hybrids in the coming years.

Each technician’s daily route consists of a lot of stop-and-go driving. Covering the area between Dayton and Cincinnati, each technician usually has, at least, six appointments per day. Service technicians drive in and around neighborhoods carrying heavy equipment.

Watkins’ converted van has experienced a 30% mpg improvement with the hybrid electric powertrain.

“We anticipate getting a positive return on our investment in just over two years because we’re seeing a 30 to 35% improvement in fuel efficiency,” Watkins said.

In addition to the fuel savings, there is also no extra cost involved with managing the system or training employees how to drive the converted vehicles. Plus, technicians don’t have to spend as much time at the gas pump.

“We anticipate saving our service technicians about 20 gasoline fill-ups a year,” Watkins said. “Our technicians will have more time to focus on customer service while minimizing time on refueling the van.”

Recommended for vehicle model-years 2010 and later, the hybrid system generally lasts for 10 years or 250,000 miles.

“We have restricted the upfitting to newer vehicles (only a year or two old) so we can get the most use of the hybrid system before it’s time to retire the vehicle,” said Watkins. 

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