GM Cancels Fleet Orders

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Chris Hill fleet manager
Chris Hill. Photo Jack Kazmierski

To open I would like to applaud General Motors for rebranding their Buick electric vehicles with the Electra nameplate.

This seems so perfect for a line of electric vehicles. And it has a long history. As a 12-year-old, I remember a couple who came to my grandparents’ house for dinner one evening in a new Buick Electra. I thought it was the most elegant car I had ever seen, with glittering chrome and glass everywhere on its stately black coachwork. My grandfather didn’t go in for cars that were more than basic transportation. A Ford LTD was as far as he would go, although he traded them in regularly every two years. The last car he owned was a Honda Civic.

Shocking tactic

Speaking of trading vehicles (and specifically, fleet vehicles), in the middle of the most difficult time ever facing fleet managers when it comes to acquiring new assets, GM has shocked us by essentially cancelling the 2023 model year for fleet customers who need pickup trucks. The order book for several models closed after just one day, according to fleet sector reports. This is a terrible disservice to fleet customers. Some other manufacturers appear to be going in the same direction, making it difficult to continue the orderly and cost-effective management of fleet expenses.

I will hazard a guess that some GM dealers are asking for this to protect supply for their retail customers. As a younger fleet manager, I had a meeting with the dealer principal for a Chevrolet franchise in Toronto who bluntly told me that he hated fleet sales, that they were a disservice to his retail clientele and were tolerated only “to move the iron”.

The dealers must still be a powerful influence on GM’s business plans. Are some of them driving the decision to eliminate fleet sales?

Fleet sales are not a side business. Fleet vehicles move the economy and keep everything running. No further proof than when a violent thunderstorm hit Southern Ontario and Quebec this past May, the hydro utility fleets were deployed to replace more than 1900 broken poles and restore power to thousands of customers.

Not fair

After two years of extraordinary wait times for new vehicles, being left out for a whole model year isn’t fair and implies that fleets are second-class customers. It’s also not fair to the dealers who have deliberately built good relations with their fleet customers and earned their business. There are great people who manage fleet sales at dealerships who must be wondering what the factory is thinking.

In 1981, Chrysler was facing the grim reality that its cars were not selling well. It had a new product line called the K-car that seemed to be a question mark. Then Xerox Corporation placed an order for 6,000 K-cars for its U.S. fleet and the road to recovery opened for Chrysler. The Xerox fleet manager, Ron Pink became a bit of a celebrity. He was certainly not a second-class customer as far as Chrysler was concerned.

Cutting out fleet orders may not be fatal to companies like GM, but it will impair the cost-effective management of fleets and drive away fleet customers who can’t wait another year to buy or lease new vehicles. It might take a lot more than a sentimental nameplate to bring them back.

Chris Hill has been a fleet manager and advisor with some of Canada’s best-known companies, several municipalities and the Ontario government. He has served twice as chair of NAFA Ontario Chapter. Currently he is Program Manager, Fleet Planning at the City of Guelph.


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