The current coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has touched just about every aspect of truck fleet management, from purchase to maintenance to disposal, and everything else in between.
One area work that truck fleet managers are specifically concerned about is the impact now (and in the future) on their vehicle upfits.
We spoke with Safe Fleet to find out more about what they see happening now and in the future.
Handling the Impact of COVID-19
In general, Safe Fleet is trying to take cues from the CDC’s recommendations where feasible.
“Among other changes, we’ve implemented single-person install teams, remote video installation guidance, online training videos, and increased wipe-downs and disinfection of installation facilities and vehicles,” said Safe Fleet's Vice President, Commercial Vehicle, Craig Bonham. “The way that we look at things now, when folks are doing installs, we need to be mindful of how they could be affected by the way or method or place that the product is installed at.”
In the immediate-, short-, and long-term, Safe Fleet is looking at the process of installation through a different lens – how to try to minimize exposure, potential infection, and spread of COVID-19.
Looking out toward the future, Safe Fleet recognizes that, going forward, this will affect how all companies within the commercial vehicle community plan and execute the day-in, day-out activities of manufacturing, selling, installing, and servicing the product.
“Weathering the Great Recession taught me how resilient and hard-working the folks in this industry are. This pandemic will forever change the landscape of our market. But, I’m confident that we’ll be able to remain agile and serve those in need of vocational products going forward,” Bonham said.
Missing Personal Connections
While there are many factors playing a role in the current pandemic’s impact on upfitting, according to Safe Fleet, the top factor is absolutely exposure.
“Needing to limit face-to-face interactions has led to us using virtual communication methods in novel ways. For example, we’ve been getting installation requests by phone or e-mail and are using webinars to assist in the installation process. This, along with generally increased use, has put strain on our IT network, which we’ve added capacity to manage, and I’m sure that’s happening elsewhere as well,” Bonham explained.
Managing Upfit Needs
For fleet managers struggling to manage their upfit needs during the pandemic, Bonham recommended separating your needs into three buckets: ideas for now, later, and, potentially, ideas for never.
“Take everything in the ‘now’ bucket and break down each process into isolated contact events. Figure out how to mitigate the risk of exposure for both employees and customers. The show needs to go on, but it needs to go on as safely as we can realistically make it for everyone involved,” Bonham said.
Bonham looked toward the past for a window into our future.
“As we look back on the 2008 financial crisis, most companies went from a planning phase to a procrastinating phase, to an impulse-buying phase. They didn’t decide to buy items until they absolutely had to have them. Having a contingency plan – reserve supplies to address potential failure points in an operator’s business – would be beneficial going forward,” he said.
Updates on Safe Fleet Operations
Given its public safety protection mandate, as reflected in the DHS regulations and corroborated by the customer feedback, Safe Fleet is an essential infrastructure business.
“We generally continuing to operate all of Safe Fleet’s facilities, subject to continued health risk management and fluctuations in customer demand, where applicable,” Bonham noted. “We’re communicating electronically, striving to maintain the same level of responsiveness and service that they’re accustomed to despite not being able to meet face-to-face. We’re making ourselves readily available where we manufacture and install products.
The Bottom Line
The COVID-19 pandemic is not like any event we have experienced in our lifetimes.
“What we’re all experiencing is an extraordinary event that is having an unprecedented effect on the economy. Until the crisis is resolved, we’ll need to be mindful and resourceful to support the needs of the country and the markets we serve as the commercial vehicle community,” Bonham concluded.