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A Different Environment

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Balancing vehicle and upfit supply is a current challenge many fleet managers face, according to a panel discussion during NAFA's 2022 Western Canada Chapter AGM event. PHOTO Ford Motor Company

On April 20, NAFA’s Western Canada Chapter hosted its Annual General Meeting. The hour-long virtual event covered a range of topics.

These included updates for the Chapter’s board members, which going forward, comprise Amy Reny as Chair, Pierre Langlais as Vice-Chair, Lee Ferrari as Treasurer, and Bruno Lemarche as secretary. Jeff Reader, Jim Laverty, and Britani Dunlop were named as board members. 

The meeting also discussed upcoming events, including the Chapter’s annual golf tournament at the D’Arcy Ranch Golf Club in Okotoks, Alta., on May 27; additional webinars announced for June and October/November, as well as a planned Holiday event for December 6. 

Panel discussion

A highlight of the AGM was a special Fleet Management discussion which featured Don Wallace, Regional Sales Director, Jim Pattison Lease; Sara Church, District Manager, Western Canada, Holman, and Mark Kibzey; Director, Fleet Strategies, EMKAY. 

Fleet Managers have been facing a growing list of challenges over the last two years and the panel discussion presented some very timely and clear insights into helping tackle them.  

Don Wallace explained that probably the biggest challenge facing most fleet managers today concerns ongoing inventory shortages. This is having a significant impact on production lead times, net pricing as well as the ability for managers to turn assets.

Additionally, parts shortages are also posing an issue, requiring fleet managers to rethink maintenance plans and budgetary processes. Furthermore, fleets really need to work with the OEMs to ensure they can provide a solid commitment when it comes to new vehicle acquisition and perhaps consider working with two or three different manufacturers to make sure the right product is actually available.

More flexibility

Additionally, managers need to be more flexible on trim levels and pricing, as well as consider upfitting requirements. Wallace noted that in some cases, a fleet manager might be able to order the right chassis cab but the upfit required is not available, and vice versa. 

Sara Church said that in addition to vehicle acquisition and budgetary constraints, now is the time for fleet managers to really get back to basics. A tight preventative maintenance program to which both drivers and fleet managers are accountable will go a long way to help navigate through these uncertain times. Church also noted that while it might be tempting to offload existing assets, given how high residuals currently are, fleet managers need to weigh the long-term impacts of doing so versus the short-term financial gains.

Mark Kibzey remarked that in today’s environment, traditional fleet management “best practices,” have essentially gone out the window. He explained that there needs to be more of an operational focus rather than an emphasis on the bottom line because things continue to change so quickly. 

Don Wallace and Sarah Church both commented on how the role of a fleet manager has changed over the last 25 years and where once upon a time, mechanical expertise was a requisite, that’s no longer necessarily the case. Today, fleet managers are much more likely to have business and analytical backgrounds which become ever more important given the rise in telematics and the amount of data that’s now available at their fingertips. Strong analytical skills can help fleet managers make sounder, more informed decisions, better allocate resources and ultimately ensure the business is optimized for the future.

Speaking of the future, amid the current hype and political fascination with electric vehicles, there are some very significant concerns regarding the practical adoption of EVs. 

Practical solutions

Mark Kibzey stated that while there is a lot of discussion on the subject, finding an actual solution that works for fleets is much more difficult. “You need to evaluate all your options,” he said. Although you might get a pat on the back or tap on the shoulder by saying “let’s electrify the fleet,” reality may determine that this isn’t in fact the correct solution. Kibzey noted that while the current perception of a 100-mile per hour jump into battery electrics is glamourous and sexy, industry and infrastructure still have a long way to go before mass EV adoption even becomes a reality.

Further complicating matters are current supply constraints, which are likely to continue for some time. Kibzey explained that OEM production scheduling and manufacturing capacity change almost daily, making it very difficult to determine when orders will be fulfilled, and vehicles delivered. Additionally, with very little decision-making at the OEM level taking place in Canada anymore and vehicle manufacturers focusing on a retail-first strategy on both sides of the border, fleets simply aren’t going to get the deals they did in the past. As a result, it’s critically important to be flexible and nimble in both budgets and decision-making processes to ensure you’re able to actually get the vehicles you need when you need them.  

 

Categories : Editorial, Fleet
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