Vehicle specification—it’s complex, time consuming, and sometimes difficult to streamline. The right spec yesterday may not be the right one for today or tomorrow.

No matter how you approach it, spec’ing can’t be completed in a vacuum. In addition to the fleet manager’s own experience and knowledge, it requires involving key company and industry stakeholders who bring their unique perspectives and expertise to the table.

Spec’ing for success requires a balance between your companies’ goals and the right vehicle tailored to accomplish the job at hand. 

Establishing Priorities

There are many variables that come into play when considering how to fully optimize your vehicle specifications. Setting the priorities is the first step in this unique balancing act. Oftentimes, fleet managers rank the following elements:

  • Total cost of ownership
  • Downtime
  • Rightsizing
  • Driver safety and efficiency
  • Sustainability
  • Lead time

Setting Parameters

While the following is not an exhaustive set of questions that should be asked in each category, they are representative of the approach that should be taken when setting spec’ing parameters.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

TCO is fundamental in the choice of a vehicle. Measuring the cost of operating the vehicle against its productivity provides an informed assessment of the expense.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the acquisition cost of this vehicle?
  • What is the fuel economy?
  • What is its cargo or passenger capacity?
  • What are the projected maintenance costs? What is the potential resale value?

When it comes to spec’ing and sourcing a service vehicle it is critical to have a good understanding of all associated costs—even if cost isn’t the largest factor in your decision-making process.

Spec’ing example: A fleet that operates in both rural and urban environments must source vehicles that meets multiple needs, not just one. While there are many spec’ing factors to consider when it comes to location, a critical one is the availability of maintenance providers. The ability to service your vehicles for a competitive price can have dramatic results on your TCO. There is often an abundance of maintenance providers in urban areas yet the options are slim in rural settings.

In situations where vehicles are doing a similar job but are in dramatically different territories, incorporating a second vehicle option might be a wise choice. Another vehicle option helps to accommodate the maintenance needs of the rural drivers and helps avoid going outside a provider’s network which can affect price and quality, both having dramatic results on a fleet’s bottom line.

On the flip side, if there are no limits to maintenance needs or the fleet only operated in urban areas where service providers are plentiful, the fleet could garner a larger manufacturer incentive by single source ordering. TCO is a careful science that, when analyzed correctly, pays off in the long run.

Lead time across the supply chain

Vehicle lead times are dynamic and can have a significant impact on your operation. Think beyond the OEM chassis. Consider how lead times across the entire supply chain could impact your vehicle specification decisions and yearly replacement planning schedule.

Questions to consider:

  • When do you need the vehicles on the road? Is there an urgency factor?
  • How many vehicles do you need to order?
  • Is this a popular model that will require a longer lead time?
  • Is there any upfitting needed for the vehicle? How much time will this add to the process?
  • Is your entire supply chain ready to support your order needs?
  • When do you need to start your replacement planning process to source the vehicles in time for your needs?

As you answer these important questions, modify your vehicle selection process accordingly. Be sure to analyze upfit locations and driver options to ensure the supply chain can support your overall order-to-delivery expectations.

Spec’ing example: Ship-thru transportation delays are a known possibility. If your fleet provider suspects a delay during an upcoming ordering cycle you can modify your sourcing strategy to use upfitters in a region closer to your end-user. This strategy can sometimes add transportation costs but will ultimately avoid delivery delays.


Some amount of downtime is unavoidable. Taking the vehicle off the road to undergo preventive maintenance is necessary to keep vehicles in top operating order. However, unscheduled downtime due to defects or poor maintenance practices are an unnecessary and wasteful drain on the company’s bottom line—both in terms of the expense related to the repair and the loss of productive time of the vehicle and the driver.

Questions to consider:

  • How often is preventive maintenance required?
  • Any significant recalls or maintenance issues?
  • How complicated are major and minor repairs?
  • Are there special parts required that are difficult obtain?

Fleets also need to make sure they are replacing vehicles at the right time to avoid excessive driver downtime.

Spec’ing example: If your fleet is heavily upfit with detailed specifications crucial to its application, a rental vehicle won’t suffice if there’s a gap between order delivery and new vehicle acquisition. There’s also the matter of the time it takes to move inventory and/or equipment into a new vehicle, which can be extremely taxing on the driver and add up to a day of downtime. Consider this when you build a vehicle spec because it will identify how important it is to manage acquisitions and spare vehicle inventory.


Rightsizing considers both the size (weight, engine type, etc.) and the number of vehicles in the fleet. The goal of rightsizing your fleet is to equip your drivers with the tool they need to accomplish the job without adding too much complexity or unnecessary vehicles to your fleet.  

Questions to consider:

  • What is the role of the vehicle in the fleet?
  • Can a change in vehicle size add efficiencies or decrease costs while still doing the job safely? 
  • What is the weight of the vehicle drivers are operating now?
  • Can you remove unnecessary equipment to reduce weight, minimize costs, and improve the efficiency of the vehicle?
  • Is the vehicle overweight, causing excessive maintenance costs or unsafe driving conditions?
  • Is the vehicle DOT compliant?

Spec’ing example: If a fleet is looking to avoid the complexity of DOT compliance, they would need to find a solution that brings the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) to 10,000 pounds or less. One way they could do this is by opting for an aluminum body to decrease vehicle weight in order to satisfy the fleet’s need to carry a large amount of cargo.

Safety and Efficiency

As you think about safety and efficiency take the perspective of both the driver and the vehicle. Balance between safe choices for the driver and an efficient vehicle to increase productivity for the fleet office.

Questions to consider:

  • What are the standard safety features on the vehicle; what is the safety and crash rating?
  • Is the vehicle comfortable and easy to drive?
  • How safe or efficient is the loading and unloading the truck?
  • Can the driver stand in the back of the vehicle or must they crawl to access the cargo?
  • How safe is the driver when they enter or exit the vehicle?

Does the driver carry chemicals? If so, are those chemicals kept in a sectioned-off area?

When you carefully harmonize driver and vehicle safety features you can balance your corporate safety goals and your drivers’ needs.

Spec’ing Example: One of the most common vehicle choices for a light duty fleet is a cargo van. These vans should always be upfit with partitions to prevent the cargo from impacting the driver in the event of a collision. However, consider your cargo—if you are transporting toxic chemicals, a van might not be the ideal specification to limit driver exposure. Many fleets with this type of criteria opt for sourcing mid-sized pickups to house chemicals separate from drivers.


Due to corporate sustainability initiatives becoming more commonplace, fleets are directed to take the environmental effects of their vehicles into account during acquisition planning.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the vehicle’s carbon footprint? 
  • How old is your fleet and is it contributing to a negative footprint?
  • Is there an alternative fuel option that would deliver the equivalent capabilities?
  • Would acquisition costs be increased; can the useful lifecycle be increased?
  • How complicated is refueling, and would it require installing fueling infrastructure?

As this list indicates, spec’ing for success involves looking at the fleet holistically and without vehicle bias. The right vehicle may be one that’s unexpected—perhaps an aluminum body truck or an alternative powertrain might suit your sustainability needs.

Spec’ing Example: Determining if your corporate goals revolve around carbon neutrality or reducing carbon footprint will help guide you in your sustainability endeavors. Top down buy-in is essential as “going green” may not equate to cost-neutral decisions. A good place to start is with replacement parameters and minimum MPG on all company vehicles. Goal setting examples: “X MPG improvement by 20XX” or “X% Hybrid Electric Vehicle use by 20XX”. 

And keep in mind, you don’t need to go it alone. In addition to your internal stakeholders, you have an ally who can help identify priorities and advise you on the right upfit: your fleet management company.

The Right Truck, the First Time

Wheels offers full support to its fleet clients during the spec’ing process. Operating under the motto of “The Right Truck, the First Time,” the fleet consulting manager, account executive, and truck consultant work in tandem to understand your unique goals and how they fit into the corporate mission.

A key component to this motto is the site visit. At Wheels, we drop desk-bound assumptions, and get out in the field.  Visiting with the fleet and speaking directly with drivers and key stakeholders help your account team understand exactly how fleet supports your business needs. It also gives them the opportunity to engage with the field to gain a deeper understanding of how the vehicle is used. The team evaluates every aspect of the fleet’s current application(s) firsthand, focusing on user behaviors, specialized equipment and driver requirements. The questions the team asks during the site visit are then used to help build the right vehicle for the job; one that meets the needs of drivers and helps the organization accomplish its goals.

By setting priorities, asking detailed questions, and ranking them, fleets can create a successful vehicle spec that keeps your business moving forward.

Let us know how Wheels can help you make the best spec’ing decisions for your fleet by contacting us at info@wheels.com