Equipment constraints with railroads, the primary long-distance transporter of cars and trucks, were a key factor to lengthened OTD times.
 - Photo: Gettyimages.com/MarioGuti

Equipment constraints with railroads, the primary long-distance transporter of cars and trucks, were a key factor to lengthened OTD times.

Photo: Gettyimages.com/MarioGuti

Order-to-delivery (OTD) times for the 2019 model-year fleet vehicles increased, especially for high-volume trucks and vans popular in the commercial fleet market. The top factors contributing to OTD delays were:

  • Strong fleet order volume for trucks and vans, creating a backlog at upfitters and missed ship-thrus. 
  • Reduced availability of railcars and truck carrier shortages.
  • Persistent delays in exporting vehicles assembled in Mexico to the U.S.

“Order-to-delivery times for model-year 2019 increased in comparison to model-year 2018. Across all manufacturers and vehicle lines, we saw average lead times increase by a few weeks. The primary reasons for the increase were: Shipping delays due to rail constraints, plant downtimes, truck driver shortages, plant production capacity strains, early cutoffs, and model-year change overs,” said Jessica Krams, manager, vehicle order management for Wheels Inc. “Orders placed between October and December were especially hard hit by delays. Some orders were even impacted by delays at every point within the order-to-delivery process.” 

This assessment was reiterated by LeasePlan USA. “Things have been crazy all year on the delivery side. It was the perfect storm, with business booming, delays from body manufacturers and chassis delivery,” said Wayne Reynolds, manager, upfit design and consultation for LeasePlan USA.

“Overall we saw a year-over-year increase in OTD cycle times for 2019 among all OEMs and all models purchased,” said Eric Miller, CAFM, director of ordering fulfillment for Element Fleet Management. “OEM-specific shipping issues began earlier and persisted longer than in years past.” 

Large trucks and SUVs remain in high demand, which put additional strain on the already limited railcar interior cargo space.
 - Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

Large trucks and SUVs remain in high demand, which put additional strain on the already limited railcar interior cargo space.

Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

Equipment constraints with railroads, the primary long-distance transporter of cars and trucks, were a key factor to lengthened OTD times. “Overall, order-to-delivery times increased for the 2019 model-year due to a number of factors, most notably, the ongoing railcar shortage, which also had a trickledown effect in several areas. Further amplifying the impact of the railcar shortage was rail network congestion due to heavy volume. Additionally, large trucks and SUVs remain in high demand, which put additional strain on the already limited railcar interior cargo space. Aside from these challenges on the rails, congestion at vehicle distribution centers and delays in moving vehicles/parts into the U.S. from Mexico also contributed to an increase in OTD times,” said Ted Davis, vice president, North American supply chain for ARI.  

The preceding 2018 model-year was also difficult for OTD, with some fleet management companies, such as Mike Albert Fleet Solutions, reporting that 2019 was not that much different. “OTD times for 2019 felt very similar to 2018. We had issues with a few, very specific vehicles, but otherwise we didn’t experience much change from last year,” said Carly Prather, director of vehicle purchasing and fleet titles for Mike Albert Fleet Solutions

A lesser factor lengthening OTD were quality holds on 2019 models. “With the release of a large number of all-new models, especially half-ton pickups from GM and FCA, delays were unfortunately common to the batch/hold QC procedures from the plants,” said Matt Miller, vehicle status specialist for Donlen. OEM production constraints also played a factor in lengthening OTD times. 

Enterprise Fleet Management observed several other factors that also played a role in lengthening OTD times. “Higher than normal production volumes, challenges with the reliability of vehicle shipments to the U.S. from Mexico, and long dwell times at aftermarket equipment (AME) ship-thru vendors influenced OTD performance during the 2019 model-year,” said Mary Jo Welch, assistant vice president of new vehicle acquisition for Enterprise Fleet Management.

At the core of the issue, there were a variety of factors combined together that increased OTD in MY-2019. Most OTD delays centered around five key areas:

“The top five factors were: Shipping delays due to rail capacity constraints, order volume across all market segments exceeding plant production capacity; delays at upfitters; plant downtimes; and early cut-offs and model-year change overs,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. 

Likewise, LeasePlan USA cited similar key reasons for OTD delays in 2019.

“Some common themes behind OTD delays were chassis shortages resulting in long chassis lead times, along with upfit volume, transportation delays/railcar shortages, and missed ship-thru, where units were shipped straight to a dealer without the upfitting being completed,” said Reynolds of LeasePlan USA.

These were among some of the many findings that were revealed by Automotive Fleet’s 20th annual OTD survey, which is based on data and analyses provided by nine fleet management company (FMC) survey partners that included: ARI, Donlen, Element Fleet Management, Emkay, Enterprise Fleet Management, LeasePlan USA, Merchants Fleet, Mike Albert Fleet Solutions, and Wheels Inc.

The comprehensive OTD survey tracked deliveries of approximately 270,019 new vehicles in the 2019 model-year, representing 110 different models.

The survey methodology calculated OTD times for cars from the day an order was placed with a factory to vehicle delivery to a dealer (not driver pickup). Truck OTD was calculated from order placement to delivery to an upfitter or, if no upfitting was required, to a dealer. The days spent at an upfitter were not included in truck OTD times. 

The New Normal?

The primary vehicle segments susceptible to longer OTD times were full-size pickups, vans, and SUVs.

“Upon review of the OTD data, there seemed to be distinctively different stories to be told. While the domestic manufacturers (GM, Ford, and FCA) with North American production tend to have consistent year-over year to marginally increased OTD timeframes. Full-size pickups, vans, and SUVs seem to be taking the brunt of the longer timeframes. Unfortunately, this seems to be the new normal,” said Miller of Donlen. 

Also, OTD delays tended to increase later in the 2019 model-year. “We saw some challenges toward the end of the 2018 model-year with OTD times for some popular fleet models. Those challenges caused longer than expected delays for some of our clients that ran into early summer of this model-year,” said Welch of Enterprise Fleet Management. 

While there is a myriad factors that contribute to longer OTD, most of the participating FMCs agreed that chassis availability was the biggest contributing factor resulting in the most delays. 

“High-volume demand coupled with lack of chassis availability and rail car shortages have made for a challenging year. Currently I see limited chassis availability as the greatest issue — manufacturers just aren’t keeping up with demand,” said Reynolds of LeasePlan USA.

The survey methodology calculated OTD times for cars from the day an order was placed with a factory to vehicle delivery to a dealer (not driver pickup).
 - Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

The survey methodology calculated OTD times for cars from the day an order was placed with a factory to vehicle delivery to a dealer (not driver pickup).

Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

However, others saw the glass half full and presented a more positive assessment of 2019 OTD. 

“Compared to 2018-MY we have seen improvements in order-to-delivery times for all OEMs. The majority of models were in line with manufacturers’ 2019-MY published guidelines. Overall this had a positive impact in managing our clients’ delivery expectations. Our data has shown improvement ranging from two to 30 days. The decrease in OTD ranged from two to 40 days; however, it was still within OEM guidelines,” said Charles Mathew, fleet operations manager, for Merchants Fleet.  

Other fleet management companies had a similar assessment. “Order-to delivery times were relatively flat for the 2019 model-year. Weather-related delays were non-existent and the railcar shortages that had plagued manufacturers over the last few years were far less noticeable,” said Jim Tangney, VP of vehicle acquisitions for Emkay.

Below are the other key factors that delayed OTD in 2019:

Ongoing Railcar Shortage: Railroads are a key component of the OTD cycle, but are beyond the control of the fleet industry. The ongoing railcar problem seems to have gotten more acute in 2018 and 2019, as have truck transporter issues. “There were widespread rail and truck hauler shortages,” said Miller of Element Fleet Management.

The railcar shortage created backlogs of vehicles needing to be shipped. “The rail industry experienced significant shortages of railcars, causing the rail and convoy transportation network to operate at maximum capacity,” said Welch of Enterprise Fleet Management. 

Agreeing was ARI. “Several factors combined to influence OTD times but generally speaking, overall performance remained steady during the 2019 model-year. The continued impact of the well-documented railcar shortage was certainly the most significant factor and was noticeable across the industry, but most fleet operators were able to plan accordingly for this bottleneck in the supply chain,” said Davis of ARI. 

The railcar shortage was widespread and the top reason for OTD delays. “The industry-wide rail constraints often referred to as an ‘industry-wide railcar shortage,’ hit the OEMs particularly hard this year. As in previous years, truck and van assembly plants saw the greatest delays due to the more complex logistics of getting vehicles to and from upfitters and then back into OEM traffic for shipment by rail,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. “While it’s true that the demand for trucks, SUVs, and vans results in fewer vehicles being moved at one time as they require bi-level or single level railcars, the OEMs are also competing against other industries to move product or natural resources such as crude oil across the country. Auto manufacturers make up less than 5% of all rail traffic; however, they are working with the railroads to increase priority for shipments. Recent rule changes related to switching and routing of rail cars also impacted rail traffic.” 

There was an improvement in railcar toward the tailend of second quarter 2019. 

“Toward the end of 2018, Merchants observed industry-wide railcar delays at various domestic plant locations.  Railcar delays impacted assembly plants in Wentzville, Flint, Arlington, Kansas City, and Ohio. To assist with alleviating backlog, General Motors utilized nontraditional ramps,” said Mathew of Merchants Fleet.  

Despite these difficulties, OEMs were cited as doing an excellent job in helping fleets cope with OTD delays. “GM’s proactive planning and communication to FMCs and clients on model transition on pickup trucks from old to new generation.  Merchants was anticipating OTD delays; however, our data shows overall improvement from 2018-MY by 16 days,” said Mathew of Merchants Fleet.  

There were a number of variables exerting pressure on rail transportation. “Railcar and rail crew shortages, as well as quality holds were the main factors that impacted OTD times. Weather-related issues have not had the major impact that they typically do, though with the hurricane season set to pick up, that could change throughout the remainder of the year,” said Tangney of Emkay.

Production Constraints: The OEMs had a strong demand from both retail and fleet customers, but sometimes struggled to keep up with demand. “As a result, OEM production/capacity constraints occurred on select vehicle models,” said Miller of Element Fleet Management.

In addition, there were constraints on key components from Tier 1 suppliers.

“Production bandwidth (or lack of) for high-demand models such as three-quarter ton and above capacity pickups and full-size vans,” said Miller of Donlen. “There were consistent constraints on popular equipment options. Examples of the constraints include larger 40-gallon fuel tanks on Ford Super Duty models and sliding side door and /or power windows/locks/mirrors group on GM full-size vans.” 

High Customer Demand for SUVs: “All sizes of SUVs still seem to be in high demand and schedulers on the OEM level are consistently challenged with the allocation balancing act of fleet versus retail,” said Miller of Donlen.

Constraints in Exporting Product from Mexico: In general, vehicles built in Mexico have longer ship times. There were persistent difficulties in shipping product from Mexico to the U.S., resulting in delays and uncertainty as to the anticipated delivery date.

“OEMs attempt to mitigate rail delays by utilizing ocean shipment from Mexican ports when possible. This unfortunately compounded outbound and inbound port delays due to the unanticipated higher volumes” said Miller of Donlen.

This assessment was also cited by ARI. “Some domestic manufacturers wrestled with cross-border supply chain disruptions. Often vehicles built or assembled outside of the U.S. faced lengthy delays at the border to reenter the U.S. supply chain,” said Davis. 

Production Errors: “Increased instances of units that had incorrectly assigned final destinations from the factory and / or units missing an upfitter completely and in turn shipping to their final destinations with no fabrication being completed,” said Miller of Donlen.

Ramp Congestion: The delays in rail pickup of finished vehicles resulted in a growing inventory of unshipped vehicles clogging rail ramps. “Ramp embargos were another factor that influenced OTD performance. There was a large backlog of finished vehicle shipments that sat at ramps and yards, causing logistic systems to limit what vehicles were allowed to enter,” said Welch of Enterprise Fleet Management.

Order Volume Exceeding Production Capacity: The strong order volume for trucks and SUVs from both retail and fleet buyers caused factory production to struggle to keep up with demand. 

“The strong retail market impacted OTD cycle times on fleet vehicles,” said Miller of Element Fleet Management.

The railcar shortage was widespread and the top reason for OTD delays.
 - Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

The railcar shortage was widespread and the top reason for OTD delays.

Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

This was echoed by Wheels. “Both a higher volume of commercial orders as well as retail orders caused lead times to jump significantly on some models over the winter months. As large volumes of orders are placed, this pushes production out farther and increases lead time. The OEMs have been reluctant to add new plants or additional capacity at existing plants since the retail market has been steady the past few years and has recently softened a bit. They may also be concerned about making significant changes ahead of potential tariffs,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. 

Mike Albert Fleet Solutions offered a similar assessment. “There was heavy demand for trucks and vans, which was aggravated by transport-related issues, such as railcar shortages and bayed vehicles. However, there was vehicle availability in pools. Another point that stood out for 2019 is that it seems there was more excessive damage on shipped vehicles than in the past,” said Prather.

Upfitter Delays: The high volume of vehicles scheduled for upfitting and the inconsistency of delivery of units to upfitters created backlogs and delays. 

“The often-unexpected production delays or increases in chassis lead time adversely impacted the upfitters’ ability to start upfits and often disrupted scheduling,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. “Installation times increased due to heavy order volume and, in some cases, installation times doubled. Also, many upfitter parts suppliers increased lead times without advanced warning. Particularly hard hit were body manufacturers producing aluminum service bodies where lead times for just the bodies were in excess of 26 weeks. The lack of a skilled labor pool also contributed to the upfitters’ inability to add shifts.” 

Plant Downtime: This year’s OTD survey revealed that plant downtime did impact some fleet orders. “In addition to the normal holiday plant closures, we saw several plants with down times of three weeks or longer throughout January, February, and March,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. 

Early Cut-Offs Due to Model Year Changeovers: Early order cuts were another factor that impacted fleet ordering and subsequently fleet deliveries. “GM and FCA both transitioned to a new generation of pickup truck models and Ford had an early cut-off on the 2019 Explorer resulting in customers seeking out other alternative models, such as the Chevrolet Traverse, which also experienced an early cut-off,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. 

Dealers Need to be More Fleet-Minded: One weak link cited by fleet managers and their drivers is some courtesy delivery dealers. “There needs to be additional training for fleet-minded courtesy dealers. Dealers constantly indicate they didn’t get an email or mail from Merchants, yet we are able to find original email and tracking information.

OEMs can work on the logistics getting vehicles out of the plants and delivered timely but if the courtesy dealer isn’t motivated to move the car off the lot if we are not calling and following up it doesn’t happen in an acceptable timeframe,” said Mathew.   

Another area of friction with dealers is dealer-installed options for fleet customers. “Proactive communication or increased visibility to courtesy delivering dealers on dealer installed options to ensure the options are installed in the vehicles before they are delivered. Often the options are not installed yet we are billed for them, we find out a few months after the fact when it is too late to go back to the dealership for assistance,” said Mathew of Merchants Fleet.  

Minimal Impact of Quality Holds

Unlike prior model-years, quality holds had less of an impact on 2019 OTD times. “Quality holds played a very minimal role in the overall increase in OTD times this year. We did see quality holds on some models, particularly the Jeep Cherokee and the Toyota RAV4. But overall the delays were minimal,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. 

Agreeing was LeasePlan USA and made a call for greater transparency by OEMs when dealing with quality holds.

The primary vehicle segments susceptible to longer OTD times were full-size pickups, vans, and SUVs. - Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

The primary vehicle segments susceptible to longer OTD times were full-size pickups, vans, and SUVs.

Charts courtesy of Armie Bautista.

“This has been and always will be an occurrence however, the holds we have experienced in the 2019-MY have been minimal and mostly condensed to smaller numbers of vehicles and in some cases one individual vehicle. The bigger issue we face with quality holds is what leads to them in the first place as the OEMs rarely will reveal the reason behind the hold leaving our customers fearing the worst case. Customers want and deserve transparency so they know what to expect and can plan accordingly,” said Rick Smith, director of operations for LeasePlan USA.

A similar assessment was made by Mike Albert Fleet Solutions. “I do not recall experiencing any holds related to new models,” said Prather of Mike Albert Fleet Solutions.

These observations were reinforced by Tangney of Emkay. “We did see some quality holds on new vehicles; however, the resulting delays did not add a large amount of time to delivery timeline,” said Tangney.

Some FMCs report quality holds have already occurred for early 2020 model-year production. “Quality holds appear to have diminished among new model in FY-2019.  That said, we are already experiencing a quality hold for some 2020 models,” said Miller of Element Fleet Management. 

Fewer Weather-Related Delays

Inclement weather in 2019 did result in some weather-related OTD delays.

“Weather continued to impact OTD timeframes for the 2019-MY.  Severe snow accumulation over the winter months and record-breaking rainfall in spring for the central region of the country led to longer durations of widespread delays,” said Miller of Donlen.

Making a similar observation was Welch at Enterprise Fleet Management. “We saw that weather caused delays in select areas of the country over the 2019 model-year. Cold weather had an impact on the transportation system in some states over the winter followed by flooding and hail storms in the spring months,” said Welch.

In addition, weather-related issues impacted deliveries to dealers. “As we have seen in the past couple model-years, weather mainly impacted deliveries from end-destination ramps to delivering dealers. If weather was more severe throughout the year, lead times would have likely been significantly worse,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. 

As with prior model-years, there were several weather-related incidents this year that impacted OTD. “A few of our clients reported serious hail damage that resulted in critical delivery delays. In early spring, significant flooding in the West and Midwest had a severe impact on rail services, intensifying preexisting OTD problems,” said Reynolds of LeasePlan USA. 

Other surveyed FMCs also cited the minimal impact of weather on 2019 deliveries. “Luckily, a relatively mild winter and low hurricane activity helped keep weather-related delays to a minimum. A small number of units in the Midwest were damaged by hail while in transit but the damage was addressed prior to delivery,” said Davis of ARI. 

Making a similar observation was Merchants Fleet. “No significant weather-related delays in 2019 were noted. Flooding in Texas late last year did have impact; however, on average, OTD was minimal due to weather improvement in 2019,” said Mathew of Merchants Fleet.  

Other participating fleet management companies reported that the slow start to the hurricane season had a beneficial effect on vehicle deliveries. “With only two hurricanes to date, Barry and Dorian, weather-related delays have not been as prominent for 2019. However, as of writing this, the storm season is expected to pick up and that may result in some substantial delays due to damage to the South and East coasts. With Dorian new vehicle deliveries to that area of the country were stopped until after the storm has passed,” said Tangney of Emkay. 

Weather typically impacts the delivery process, regardless of model-year, but it was not a significant factor as it has been in the past. 

“Weather-related delays have been minimal for 2019 model-year, though we are headed into hurricane season, which will likely impact this response. We experienced some transportation delays and damage related to hailstorms and flooding throughout the Midwest in the spring ordering season,” said Miller of Element Fleet Management. 

Closing Observations 

All participating fleet management companies cited a need for greater collaborative efforts to identify solutions to rectify OTD deficiencies.

“As we look toward the future, the 2019 model-year further underscored the importance of OEMs, upfit vendors, FMCs, and delivery partners working together to find creative solutions to reduce supply chain complexities and shorten the overall order-to-delivery cycle. It’s clear that fleet operators desire a B2B buying experience that mirrors the ease of a typical ecommerce transaction in their personal life,” said Davis of ARI.

All partners in the supply chain are dependent on the satisfaction of the end-user fleet operator, but this goodwill is being strained in recent model-years.

“We have noticed that clients are becoming less accepting of long shipping times. Therefore, it is important that the automotive industry takes a fresh look at fixing a taxed system and finding ways to reduce OTD times,” said Welch of Enterprise Fleet Management.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

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