(Left) Bill Schankel, CEO of NAFA, welcomed attendees to the 2024 Institute & Expo and (right) Al Curtis from Cobb County Georgia and Black Fleet Network moderated a panel discussion on fleet...

(Left) Bill Schankel, CEO of NAFA, welcomed attendees to the 2024 Institute & Expo and (right) Al Curtis from Cobb County Georgia and Black Fleet Network moderated a panel discussion on fleet sustainability. 

Photo: Lauren Fletcher

New Frontiers. Big possibilities. That was the theme of the 2024 NAFA Institute & Expo, held in San Antonio April 22-24. With more than 2,000 attendees (boasting the largest attendance since 2018), the return of the Ride & Drive (powered by Bobit), Texas was the perfect home to celebrate the growth seen with the Association.

Opening Day General Session 

Bill Schankel, CEO of NAFA, welcomed the event and shared the goals of dreaming big and thinking big, noting, “We are better together.” He shared the positive response to the change from chapters to NAFA Regions, which was announced last year.

Bo Villareal, CAFM, fleet maintenance supervisor for CPS Energy, talked about the positive momentum, town halls, and overall growth in NAFA membership to more than 3,300 members—the largest in more than 24 years, according to Villareal.

The day began with celebrations of the recent class of CAFM graduates and a portion of the 100 Best Fleets awards. Awards and honors will be spread out every morning of the conference, ensuring each recipient gets their due time in the spotlight.

Retaining Your Staff for the Future of Fleet

The first day’s keynote speaker, Richard Hadden, is co-author of “Contented Cows Give Beter Milk—The Plain Truth About Employee Relations and Your Bottom Line” and shared his concept of Workplace Next, his concept of the working world post-COVID-19 pandemic.

When looking at Workplace Next, or the future of employee hiring and retention, he focused on four things fleet and hiring managers need to be aware of:

  1. Workers are in the driver’s seat.
  2. Flexibility is here to stay.
  3. Development is the new pay raise.
  4. You will have to hire from a generation that totally perplexes you.

Focusing on his final point, he noted that when many of us were first hired, we were the generation that totally perplexed our first bosses, so nothing new has changed there. Still, the rest of it represents a bit of a paradigm shift for commercial fleet managers.

He noted that we need to “adapt to succeed. We have to make changes and change the rules. If the external rules are changing, we have to change the internal rules, too.”

A Sustainable Future for Commercial Fleets

The first morning continued with several educational breakout session opportunities. I checked out the Black Fleet Network's first session at NAFA, focused on “Reaching Sustainability Goals without Breaking the Bank.” Moderator Al Curtis led a lively discussion that focused on the future that we all know is not only coming but here and creative (and cost-effective) ways to make change happen for every fleet.

Sustainability is being pushed upon us. We need to be the resident expert. If not us, it will be pushed on you, and that’s not a good look,” Curtis warned.

The panelists included Tonya Glass from Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; Robert Horton of the City of Atlanta; Shayla Fortin of the Port of Seattle; and Shelley Parker for North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, who spoke in place of Alrik Lunsford.

A few key focus points included the growth of importance of ESG in fleet, starting a plan, grants, sustainability goals, and telematics.

When asked who should be included in sustainability plans and efforts, all key stakeholders were echoed across the board. However, Parker had an interesting response, noting that getting community buy-in and looking further outside your organization is key.

Glass also noted that beyond looking at who you should include at your table, make sure you are taking a seat at other people’s tables as a fleet manager. Work with teams outside of fleets; you may have similar goals that can complement each other.

When considering sustainability goals, several low-hanging fruit options were considered, but the top response by far was rightsizing your fleet. Then, really consider idling, ensure you get buy-in from your drivers, and consider a motor pool scenario.

A Focus on Preventive Maintenance for All Fleets

Brandon Boring of the Pennsylvania State Police presented a session on “Building a Fleet Preventive Maintenance Program” to a packed room of attendees.

Boring’s background in high-performance engines and experience from over-the-road trucks to police fleets helps him see preventive maintenance from a well-rounded point of view. So, while he may have been there representing a police fleet, his insights were valuable to the room full of commercial and public sector fleets.

He walked the room through the importance of maintenance (cost savings, safety assurance, and operational efficiency). He tied one central theme throughout every part of his presentation: the importance and value of data.

Whether it's miles, hours, or gallons of fuel used, scheduled maintenance requirements change depending on the model year, powertrain, and use, and several factors need to be considered.

While data may tell a large part of the story, Boring reminded attendees that it doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s a great place to start the conversation and ask questions to better understand what the data tells you.

At the end of the day, one quote keeps coming back to me about all fleet managers' efforts today.

Parker reminded us of this adage during her panel: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” So, how do you address sustainability, preventive maintenance, or any other aspect of fleet management? One step at a time.

Checking Out Media Day

The first day continued for press only with a ton of media updates and announcements. A few highlights included:

  • The National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) provided preliminary results of its engine repair survey, which has gathered more than 8,000 responses so far. One surprising stat? Of the respondents, 53% had high-school training for automotive tech work.
  • MoveEV shared that a deeper, seamless integration with Geotab is now officially live. The marketplace add-in is designed for Geotab-enabled fleets with EVs enrolled in MoveEVs home charging reimbursement program. 
  • RoadFlex discussed its Fleet Card. More than a fuel card, the Visa partnership allows the card to be used for more than just fuel. The company also shared its AI-based efforts to help identify and prevent fuel theft and fraud with its Proactive Fuel Risk Management platform. 
  • GPS Trackit announced VidFleet: Driver Safety Assistance, an extra layer of coaching that provides pre-warnings to help correct driver behavior, improve fleet safety, as well as reduce admin time spent reviewing incidents. Also discussed was the addition of VidFleet: Wifi, leveraging the camera as a WiFi hotspot.
  • Fleetio also had a big announcement, Fleetio Pay Debit, an expansion to its payment options for third-party maintenance. The physical or virtual card provides a dedicated card for items such as repairs, removing approval layers where it makes sense and speeding up repair times, getting vehicle back on the road more quickly. 
  • Merchants Fleet shared that it secured $1.4 million in grants and incentives for clients' electriciation initiatives.
  • Shell Fleet Solutions announced that its Shell Fleet Navigator Card will soon offer integrated payments for both fuel and electric on-the-go-charging. The updates allow users to fuel up at more than 95% of U.S. gas stations. 

Our Work Truck content team will dig into all of the above announcements and more as we get additional information (and time!). Until then, it's back to learning and connecting!

General Session Day 2, Keynote and OEM Panel

Shots from day two of the NAFA Institute & Expo, inclluding the OEM Panel Discussion, and two of the products announced at Media Day (GreenPower's Utility Body and a ramp from Feal). - Photo:...

Shots from day two of the NAFA Institute & Expo, inclluding the OEM Panel Discussion, and two of the products announced at Media Day (GreenPower's Utility Body and a ramp from Feal).

Photo: Lauren Fletcher

General Session Day 2, Keynote and OEM Panel

Tuesday morning witnessed a packed floor for breakfast and the general session, which included a keynote speech from Ted Cannis, CEO of Ford Pro, and an OEM panel discussion with Bobit's very own Associate Publisher of Automotive Fleet, Chris Brown. 

Schankel again took the stage, thanking Ram for sponsoring the Monday evening reception and announcing the opening day of the Expo Hall. According to Schankel, the 230+ exhibitors make the Expo Hall the largest in NAFA's history.

The next section of 100 Best Fleet winners (21-59) was announced. The Best Commercial Fleets (4-17) and the finalists for Fleet Professional and Fleet Technician of the Year were also named.

When discussing themes he saw in the applications, Michael Brennan of CPS Energy noted that "the commercial fleets are really focusing on safety."

In the keynote speech from Cannis, the theme of sustainability and electrification were covered, including challenges. 

"This isn't just a vehicle purchase, it's an energy solution change," Cannis said. He continued that we are "only scratching the surface of the connected potential."

He shared real-world concerns fleets have for EVs, and that the value is there, but there is still work to be done on infrastructure. 

Brown's panel included representatives from GM Envolve, Toyota, Stellantis, and Ford Pro. The panel discussed managing expectations and whether the disruptions in the market are truly in the rear-view mirror. The general consensus was that the world has changed, there are still issues, but they are resolving. 

The challenges revolving around the Panama Canal were also shared, as well as solutions such as "land bridging" efforts from alternative ports.

Additionally, tech is getting better every day. Fleets need to be able to keep an open mind and consider the possibilities.  

Safety Day at NAFA I&E: Day 3 General Session

The third and final day of the 2024 NAFA annual conference started with a live breakfast panel: Hot Cakes and Hot Takes, a Safety Panel with Fleet Bosses that was sponsored by IntelliShift.

Erin Gilchrist, VP of Fleet Evangelism for IntelliShift moderated the panel that included Brett Ashley Bridges of BBL Fleet; Phil Moser of Davey Resources Group; Larissa Clinard of Ahern; and Bob Mossing of Dave Resource Group. The crew sported t-shirts that read "Fleet Boss," available at the IntelliShift booth. 

(Have I mentioned how much I love the FUN that we are having with fleet lately!?)

During the panel, one comment stood out for me: 

"Start somewhere," Gilchrist urged. Digital inspection is a great place to start. Without tech, you won't be able to protect your drivers from the lunatics out there."

During the morning's general session, Schankel discussed how critical safety is for fleet management, announcing the day as "Safety Day at the Institute & Expo." 

Next, the 100 Best Fleet awards winners were announced after ramping up over the first two days. This year's winners were: 

  • Best Commercial Fleet: Essential Utilities
  • Best Public Fleet: Dakota County Fleet Management, Minnesota 
  • Fleet Technician of the Year: Curtis Mullins, City of Round Rock, Texas
  • Fleet Professional of the Year: Kenny Stimson, Carvana 

Brian Fielkow presented the final general session, sponsored by Shell Fleet Solutions. He dug into safety culture and asked fleet managers not to be afraid to ask hard questions, like how strong is our safety culture and whether we are really living our values.

He discussed survey results that showed a very clear gap between executive management perceptions of safety culture and attentiveness to frontline workers and mid-level management and discussed the value of getting everyone on the same page. 

"The right people and the right process makes things happen," he said. "Your process is your guardrail."

He also shared a very interesting concept, urging anyone with a sign that states "Safety is Our Priority" at their workplace to tear it down immediately. He stated that priorities can change. "Safety isn't a priority," he said. "It's a non-negotiable core roadmap." 

Some Key Takeaways and Driving Thoughts

If was asked what were some of the top trends and key takeaways I could share after the hundreds of handshakes, hugs, and conversations, I'd sum it up pretty simply: 

  • Training and education are growing in importance. I heard the word "training" more times than I can count and had numerous discussions that centered around training, on new technology and solutions but also on core fleet concepts and strategic thinking. 
  • We need to relearn some of the "facts" that we held true for years that aren't holding weight anymore. Just this week alone I heard several numbers for how much fuel is used while a vehicle idles, and it wasn't that anyone was "wrong," it's that there is so much more to consider now than there was just a few years ago to figure out that basic and essential number. 
  • Rightsizing is making a comeback. A word you couldn't throw a rock and not hit just 10 years ago is once again popping up as a key component for fleet sustainability initiatives. 
  • Data. Getting the data, analyzying the data and taking action on the data. But it all came down to data. 

Stay tuned for a photo gallery from the Expo floor and content from my super insightful and invigorating conversations this year, coming soon!

Do you have anything to add that you learned today or insights from the panels I missed? Comment below or email me, and let's chat!

Lauren Fletcher

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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