The list of factors fleet managers must consider when determining their replacement cycling strategy can be miles long. What it boils down to, however, is defining what is right for your particular fleet.
As previously reported in Work Truck, the industry-standard guideline is a four- to seven-year lifecycle on a light-duty vehicle and a 10- to 14-year lifecycle on a medium-/heavy-duty unit.
Here’s a collection of replacement cycling tactics fleet managers should keep in mind depending on their desired outcome: whether it’s saving money, increasing safety, or attracting and retaining new drivers:
Tactic 1: Buying for Improved Technology
When looking to save money, fleet managers should consider the benefits they might reap by upgrading trucks for the technology they harness. It is not wise to let the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality take the reins when determining when and how to replace trucks; technology changes rapidly and can quickly prove this course of thinking wrong.
With each new model year comes more innovative features that can benefit both driver and manager.Implementing connectivity and driver-assist technology impacts operating costs by providing vital information on vehicle health and driver behaviors that can be curbed to help lengthen the truck’s lifespan.
Slowly lowering avoidable accidents with the addition of new collision mitigation technologies is another factor that will save money in the long run and have the bonus of keeping your drivers safe.
These are the kind of upgrades that make sense and are easily justifiable because they can reduce expenses in the long run and help you convince decision-makers to make a move to shorter replacement cycles.
Tactic 2: Investing in Data
Data is a buzzword fleet managers see often but comes with many questions. How much data is too much? Where should you collect this data, and how do you use what you collect to improve your replacement cycling process?
For fleet managers to dig through the mountains of data that come at them at a break-neck pace, they need to develop a reporting and analytics process.
Keep a list of questions regarding such factors as frequency of maintenance needs, makes and models that tend to be more difficult and costly to work with, and fuel consumption, and then use those to inform decisions on what data to keep and dig deeper into.It’s a daunting task, but breaking these important factors down into specific queries will assist you in parsing through what you have to produce answers that will better inform buying decisions.
The best replacement calls will be made when a fleet manager takes the time to balance data and instinct. Blending cold, hard facts with lessons from experience will always produce the best outcome.
Tactic 3: Listening to Drivers
Attempting to build a strategy alone will leave you with blind spots that need filling — but you won’t know it until it’s too late. It’s essential to tap into the expertise that can only come from those who drive the trucks you spec and purchase.
Drivers know better than anyone where trucks are being run (e.g., the type of terrain they encounter) and the type of jobs they are being used for. Every driver operates each truck differently, which can also impact the frequency with which said truck needs to be replaced.
On top of this, your current drivers, especially ones that have been with your company for an extended time, will be able to describe to you what features benefit them and help them do their job to the best of their ability. Ask them how their truck performs and what aftermarket equipment would be helpful to have that isn’t already present.When looking to purchase new trucks, be sure to consider safety and ergonomic features that focus on driver safety, comfort, and productivity.
Attracting and retaining drivers is a complication many fleets face; replacing trucks sooner and providing newer, more desirable trucks to drive can help.
Remember, company/brand image can be affected by the age and condition of trucks. They are moving billboards and can either help or hurt your advertising prospects.
Tactic 4: Collaborating with OEMs
Some factors that impact truck replacement include the OEM’s track record for service availability, upfit process support, support after the asset goes into service, and safety recall frequency and response.
Order-to-delivery (OTD) times can have a major impact on a fleet’s replacement cycle, so be sure to keep a watch on build times with both OEMs and upfitters.
Fleet managers should be looking toward the next two years of replacements and ordering ahead of the needed time to keep on their replacement schedule. You never know what kind of events could throw a wrench into timing, especially now that the pandemic has proven anything can happen.
Parts shortages and backlogs can occur at any given time, so even once a truck is ordered, it isn’t guaranteed you’ll receive it on time.
Collaborating with OEMs to decide if technicians should have PM work guided by the OEM’s instrument panel readout and if it should be conducted on a set schedule or up to the driver will help lengthen truck lives as well.
Maintaining a strong, consistent maintenance strategy informed by the vehicle manufacturer, upfitter, and end-user helps control operating costs, enhances reliability, and reduces the likelihood of an event occurring that will put a dent in the truck’s operating condition.
Tactic 5: Assessing Pros, Cons, and Costs
The key to creating a replacement cycle strategy that works best for your fleet is striking a balance between vehicle age and related maintenance costs. While it is heavily dependent on the type of truck a fleet manager is looking to replace, it’s important to assess the dangers and expenses that might come with extending a truck’s lifespan.
While continuing to use a truck that seems to be getting the job done regardless of its age may prevent you from spending more than you’ve budgeted, what will it ultimately cost you down the road?
Downtime is detrimental because it prevents drivers from getting their work done. Unexpected repairs mean lost revenue and become more prevalent the longer a truck is kept on the road. Is keeping a truck in service worth the cost of tying technicians up with older trucks and drivers struggling to make it to appointments on time?
Fuel consumption and the increasing cost of fuel are other factors to consider. Fuel economy typically improves with each new model-year, and with ever-evolving emissions regulations, it may be wise to think about costs that will come down the road.Look into the resale value of the trucks you plan to purchase. If you plan to try to remarket your trucks, running them into the ground isn’t the wisest idea; if you wouldn’t buy it the way it is, why would someone else?
Also, consider if a truck is used enough even to justify its continued existence. Keep an eye on the utilization data you are collecting to ensure you’re getting the best value for the money you are spending.Ultimately, a reliable truck is well worth the money. If it costs you more than it’s making you, it’s time to re-evaluate the rate at which you are replacing your assets.