Planning and Communication

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Mike Camnetar is NAFA’s Board President and Fleet Services Manager for General Mills. Photo NAFA

In today’s challenging fleet operating environment, it’s more important than ever.

There’s no question that fleet managers are facing many obstacles today. A key issue among many is how to effectively manage budgets in an era of higher inflation, interest rates and volatility. One of the biggest challenges many of us are currently facing as fleet managers is interest rates, particularly as they apply to leased vehicles. We’ve gone from 1% to 8% in just two and a half years. For my own fleet, that represents an extra $1 million a year in terms of increased expenses, just in terms of being able to operate. 

In order to deal with these extra costs, one thing we’ve done is ensure clear and regular communication with stakeholders in each of our business units. Everything is more expensive and it’s during times like these where we need to not only set realistic budgets (we’ve increased ours across the board) but look at where we can drive efficiencies. Some examples include reviewing personal use charges for fleet vehicles, as well as insurance premium costs and deductibles, all in an effort to prevent runaway expenses. Probably the biggest thing, however, is to make sure people outside of the fleet business are aware of these things, since often, they might not understand all the moving pieces. 

Safety counts

Another key topic is driver safety, and this gains further emphasis at this time of year, as we enter the winter season. In our case, we put together an internal and seasonal newsletter for our teams that stresses the importance of vehicle safety checks for both their fleet and even family vehicles. Things such as tire condition and pressures, wiper condition, using the correct washer fluid and making sure the reservoir is topped up frequently as well as adjusting your driving habits to suit the conditions are keenly emphasized. While it may seem like something small, bulletins and newsletters can have multiple benefits. Not only do they provide education and awareness for your drivers, but they also demonstrate that fleet and vehicle safety is of paramount importance not only for business operations but also for the well-being of your employees. It’s important for them to understand that through safety initiatives and training, you’re looking out for them.

Safety also translates into maintenance since you want to ensure that your vehicles are consistently operating in peak condition, minimizing not only potential injuries and accidents but also maintenance downtime, since every minute a vehicle is off the road, you’re losing revenue from it. 

That’s why good maintenance is critical to successful fleet operations. When I worked at General Electric, I gained a new perspective on the importance of maintenance, driven by how critical it is for aircraft fleet operations. When an aircraft experiences mechanical failure it can be catastrophic—which is why good, regular maintenance is essential—and the same approach needs to apply to the vehicles that you manage. This is why it is so important to develop and execute an effective preventative maintenance strategy. This becomes particularly critical when you’re dealing with a shortage of new inventory and fleet allocation (as many of us are currently) and need to extend the life of your existing assets. While it can be tempting to try and have backup vehicles in the event of breakdowns, the problem with keeping extra vehicles just in case, adds extra cost and maintenance requirements and if you don’t have a plan, it can result in spiralling costs and chaos. 

Staying on top

A far more effective way is to stay on top of maintenance for the vehicles you have in operation and be prepared to budget for changing or replacing certain components that you might not have done in the past. Government agencies are often a good benchmark for this since they tend to have very robust preventative maintenance plans and keep vehicles in operation for a long time. 

On a final note, as the fleet manager in your organization, you are considered the expert and stakeholders, as well as your leadership and management teams will look to you for answers. Therefore, you need to understand what your role is, both from an operations standpoint and a strategy perspective, since in order to manage your fleet effectively you need to know what trends are coming and likely going to impact your business, all while making sure your stakeholders are informed. 

That’s why, as a fleet manager, it is so important to spend time educating others about what’s happening in the fleet, where changes need to be made and why.  


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