In fleet management, time is money, and any hiccup in the upfitting process can lead to substantial financial setbacks. Fleet managers face unique challenges related to time constraints when upfitting their work trucks.
We have insights shared by industry experts to understand the current landscape better and explore potential future improvements.
Understanding the Supply Chain Disruption
Rachel Farrell, Strategic Partnerships Manager at DECKED, emphasized the significant disruption in the supply chain, referring to it as a "princess and the pea scenario."
Fleet managers, situated at the end of the supply chain, experience the domino effect of even minor disruptions, leading to waves of delays.
To counter this, fleets increasingly opt for simplified upfits and American-manufactured goods to mitigate the burden of supply chain disruptions.
Farrell stated, "Time lost is money lost for these companies." Delays impact the vehicle's time-to-market, resulting in increased maintenance costs for existing vehicles and complicating the overall scope of fleet managers.
Importance of Planning and Communication
At DECKED, a customer ordered 200 trucks for delivery this year and only received 25 of them.
This uncertainty in vehicle allocations makes planning challenging, affecting purchasing power and creating nightmares in coordinating suppliers, upfitters, and getting vehicles on the road.
Farrell stressed the importance of planning and communication in mitigating time-related issues during the upfitting process.
She recommends getting ahead of potential delays through open and honest communication. DECKED focuses on streamlined manufacturing processes to reduce delays, investing heavily in engineering and mechanics.
Regulations and Standards Impact
While Farrell doesn't foresee significant regulation changes, she notes a growing acceptance of longer lead times as the new normal.
Fleet leaders adapt to this reality, playing a strategic game of Tetris with their upfits until vehicle availability and other critical components become more easily accessible.
In terms of anticipating improvements, fleet managers should focus on what they can control.
Choosing simplified, American-made upfits and ensuring transparent communication from upfitters and suppliers can help navigate the current challenges until broader supply chain disruptions are resolved.
Adapting to Industry Trends
The influence of industry trends, such as the adoption of electric or autonomous vehicles, can also have an impact on upfitting times.
As more companies strive to include electric vehicles in their lineup, the uptake among vocational fleet operators, especially those with intricate customizations, tends to lag.
Nevertheless, the supply chain for these modifications is adapting and is poised to keep evolving soon.
Brad Blanco, Vice President of Operations at Holman, said: “From an upfitter’s perspective, we’re coordinating closely with our OEM partners to get as much information as possible on new models – technical specs, precise measurements, CAD diagrams, etc. – before these units arrive at our production facility to mitigate any potential production delays.”
Blanco explained that, upon the launch of new models, Holman’s collaboration with manufacturers involves expediting the arrival of pilot units to their site.
"Additionally, as new models are introduced, we work with the manufacturers to get pilot units onsite as soon as possible so our team of engineers can get hands on with the units to stay ahead of the changes, design products and components accordingly, develop strategies for installation, and ultimately, provide insightful recommendations to our customers," Blanco added.
This proactive approach aids in tailoring products and components, devising installation strategies, and, most importantly, delivering informed guidance to their clientele.
“This all really speaks to the importance of understanding precisely how a particular unit will be used and having strategic conversations with your upfit partner to ensure the unit is properly spec’d to avoid unnecessary delays,” Blanco added.
When to Expect Improvements
Our upfitter experts anticipate it will likely take another order cycle — approximately 12-15 months — until upfit production times significantly improve.
Holman focuses on increasing production capacity and component inventory levels to offset upstream challenges.
Blanco advised, “If you can standardize the number of upfit solutions in your catalog, you’ll have greater flexibility to shuffle units across your fleet to areas or roles where the vehicle is needed most.”
While improvements may take time, industry experts suggest focusing on transparent communication, standardization of upfitting processes, and strategic collaboration to navigate the current landscape successfully.
As the industry adapts to emerging trends, fleet managers should stay vigilant, plan proactively, and foster strong partnerships with upfitters and suppliers to ensure a smoother upfitting experience in the future.