A truck’s total cost of ownership (TCO) covers a specific range of expense variables, regardless of the make or model. Fixed costs, operating expenses, incidental costs, and depreciation are the four lifecycle categories that need to be thoroughly analyzed when spec’ing a truck.

Some fleet professionals focus solely on acquisition and other fixed costs; however, this is only one variable when calculating TCO. In addition, procurement savings are not an indicator of truck performance. A valid business case for a specific truck selection must be based on TCO and the best way to optimize TCO starts by correctly determining truck specifications.

When spec’ing a truck, past history is important, but one outcome to using last model-year specs is repeating past inefficiencies. A best practice for fleet managers is to adopt a “clean sheet” approach to how a truck is spec’ed. Similarly, a clean-sheet approach should also be used in determining fleet replacement cycling parameters. Avoid the error of having a single replacement policy for all work trucks. Replacement policies should be guided by a holistic analysis of all lifecycle costs, such as maintenance history, mileage, and engine hours, along with utilization criteria.

Spec’ing a truck is a complicated process and there is no single best solution. The weight of the load, distance and terrain traveled, amount of time spent off road, and a host of other factors will determine the proper choice. With that said, the foremost consideration in “building” a truck is payload. This is the cornerstone upon which truck specifications are developed. The weight of the payload determines the gross vehicle weight, engine, transmission, suspension, size of tires, frame, etc.

Work trucks are revenue earning assets and to maximize the productivity of this working asset, it is necessary to optimize specifications, operating procedures, and replacement strategies to fulfill the fleet application. The best way to optimize truck productivity is to spec the right vehicle for the fleet application. Without fully understanding the truck’s operating parameters, it is impossible to spec the best chassis, powertrain, and body necessary to optimize job productivity and meet end-user needs

In the final analysis, trucks are tools of a trade and the chassis merely provides mobility and power to operate equipment or haul product. Vehicle specifications should be defined by the fleet application and mission requirements. A truism in truck fleet management is to design a truck that will accommodate your operational requirements rather than trying to make your operation conform to the truck.

Talk with the End-Users

The most important first step to correctly spec a truck is to meet and talk with the end users who will be operating the vehicle. It can’t be stressed enough that vehicle specifications must be defined by the fleet application and mission requirements. This understanding will influence all truck specifications.

Fleet managers must understand how trucks are intended to be used in the field; however, it is important to be aware that intended usage often does not match real-world usage. Investigate the maintenance records of the current trucks in service. Usually, the majority of trucks that have unscheduled maintenance problems are under-powered and overloaded, which, in addition to increased shop time, results in increased driver downtime.

By understanding the day-to-day application, you will be able to build a truck that meets end-user needs. If possible, schedule site visits to see firsthand how a truck is being used in its work environment. This will also give you the opportunity to confirm firsthand what is really needed as opposed to what a driver or technician may want. Specifications should be defined by the fleet application demands and requirements.

To ensure trucks are equipped to fulfill a specific fleet applications, you must correctly specify a multitude of components and correct specifications. By understanding the day-to-day fleet application, you gain the knowledge to build a truck that fulfills the users’ daily work needs.

After compiling the input gathered from the field, next review budgetary considerations. One factor that can sway the decision of which chassis to acquire is a manufacturer’s incentive program. Although initial cost is a major consideration, projected operating costs and depreciation must also be factored into the selection decision, with the ultimate determinant being the truck’s ability to productively and cost-efficiently fulfill the fleet application.

One way to increase truck productivity is to increase mpg, thereby reducing fuel spend. The drivetrain, tires, engine, and aerodynamics of the truck should be properly matched to maximize fuel efficiency. For instance, selecting trucks with aerodynamic features will improve fuel-efficiency. The rule of thumb is that for each 10% reduction in air resistance, mpg increases by 5%. Similarly, when spec’ing auxiliary equipment be cognizant of component weight since extra weight not only increases fuel consumption but also reduces payload capacity.

Keep an Open Mind

Fleet managers must not be married to the past and should keep an open mind on the types of vehicles to select. You never want to overload a vehicle, but could a smaller truck with heavy-duty options accomplish the task at hand? Likewise, you do not want to underpower a truck, but today’s smaller displacement engines are more efficient than those of yesteryear and might increase fuel economy with sufficient horsepower to move the same payload without strain.

A work truck is a tool and, as with any tool, it has to meet its purpose. A fleet manager’s job is to provide the proper tool for the job application that is cost-efficient, productive, and has a good resale value in the secondary market. To accomplish this goal, it all starts with selecting the right specs.

Let me know what you think.


Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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