Upfitting a vehicle to perform a specific task is one of the more complicated aspects of fleet management that is fraught with many opportunities to make mistakes, sometimes very expensive ones.
We all agree that planning is crucial to the success of any project, but it is especially important when spec’ing a new upfit. Conceptually, most fleet managers will agree with this statement, but it isn’t always followed in actual practice.
During the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to get to know many subject-matter experts in the upfitting industry and they have consistently stressed the importance of planning as illustrated by this recent feedback I received from Adrian Steel.
“We understand running a fleet has a lot of moving parts and we want to support our fleet clients during the planning process,” said Jon Bezon, national fleet sales manager for Adrian Steel. “We work with fleets of all sizes and found early planning delivers the best results. It is not uncommon to begin the planning process with our clients six months to a year in advance.”
Six months to a year may seem like a long planning cycle, but it isn’t considering there are as many ways to upfit a vehicle as there are chassis and body configurations. Plus, through my dealings with hundreds of different fleets, I know this complexity is further compounded by the multitude of specialized fleet needs requiring the installation of application-specific auxiliary equipment. The reality is that each fleet is specialized to its own needs and what works for one may not work for another.
The cornerstone of spec’ing a productive upfit is to fully understand the application. Fleet managers need to develop an indepth knowledge of the requirements of field personnel to properly spec vehicles to fulfill the intended fleet application. This requires including the end-users who will actually be using the equipment in the upfit planning process. It’s not just the fleet manager who has to fully understand the vehicle application, but also management must have the same expectations of the final product.
“Our experience has been when the technician is involved in the planning process it creates a more successful upfit,” said Bezon. “In our experience a well-planned upfit involving the input of the technician outperformed those who did not have that insight.”
During the planning process, fleet managers need to analyze whether they are “building” a truck to accomplish one task or several. A good rule of thumb is to find a balance that will keep the upfit process as simple as possible, while spec’ing the capability to fulfill the intended fleet application.
The more information you can collect from end-users about the fleet application, the greater the likelihood that a truck will be properly engineered to successfully perform the intended operation. Although end-users may be included in the planning process, it is also important to communicate realistic order-to-delivery expectations to field operations and the management team.
But measuring the success of an upfit goes beyond application and upfront acquisition cost as explained to me by Adrian Steel. “We recognize upfitting fleets is a big investment and it is our job to make sure we get ou the best return on that investment,” said Bezon. “We take into consideration an upfit that has the potential to reduce repair cost, limit injuries on the job, and increase their efficiency.”
By definition, planning is a process of choosing among many options and there are an abundance of options in when upfitting a vehicle. Plus, in upfitting, the devil is in the details, especially when spec’ing for a nationally dispersed fleet.
“The needs of nationally dispersed fleets will change from state to state,” said Bezon. “We work on creating solutions that support different tools and consumables based off the needs and geographic locations of our customers. The right upfit for a technician in a rural setting may not be the solution in an urban area within the same fleet.”
Another area impacting nationally dispersed fleets is that the Department of Transportation for each state sets certain rules on everything from the size of graphics and placards to lighting on the vehicle.
In summary, the upfit planning process must be utilized to fully understand the intended application, which requires talking with the end-users who will actually be using the equipment. Proper planning will substantially increase the likelihood that a vehicle will be properly engineered to successfully perform the intended operation. However, to create a truly successful upfit, you should not only plan for today’s needs, but also take into consideration tomorrow’s needs. As the proverb says, “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
Let me know what you think.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet