Seven years ago, we reported on the upcoming challenges facing fleet managers. Let’s go back through the post to see both how well we predicted the future and where the industry is now.

At the start of the original post, there are no surprises. The industry was looking for ways to increase efficiencies to cut costs and to find and keep drivers. It’s hard to imagine a time this wasn’t the case.

“A recent survey of fleet professionals done by GreenRoad revealed that reducing the overall costs of fuel, maintenance and vehicle replacement were among their top concerns. Managers were also extremely concerned with driver retention and ensuring those drivers are productive and safe on the road.

With the economy projected to grow at a modest rate through 2013 and into next year, it’s unsurprising that cost management is on so many managers’ minds. But there are a lot of trends besides cost-reduction that companies should be looking to get ahead of if they want to reduce costs down the road. Let’s examine what are likely to be the big issues over the next months and into 2014 as well.”

But in the next section, we find the first slip. We had the right idea, but our timing was off.

Safety and Compliance Changes

“Electronic log mandates are part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) agenda this year, with a final rule likely to be announced this fall. It’s been one of the highway bill’s most controversial provisions. Bill Quade, Associate Administrator for the FMCSA, said of the rule, ‘One day, we may consider doing publicly available driver-scoring systems. There are many complications that would go along with a driver scoring system.’

The agency has a much denser schedule of rule-making this year, and new authority allows them to not only order a particular company to cease operations, they’ll be able to tow and impound vehicles if they determine there’s a particular safety hazard. Many of these regulations are aimed at the worst of the worst safety violators, but compliance requirements may affect other fleets as well.”

In the end, it took a lot longer than predicted. The government didn’t mandate electronic logging devices until 2017, four years after our blog post first appeared.

But we were right that safety and compliance were big issues, and they still are today. Fleet managers remain under constant pressure to keep up to date on new rules. The FMCSA recently created new hours of service (HOS), and because the new regulations introduce more flexibility, they also highlight the ever-increasing need for reliable data tracking. Now that drivers can split the 10-hour required off-duty time, their jobs became easier. But tracking the data became a bit more challenging. 

And that brings us directly to the next topic.

A Further Shift away from Paper Logs

“We’ve already talked about likely mandates for on-board electronic recorders for many vehicles, with driving hours enforced to meet DOT regulations. But along with that shift comes an entire raft of data collection and enhanced reporting abilities.

Look for a lot of firms to start implementing changes that require even closer integration of fleet vehicles and drivers with their home offices, with drivers getting real-time communication and feedback from managers. A lot of fleets are taking monitoring beyond drive-time to more accurately analyze driver behavior, trigger critical event alerts and optimize routes for fuel-efficiency and timeliness.

All of this data being collected is happening through fleet management dashboards that give managers a birds-eye view of their operations over time, giving them real leverage to impact fuel costs, recognize corrective maintenance patterns and intervene when driver behavior patterns reveal unsafe conditions.”

The trends we described have only accelerated over the last seven years. Fleet managers can now collect more data, and because sensors and onboard computers are collecting it, it’s also more accurate and reliable.

But it’s not just the amount of data that’s increasing. New platforms also allow for tighter integrations. The ELD in a truck feeds data to your EAM software, triggering maintenance tasks. And the EAM is also tracking associated parts and materials, so when a preventive maintenance tasks is scheduled, the software makes sure technicians have what they need to close out the work order. When inventory is running low, the software automates the purchasing process. Then at the end of the month, the maintenance lead can check on close-out rates to track the department’s overall efficiency. It’s not just that there’s more data, it’s that because it can move easily across departments, the organization can get more value out of it.

Driver Satisfaction and Retention

Back in 2013, we already knew a lot of the issues related to finding and keeping drivers could be addressed through better data capture and capitalization.

“Driver retention is starting to be a growing issue, and driver shortages are projected into the hundreds of thousands over the next decade. That means firms will be taking a closer look at the pain points of their drivers, investing in technology and processes that make sure their employees are happy and safe.

Managers aren’t just putting tablets and smartphones into their drivers’ hands for reporting and communications purposes; they’re making that technology available to help drivers stay connected with family and friends back home and reduce the isolation of drivers from the rest of the company as a whole.

All of that big data is being aimed at driver retention as well. New remediation techniques and predictive analysis are helping savvy managers understand environmental factors that affect drivers’ stress levels and overall safety. Driver-centric approaches to team organization and management are the new normal.

We’ll likely see many large fleets instituting many of these changes to address problems of compliance, driver-retention and cost-efficiency. Managers need to get a start on these things now so that when demand comes roaring back next year, they’ll be ready to scale their new processes as they grow.”

And what was true then is still true now. In his detailed review of the people and economics of the fleet industry, The Big Rig: Trucking & the Decline of the American Dream, Ivy League sociologist Steve Viscelli lays out his solutions to long-standing trucking challenges, and many of them rely on fleet managers having access to up-to-date information on where their drivers are and what they’re doing.

The move to electric vehicles

It didn’t make the list back in 2013, but today many fleet managers wrestle with the risks and opportunities of electric vehicles (EVs). Should they make the jump? When’s the right time? And are EVs really the future of fleet? With total cost of ownership, infrastructure for charging stations, and vehicles changing so quickly, it can be hard to arrive at good answers. Even so, when choosing the top fleet maintenance software for such new EV fleets.

But strictly in terms of maintenance and compliance demands, EVs appear to have advantages over traditional internal-combustion vehicles.  According to one industry publication, ‘As few as 20 moving parts may be found in the drivetrain. Fewer moving parts equates to greater efficiency, both in energy use and maintenance.’

In fact, EVs do not require: 

  • Regular oil and filter 
  • Transmission fluid and filter 
  • Gas filter 
  • Radiator fluid 
  • Air filter 
  • Spark plugs 

There’s also no need for state emission checks, further cutting costs. 

If one of the big differences between traditional vehicles and EVs is the associated maintenance costs, fleet managers need accurate, reliable data on their current maintenance programs before they can run the numbers and know if and when they should make the move. Before you can predict when EVs will make economic sense for your fleet, you need a comprehensive understanding of your current maintenance program. A basic example is spark plugs. If you can see through your EAM software that you’re spending a lot of money on spark plugs, EVs become more attractive. 

Author bio: Derek Smith writes about fleet maintenance, asset management and operations management for ManagerPlus. When he isn’t scouring government reports for new regulations facing companies, you’ll find him in the canyons, hiking, fishing or getting lost.

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ManagerPlus is the preferred solution across the most asset-intensive industries, including Fortune 500 companies, to improve reliability and minimize downtime.
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