Once upon a time, managing a fleet was more art than science. The average fleet manager had a decent handle on which brand worked best for his or her needs. The manager also knew how to grind, how to get the biggest fleet incentive possible, and how to cycle the vehicles as quickly as possible before any pesky brake, clutch, or tire issues arose.

Quality was often a huge differentiator. Some brand’s vehicles were a little more costly while others were perhaps known to need a little more TLC to keep them on the road. The 47 different J.D. Power surveys could be counted on to let you know which vehicles were going to be in the shop more than on the road and which ones you needed to get rid of before body panels started rusting off.

There were real and distinct differences between the levels of quality just a few years ago. The imports had a clear edge on quality but the domestics had a clear edge on price. Nowadays the quality gaps are nearly gone. The difference between first place and last place on the J.D. Power surveys is smaller than the gap used to be between first place and second place. Quality, with a few notable recall related problems, just shouldn’t be a big part of the equation anymore.

If quality isn’t “Job One” for fleet managers, what is? For most it is job suitability. Whether you have severe service trucks operating in mines in Alaska or you have an army of pharmaceutical sales reps, having the right vehicle for the job is top priority and always should be. But technology is creeping up there. We’re all a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technology options available. And we’re all trying to make sure our drivers are not overwhelmed by the technology available to them while they are doing their jobs. Further complicating things is the pace of change. High-tech options are being deployed downstream to fleet level trims at a breakneck pace so it’s incumbent on fleet managers to stay on top of everything that is out there. From autonomous driving to back-up alarms, there’s a steady stream of choices that need to be made.

Fleet management may be a lot more science and lot less art than it was in the 20th century, but there are still a lot of decisions to make. And those decisions can have real long-term consequences for your bottom line, for your residual values, and for the health and safety of your drivers. You may not be spending as much time defending your decisions regarding brand selection, but you need to be prepared to defend your choices in technology, in ergonomics, fuel economy, and, most importantly, safety.

If you disagree, let me know.

Related: Remembering Sundays in St. Louis, Detroit, and Atlantic City

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Sherb Brown

Sherb Brown


Sherb Brown is the former president of Bobit Business Media. Sherb has covered the auto industry for more than 20 years in various positions with the world's largest fleet publisher.

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