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The State of Self-Driving Vehicles: Proceed with Caution

Norman Vincent Peale, author of the classic self-help book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” put it like this: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Peale’s message is clear: Aim high. That way, even if you miss your target or it takes you longer than you had hoped, you’ll accomplish so much more than you could have if you had set your sights lower.

It appears that after a decade of shooting for the moon, the automakers and tech giants working in the self-driving space have realized that replacing human drivers with software is a much harder challenge – and will take longer – than anticipated to solve. But in their pursuit of full autonomy, OEMs have made significant progress in developing driver-assist systems and other technology that could pay significant dividends in saving lives until the day that “driverless” becomes a reality.

What has happened in the past year to change the trajectory and outlook for fully autonomous vehicles? Where does the industry stand today?

The Moonshot
In 2009, search engine giant Google launched its self-driving car project – now branded as Waymo – as one of the company’s “moonshot” initiatives. That decision has transformed the automotive world with significant implications for public safety.

After all, nearly 40,000 people die on U.S. roads each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94% of crashes can be tied to human error.

So, if self-driving systems remove the human driver from the equation, and thus eliminate human error, we can prevent the vast majority of on-road fatalities, right?

In this way, autonomous vehicles would usher in a crashless society. And Waymo’s first fleet of highly automated Toyota Priuses began to make that vision look possible, spurring traditional automakers and other Silicon Valley companies – like Tesla – to join Waymo in an all-out race to autonomy.

Self-Driving Hype Cycle
But the race really began to heat up in October 2015, when Tesla released its first version of Autopilot, which operated like cruise control on steroids, using cameras to keep the vehicle within lane markers, radar to maintain safe speed and distance from vehicles ahead, and sonar to sense when to change lanes safely.

This was a big deal because it gave consumers access to the most advanced vehicle automation system commercially available at the time.

Autopilot opened the public’s eyes to the possibilities of what full automation might look like. In 2016, other automakers began tapping into that market excitement and anticipation by touting their own latest advancements in autonomy, not just at auto shows but also at popular technology events, like South by Southwest and the Consumer Electronics Show.

The hype around self-driving vehicles swelled over the next two years, as media headlines promoted the idea that truly driverless vehicles were right around the corner.

The Crash
Then came March 18, 2018, when the first recorded case of a pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving vehicle occurred.

Elaine Herzberg was walking her bicycle across a Tempe, Arizona, street when the radar and LiDAR of an Uber-owned autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV failed to spot Herzberg and fatally struck her.

According to Tempe police, the safety driver in the Volvo was streaming video on her phone at the time and didn’t hit the brakes until less than a second after the collision.

This incident caused Uber to stop their self-driving testing program in Arizona.

Then, just five days later, on March 23, 2018, the driver of a Tesla Model X was killed after colliding with a freeway median barrier while the vehicle’s Autopilot was engaged.

A few months later, in June, one of Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans crashed on the freeway outside the company’s office in Mountain View, California. The lone safety driver fell asleep at the wheel and inadvertently pressed the gas pedal, which disengaged the vehicle’s self-driving mode. Fortunately, the safety driver wasn’t hurt, and no other vehicles were involved.

But the impact of these high-profile collisions in short succession caused the industry to take a step back to reflect: “Are we racing too fast toward full autonomy at the expense of safety?”

The Caution Flag
Today, most companies in the self-driving space are setting more sober expectations compared to the year or so leading up to Herzberg’s death in March 2018.

For example, when Raquel Urtasun, chief scientist with Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, spoke about the challenges of self-driving development at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York this April, she said, “Self-driving cars are going to be in our lives. The question of when is not clear yet. To have it at scale is going to take a long time.”

At a Detroit Economic Club event in April, Jim Hackett, chief executive officer at Ford Motor Co., said that too much hype had been built up around how soon self-driving cars will hit the road. “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” he said. While Ford’s first self-driving car is still coming in 2021, “its applications will be narrow, what we call geofenced, because the problem is so complex.”

Tesla is the lone player in this space saying that full self-driving is imminent.

On April 22, at an investor event that Tesla promoted as “Autonomy Day,” CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla would have a million “robotaxis” on the road next year, meaning a million truly autonomous cars that can operate commercially in a ride-hailing network, generating passive income for their owners.

Industry analyst sentiment was generally skeptical.

Tesla investors and analysts – no media members were invited – had the opportunity to ride in the cars in full self-driving mode but were not permitted to film the drive. The experience left some analysts with more questions than answers.

As reported by CNBC, Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner, who took a test drive of the vehicles Tesla showed, said, “Given our own test ride still faced issues despite being on a preplanned course and under relatively simple road conditions, we believe the company’s targeted timeline for both full self-driving and its robotaxi service is at the very least aggressive. Ultimately, we still wonder whether Tesla can even solve the large challenges of fully autonomous driving with its vision-based approach alone.”

The Bottom Line
Although most companies in the self-driving race have tapped the brakes and pulled back from their more aggressive timelines, consider the progress made in the past decade with the increased availability of advanced driver-assist systems – the building blocks for automation, which include auto-braking, lane-keeping assist and blind spot detection – that are saving lives today.

Full self-driving may be much further away than anticipated. But in the pursuit of improving driver safety, it’s a good thing that Google shot for the moon and the industry followed.

Going Sideways: Technology that Protects Crews in Rollover Incidents

It was early 2017.

A crew for Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) was traveling on the highway in a Class 8 digger derrick when the unforeseen happened.

There was a truck pulling a trailer ahead of them when, suddenly, the axle broke off that trailer and began hurtling, with wheels still attached, toward the digger derrick.

As the OG&E driver swerved to avoid the incoming debris, his truck flipped onto its side before coming to a stop.

“The driver was okay, and the passenger broke his hand, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, who oversees about 2,000 of the utility’s fleet assets.

His crew was indeed fortunate. In fact, rollover crashes account for 55 percent of all commercial truck driver fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The driver did a great job by setting [the truck] down on the shoulder of the road,” he said. “If they had gone any farther, they would have hit the embankment.”

This was an eye-opening experience for Jefferson and his team. After all, even when you equip your trucks with stability control and advanced collision-avoidance technologies, and your drivers consistently follow safety best practices, there still are incidents like this that your people won’t be able to avoid.

So, if you can’t prevent all rollovers through technology and driver training, how can you at least reduce injury risk when a rollover does occur?

That’s the question Jefferson posed to his truck OEM reps.

The consensus: add a seat option equipped with the RollTek side rollover protection system by IMMI (

How It Works
RollTek combines side airbag protection with advancements in seat-belt technology to reduce the potential for death or serious injury in a rollover incident.

How does it work?

When the roll sensor inside the cab detects an imminent rollover, the system deploys three components in about a quarter of a second. The occupant pretensioner tightens the seat belt to keep the occupant secure in the seat. The suspension seat drops to its lowest position to increase survivable space. And the side airbag inflates to cushion the head impact, reducing head and neck injuries.

Passenger Seat Availability
Jefferson now specs RollTek-equipped seats on all of his fleet’s new Class 8 trucks. But when he first started ordering the RollTek option, his truck OEMs only offered it for the driver side.

“At the time, [the OEMs] didn’t have it engineered for the passenger side because there wasn’t a lot of demand,” he said.

But Jefferson pushed for the passenger option – and eventually got it added for his spec.

“I told [the OEMs] that if there’s ever an accident, you can’t tell the widow of the passenger, ‘It’d cost too much money to put [RollTek protection] on the passenger side,’” Jefferson said.

UFP reached out to Julie Cooley, director of marketing communications at IMMI, to get more information on passenger-side availability for RollTek. 

“While IMMI encourages the truck OEM to include the passenger-side version in their engineering project when releasing RollTek in a specific cab model, some OEMs do not elect to release a passenger-side version,” Cooley said. “Some OEMs may elect to release only the driver side initially, while later including the passenger side. A lot of time it is limited engineering resources being deployed to the highest volume.”

But Cooley added that IMMI has noticed a growing interest in the passenger-side version. “In the past, fleets that had included both sides were primarily van trailer applications,” she said. “Now we are seeing more demand of RollTek in vocational applications, and we are seeing vocational fleets that might have a driver and passenger in the truck specifying both sides.”

Under the Radar?
Are most utility fleet professionals aware of this type of safety technology? Or is it still under the radar?

“I think it’s still under the radar,” Jefferson said. “I really do. I’ve talked to some people in the industry about it. Most people don’t know about it.”


Safety Tech to Have on Your Radar
Besides side rollover protection systems, here are three other fleet safety technologies that may not be on your radar – but should be.

1. Anemometers for Aerial and Lift Trucks
Either hand-held or attached to the aerial platform, an anemometer measures wind velocity to ensure crews do not use aerial devices in unsafe wind conditions. One system from Etesian Technologies (, for example, alerts crews with a text message the moment that wind speeds exceed safe levels. 

2. Wheel Lug Nut Indicators
These are directional attachments to the lug nuts that enable the vehicle operator to quickly spot loose wheel nuts with a visual inspection. For example, with Wheel-Check (, the wheel-nut indicators are placed in a uniform pattern on the wheel nuts after the wheel nuts have been torqued to spec. This way, if a wheel nut becomes loose, the indicator will appear out of sequence, making it easy for drivers to spot it on their pre-trip inspection.

3. Voltage Detectors on Construction Equipment
These also are referred to as “power-line proximity devices” that alert operators when the machine gets near high voltage. For example, the Voltek NS by Voltek Systems ( uses a wire antenna running the length of the boom of the equipment to detect the electromagnetic field when working near power lines. The system translates the detected relative strength of the electromagnetic field into usable information for the operator. So, if the system senses a strong voltage signal, it will generate a warning siren with increasing frequency, telling the operator to proceed with caution. But if the machine gets dangerously close to a power line, the siren will alert with a more urgent constant sound, and the system will shut the machine down.

The Latest Developments in Drones for the North American Utility Sector

Although drone sales in the North American utility market will reach only about $850,000 in 2018, that number is expected to grow by more than 20 times – to $25 million – by 2026, as U.S. regulations ease and drone technology improves.

That’s the outlook from Michael Hartnack, a research analyst covering drones and robotics for transmission and distribution operations worldwide for Navigant Research. (For Navigant’s full market report, visit

While those numbers might appear underwhelming, they represent hardware sales only, and not revenue from ancillary drone services – such as piloting, training, software development, data management, cybersecurity and other support offerings – which will make the overall U.S. utility drone market significantly larger, Hartnack said.

So, what exactly is the state of drones in the North American utility sector today? What pieces need to fall into place to accelerate growth? And what are some of the most interesting future possibilities?

UFP recently spoke with Hartnack to get his perspective. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

UFP: With all the buzz surrounding the potential for drones in utility applications, the market size you’re quoting is much smaller than one might expect. Why is that?

Michael Hartnack: Right now, there aren’t many utilities that own drones. And the ones that do may buy three, 10, 15 or, at most, 20 units. So, when you consider that the price of a drone is anywhere from $8,000 to $50,000, that doesn’t equate to a tremendous dollar amount for the overall market.

Today, the utilities that are using drones are doing so as part of a limited pilot program – and that’s where things are going to stay until regulations are eased. So, there’s a ton of potential for drones, but everything is kind of stalled right now.

That’s why, in our research, you see an exponential growth curve. There’s minimal growth until the middle of the forecast. And then the market takes off.

What assumptions are you making to explain such a steep growth curve?

One assumption is that the FAA will ease regulations, specifically the rule that requires the drone to always be in the line of sight of the operator. This would enable utilities to inspect much longer segments of power lines per flight, making drones more efficient, productive and practical.

So far, Xcel Energy [based in Minneapolis] is the only utility company that has been granted an exception by the FAA to fly drones beyond the operator’s line of sight.

So, is your assumption that the FAA will ease line-of-sight restrictions across the board for utilities?

Yes. It’s hard for me to put a precise timeline on it, but for most people I have spoken to in the industry, one to three years is about when they expect the FAA to start granting more exceptions like they have done for Xcel Energy on a much bigger scale.

Beyond regulations, what’s holding back wider-spread adoption of drones by utilities?

Once you take the regulations out of it, you still have a technology barrier. For the most part, the technology required to do a lot of the work utilities want them to do is already here. For example, the ability to put a camera on a drone and fly it over and inspect transmission lines – that’s here.

The issue now becomes, how far can the drone fly without having to be recharged? How can it be controlled without somebody piloting near it?

There are a lot of technological questions that need to be answered, but none of those questions is really being addressed right now because of the line-of-sight issue.

As this market grows, will you see utilities own their drones or outsource that function of their operations?

Right now, utilities, for the most part, own their drones. But I think there will be a shift toward a more hybrid approach where utilities may own the drone itself but outsource other aspects of drone operations. They’ll say, “OK, I’m going to own the drone, but I want to use your pilots and software platform where all I need to do is plug into an app and see the data.”

What are some exciting possibilities for drones that could create game-changing breakthroughs for utility operations?

One possibility is being able to install a drone in a box under a transmission line or a substation, and program it along the lines of, “OK, once a month, I want this drone to fly over a preset area of this transmission line.” And it would have a long enough battery life to do the job. Or, in some cases, the drones could return to home base and get a new battery all by themselves, and then get back to work, flying over the line, doing this whole thing autonomously. The end game here is total autonomy; you’re removing the human, as much as possible, from having to be involved with the process.

Another cool application is using drones for light repairs on transmission lines. Right now, if you have a fault that’s caused by a tree branch, you have to roll a truck out there, get everyone all geared up in their safety equipment, cut the power and perform the repair.

But what if you could sit there in the truck and send a drone up with two little robotic arms that grab the tree branch and throw it to the side? And maybe it can do some minor line repair with tape and insulators and things like that. You can save a lot of money and time, minimize power disruption to customers and, most importantly, improve worker safety.

You talk to any utility and the first thing they’ll say is, “Well, this needs to be safe.” Putting a drone up there in these situations is safer than putting a person up there.

What Will It Take for Autonomous Vehicles to be Ready for Prime Time?

When it comes to fully autonomous vehicles becoming commercially available, industry consensus is that it’s not a question of if but when. And that time frame appears to be within the next two to three years.

For example, industry research firm Navigant Research ( expects that highly automated light-duty vehicles will begin to be introduced in 2020, with steady growth anticipated starting in 2025.

Then there’s Waymo ( – formerly the Google self-driving car project – pushing the pace, saying that it will roll out fully self-driving taxi rides to the public by the end of this year, with a plan to operate 1 million self-driving miles by 2020.

And at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March, Ed Peper, vice president of fleet at GM (, said that the automaker expects to launch fully self-driving vehicles “safely and at scale” in ridesharing applications in 2019.

But fatal crashes in recent weeks – involving an Uber vehicle in fully autonomous mode and a Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged – also have caused many in the industry and government to pump the brakes on vehicle testing, creating some uncertainty around when robots will actually rule the roads.

So, what needs to happen for fully autonomous vehicles to be ready for prime time?

UFP spoke with Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research, to get his perspective.

Innovation vs. Regulation: Striking the Right Balance
Abuelsamid said that the industry and regulators need to develop standards that achieve a delicate balance between innovation and regulation.

“We don’t want to stifle innovation or development of technology,” he said. “At the same time, I think that if we’re going to put these vehicles on public roads – either for testing purposes or commercial deployment – we need to take a look at some basic standards and make sure that the vehicles that we’re putting on the road achieve at least a minimum level of safety.”

What might those standards involve?

“We can begin by taking a look at developing standards for the sensing systems on these vehicles – to make sure that they can reliably ‘see’ in a wide range of driving conditions,” Abuelsamid said. “And then we need to make sure that the systems can react and do the right thing under those conditions. We should have confidence that when the autonomous systems detect something, that they’re going to make the right decision. As human drivers, we have to take a basic driving test to get a license to drive. We should have the same expectation when it comes to licensing a car to drive itself.”

The Machine-to-Human Handoff Hassle
In both the Uber and Tesla crash incidents, the human driver in the vehicle was required to be fully aware and ready to take over control when necessary. But it’s precisely this machine-to-human handoff situation that can be dangerous, according to Abuelsamid.

“I get to drive a lot of different vehicles and try out these different technologies,” he said. “And unfortunately, I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that the partially automated systems like [Tesla] Autopilot and others that require a handoff to a human being are actually a bad idea. I think that having a human as a supervisor for these systems is fundamentally not going to be safe or workable because as soon as you start getting reasonably comfortable with the technology, people quickly become complacent.”

What’s the solution?

“What we should do is move away from these partially automated systems to fully automated systems, even if they’re limited in their scope in terms of where they can operate,” Abuelsamid said. “I have no problem with testing the systems and using them in limited conditions. But I think that is a better approach than relying on a human to oversee the system because that’s what we had in the recent Uber [crash] case.”

Remote Control
Last year, Nissan ( introduced a remote control system for autonomous vehicles called Seamless Autonomous Mobility, or SAM. The way it works is that when the car encounters an unpredictable situation – such as a new road-construction area – it brings itself to a safe stop and requests help from the command center. The request is routed to the first available mobility manager – a person who uses vehicle images and sensor data, streamed over a wireless network, to assess the situation, decide on the correct action and create a safe path around the obstruction. Once the vehicle has cleared the area, it resumes fully autonomous operations, and the mobility manager is free to help other vehicles calling for assistance.

So, is a remote control system like this a viable solution to give human passengers greater confidence in an autonomous vehicle?

“I think that some degree of remote control is going to be a necessity for autonomous vehicles,” Abuelsamid said. “There are going to be certain situations where the vehicle gets stuck and is unable to figure out what to do. So, having a remote operator who can see what the vehicle sees and guide it through certain scenarios or to a safe place if there’s some sort of system failure is a good thing. But that’s not something that’s ever going to be scalable to all the vehicles on the road. It would be used as an emergency-only backup.”

What about cybersecurity? How much of a challenge is that right now?

“It’s a huge issue that all the OEMs are going to have to deal with to make sure that autonomous vehicles are both secure and resilient,” Abuelsamid said. “When you have complex systems like these, you can never guarantee absolute security. It’s not possible. No one can say that a system is 100 percent secure with as much code as these systems are running. The technology must be resilient so that when there is a security breach, it can be detected and the vehicle brought to a safe stop.”

How optimistic is Abuelsamid that automakers are making cybersecurity a top priority?

“The good news is that manufacturers have recognized that cybersecurity is a real issue,” he said. “Four years ago, I could not say that was true; they weren’t taking it very seriously. But now they are.”

The Bottom Line
What needs to happen for fully autonomous vehicles to expand beyond niche robo-taxi applications to achieve significant scale?

Here’s how Abuelsamid put it: “People have to trust that these vehicles are going to behave properly – that they’re going to be reliable. The public needs the confidence that the autonomous vehicle is safer than a human driver.”

And that timeline is not so certain.

What Do AI and Machine Learning Mean for Utility Fleets?

There are some people who still believe artificial intelligence (AI) is no more than sci-fi wizardry. And there are others who tend to view it with blind optimism, as a kind of be-all, end-all for industries of all types. But somewhere in between, AI has taken its true place as just one piece of a much broader technology transformation.

Both AI and machine learning – a field of computer science that enables computers to think intelligently and even “learn” from historical data without specifically being programmed – eventually will make their way to utility fleets, perhaps through relationships with other industries. David Groarke, managing director of Indigo Advisory Group (, a new-energy/utilities consulting firm, ticked off some possibilities. These might involve, for example, electric fleet vehicles automatically being charged during off-peak times. Or, they might include the use of telematics to better predict and adjust driver behaviors. Examples abound in other industries, too, such as supply chain and logistics.

As a result, Groarke and others have said, now is the time for utility fleet professionals to take notes, ask questions, be willing to share data for more accurate and strategic insights – and keep pushing the envelope by exploring what-if applications.

“More information is always better,” said Paul Millington, vice president of technology products for Element Fleet Management ( “As experts who are dedicated to fleet, we make it our job to anticipate what insights our customers would be looking for. I’d say keep asking the questions of your fleet management company and others on whether your objectives could be achieved with machine learning.”

Millington and Marius Stroe, Element Fleet’s director of software development, referenced a maintenance management project that uses AI to more efficiently handle vendor authorizations and proposed pricing. Rather than separating out utility fleets, Millington said, incorporating the data into a broader set can reveal different insights, perhaps related to similarities in usage patterns or asset types. That could result in “better recommendations and better understanding for all, regardless of industry,” he said.

Not-So-New Technology
Groarke noted that even though these concepts might seem futuristic, machine learning has been around “for a very long time. The utility industry has been using machine learning in how it operates the grid since the 1970s. But we’re only starting to get really sophisticated big data sets now.”

For example, with more sensors on vehicles, more data can be explored, which can lead to more patterns being recognized and inferences being made. This is especially the case with safety and maintenance, and inroads are being made.

Even so, Groarke said, he’s still seeing some skepticism among certain groups. “They really want to see if the proof is in the pudding, to look at the numbers and see why they should invest in this technology.”

For those groups in particular, he recommended keeping an eye open. The ability to better process data eventually can lead to the ability to make smarter business decisions.

Stroe, meanwhile, referenced the importance of constant dialogue between technology experts and business leaders as the field evolves. Ongoing education is essential on all sides.

“You have to have the technology team explain to business leaders what machine learning is and how it works,” he said. “You also have to have business leaders explain all of the features of the enterprise to the technology team.” In many cases, company technology teams already are exploring these possibilities – but the external conversations haven’t yet taken place.

The experts also urge dialogue with OEMs to help further insights.

“It’s interesting to see how manufacturers are starting to leverage some of this data,” Millington said. “That’s part of the next frontier that fleet managers will need to start thinking about. Fleet management companies have some influence over OEMs, but it’s the client base in the utility space that really has a lot of influence.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


First Steps for AI and Machine Learning
Don’t know where to begin when it comes to artificial intelligence as it relates to your utility’s fleet? David Groarke, managing director of Indigo Advisory Group, offered a few suggestions:

  • Seek to understand the AI and machine learning solutions that already are emerging. This likely will involve looking at other industries and exploring how efforts might translate to utility fleets.
  • Do more with the data you already have on hand. Look at the information that sensors are providing. Explore the technology and software that are available. This will help engender trust in – and perhaps build excitement about – what’s possible.
  • Realize the different uses of AI and machine learning will be introduced incrementally. “We’re not in a period of disruption,” Groarke said. “These are changes that are going to take decades.” With that said, there still are elements that can help businesses in the shorter term.

3 Ways Telematics Can Help Improve Fleet Safety

One benefit of implementing a telematics solution is that it can help create a safer environment for utility fleet employees. How? UFP recently reached out to several industry experts, who provided three of the most valuable ways telematics data is currently being used to strengthen fleet safety.  

1. Telematics solutions can be used to monitor driving behavior and coach drivers.
Each day, fleet managers are tasked with ensuring the safety of their drivers as well as the public. Analyzing telematics data can help reveal driving trends and behaviors – such as speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, hard turns and unauthorized usage – that may be contrary to a company’s safety policies. 

“The data available through telematics is much more than maintenance and fuel transactions; it can track or predict behaviors that impact fleet costs,” said Spero A. Skarlatos, CTP, senior consultant, truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (

And once an undesirable trend or behavior is discovered, some telematics providers, such as GPS Insight (, provide real-time and post-incident coaching for drivers on ways they can improve. Feedback can come in the form of text messages to the driver that tell them to slow down, or a buzzer that goes off to coach drivers in the cab in real time. In addition, according to Ryan Driscoll, GPS Insight’s marketing director, the company also supplies “actionable data for managers to coach their drivers after the fact to help educate drivers on how to improve behavior behind the wheel.”

Telematics-based driver coaching also leverages gamification, informing drivers of how they compare to their peers in terms of safe driving behavior and related areas, such as deployment of onboard scales integrated into telematics systems to make sure vehicles are not loaded beyond their weight rating, according to Geoff Scalf, director of global oil and gas business development for Telogis (

2. Telematics data is being used to improve emergency response times.
Another valuable way fleets are using telematics data is to find new ideas to more quickly respond to emergency situations.

With telematics, Driscoll said, “[w]hen utilities send their crews in to help, they can see their entire fleet, make decisions on which trucks can be used to help and ensure they take the proper routes.”

In addition to knowing where fleet vehicles are, knowing where a technician or crew is located in real time also is critical, especially for sending help when it is needed. So, what about those times when a lineworker is alone or doesn’t have access to a phone, and calling for help may be impossible?

GPS Insight created a custom panic button on a key fob, specifically designed to operate independently of the user’s vehicle, that can be tapped when an emergency arises. This alerts dispatch/management, who can then send help.

3. Telematics systems provide greater asset visibility. 
Gaining visibility of assets is the most important use of telematics systems for utility fleets, according to Kimberly Clark, director of telematics products for Element Fleet Management.

“Safety of drivers and security of the vehicles is always critical in both everyday work and the post-event response work where drivers and vehicles might be deployed hundreds of miles away from their home territory,” she said.

Through the use of telematics, utility fleets can get a clear picture of what’s really going on with their fleet operations – in particular, the vehicles and equipment.

“This includes analysis of congregation of vehicles at sites, getting visibility to storm surge assets deployment in critical areas, providing customers access to real-time technician deployments in their neighborhood, and tracking productivity metrics to maximize technician site time and associated grid online needs,” Clark explained.

Asset visibility is just as important for maintenance work as it is for new construction work; to control project costs, it is essential to tightly manage the fleet’s assets and the utilization of those assets at construction sites. In terms of vehicle utilization, gaining greater asset visibility through telematics use can help fleets better plan for the types of vehicles needed in the field and where to place trucks with specific upfits, Clark said.

Telematics solutions also can capture odometer readings and automate reminders for any type of maintenance needed based on those odometer readings, run time or scheduled dates. These reminders are sent to the driver, the mechanic and management so that services are not overlooked or forgotten about. Reports also can be run to determine if any services are overdue.

“Critical to effective asset management is knowing assets are well-maintained and compliant with acceptable safety standards,” Scalf said. “With electronic [driver vehicle inspection reports], inspection information is uploaded on the spot, giving management an up-to-the-minute overview of equipment safety.”

Other telematics features, such as routing, also can advise drivers to avoid unsafe roads, bad weather and more.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

The Future of Drones in the Utility Market

Darting about inside one of Consolidated Edison’s 10-story steam boilers in Manhattan, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) looks like a hobbyist’s dream, a multirotor mini-helicopter outfitted with a megapixel camera mounted inside a gyroscopically balanced geodesic sphere. But don’t look for it at your local hobby store. It’s a custom-built UAV – also known as a drone – that ConEd’s engineers are testing as they explore the potential benefits of this new and growing technology.

To say that utility executives are excited about the possible uses of drones is a significant understatement. Most utilities are exploring the possibilities at one level or another, said Chris McMurtry, solutions architect with Sharper Shape (, a supplier of UAV services for utilities. “Of the major utilities, probably 80 percent have some sort of drone initiatives going right now, and almost all [utilities] have put in a lot of hours thinking about this,” he said.

The most common use to date has been to provide safer and more economical inspections of transmission and distribution infrastructure.

When inspecting a tower or other vertical infrastructure that’s within sight, “a drone will beat just about any other method you’ve got, whether it’s a bucket truck, binoculars, helicopter or climbing that asset,” said Dexter Lewis, senior research engineer with Southern Company Services. “It doesn’t matter how big the structure, that use case will probably return value.” Southern Co. is the parent of several utilities.

But the potential of UAVs goes well beyond that.

“We’re beginning to look at applications for storm recovery and damage assessment,” said Margarett Jolly, director of research and development at ConEd. “The aspect that is interesting is creating visualization technology that will make damage assessments more accurate. It will help make our recovery process quicker and more efficient.”

ConEd’s boiler drone has the potential to eliminate the need to build scaffolding for inspectors inside the tall structures, thus saving time and money, and reducing the possibility of accidents, said Jade Wong, project manager of research and development with ConEd.

“Gone are the days when we have to send someone into a manhole or climb a tower,” she said.

ConEd continues to test other applications, but they plan to implement the automatic inspection of transmission towers using the drone program in 2018, Jolly said.

While the potential uses of UAVs may carry a big wow factor, enthusiasm is currently held in check by regulations, as well as finding the applications that make the most business sense. (For more, see the “Regulations Create Obstacles to Wider UAV Use” sidebar below.)

Without waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration, commercial drones cannot be flown beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS), at night or over people, among other restrictions.

When inspecting towers without a BVLOS waiver, a utility has to look at which solution makes the most sense, Lewis said. The more towers or the greater the distance that has to be covered, the more the business case may shift to favor a more traditional option, or an outside service.

The Hidden-Cost Hurdle
Drones are plentiful and relatively cheap. A Phantom 4 Pro with a 20-megapixel camera from DJI (, the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, has an online retail list price starting from $1,499. The real financial considerations come into play when utilities look at what data they want to collect and what to do with it, according to Michael Hartnack, an analyst with Navigant Research (

“It’s more than just buying a drone,” he said. “You need a system to aggregate the data and integrate them into the utility’s infrastructure. That can be very expensive.”

Right now, I don’t think many utilities want to take it all on themselves,” said Ed Hine, director of drone capability development for HAZON Solutions ( “They want a hybrid model. Down the road … I expect some companies will continue to contract it out, but I see other companies taking on their own capability as systems will get a lot more automated.”

Most utilities are still feeling their way along, McMurtry said. “As this shakes out and drone technologies and regulations become more simplified, a lot of work will be done in-house, particularly visual inspections. But when doing infrared or [radar], it’s a different level of difficulty and I think utilities will outsource most of those activities.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Regulations Create Obstacles to Wider UAV Use
Although the Federal Aviation Administration last August relaxed the regulations covering commercial UAVs, there still are regulatory hurdles utilities must clear to realize more of the potential benefits of drones.

The most significant, industry experts said, is the requirement that drones cannot fly beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS). That severely limits the value case for using drones where they could be most beneficial – when inspecting infrastructure in rural areas or over long distances. Among other restrictions, commercial drones currently cannot be operated at night or above people, both of which effectively prevent widespread use for assessing storm damage.

Businesses can apply for a waiver of these regulations, but so far only a few have been granted and none to utilities, according to Chris Hickling, director of government relations for Edison Electric Institute (

As of mid-July of this year, the FAA had received 5,037 waiver applications, approximately 70 percent of which were for nighttime flights and 18 percent that involved BVLOS flights, an agency spokesman said. The FAA does not break those numbers down into business sectors.

Notably, EEI has applied to the FAA for a blanket BVLOS waiver that would cover many utilities, but the association has not yet received approval.

“We’re in the middle ground; we haven’t gotten a yes or no,” Hickling said.

Matt Dunlevy, CEO of SkySkopes (, an inspection and data-collection services company, said the reason for the delays in granting waivers or opening up the skies to wider commercial use is essentially due to the absence of airworthiness standards for drones.

“There is no method of getting them certified as airworthy in mass quantities,” he said. Thus, waivers are being considered on a case-by-case basis.

The FAA currently is working on setting standards for operating over people in congested areas, Dunlevy said, and he expects that BVLOS standards will be next on the list.

EEI’s Hickling said he’s optimistic because Congress has taken an interest in commercial drones, which may pressure the FAA to speed things up.

“There is a push [on the FAA] to give critical industries, such as utilities, a focus on some of these elements,” he said.


A Growing Market
The commercial unmanned aerial vehicle market is taking off. Navigant Research has estimated that global revenue from UAVs and similar robotics technologies and their services will grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024.

Michael Hartnack, research analyst for Navigant, said the company would release an updated report later this year, but that he expected that their estimate of the total value by mid-decade likely would be higher.

Using Technology to Reduce Engine Idle

In the U.S., roughly 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline are consumed each year by idling engines on medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to Argonne National Laboratory ( So, improving fuel economy – and thus lowering fuel expenses – without sacrificing performance is a must for utility fleets that often have to idle assets during working hours. 

UFP recently reached out to industry experts to gain some deeper insight about this issue and discover possible idling solutions for utility fleet operations.

A Changing Landscape
For a long time, technology selections for medium-duty trucks were very limited, according to George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (

But that’s changing. And while many fleets take a driver-behavior-based approach to idle reduction, one advantage of an equipment-based solution is that the change typically is good for the life of the equipment, said Survant, who also spent more than 25 years as a telecom fleet manager.

“We, as fleet operators, are becoming more sophisticated in our acceptance of new technology and sensitive to the need for better solutions,” he said. “Consequently, the market is producing more viable solutions that are made for an increasing number of applications.”

In Survant’s experience, each of the segments of a fleet may require different types of solutions to reduce idling based on vehicle type/mission. Idle reduction technologies for medium-duty trucks include air heaters, coolant heaters, waste-heat recovery systems and battery/auxiliary power systems, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (

“For vehicles with extreme temperature swings – high or low or both – cab heating and cooling from stored energy may be a legitimate tool,” he said. “Stored energy solutions also may work for high-PTO-use equipment. With some of the new OEM products, where the manufacturer is increasing torque and horsepower with smaller displacement engines, a careful review of the legacy truck specification may reveal impressive opportunity for improvement.”

Additionally, Survant said some of the best opportunities for idle reduction come from vehicles built with stop-start technology. He noted that the “technology can be unsettling to the driver until they learn to trust the equipment’s restart capabilities, along with understanding the slightly different driving technique needed to take advantage of these capabilities.”

It is important to recognize that while some vehicles may share a basic description and upfit, not all of them will necessarily benefit from an idle mitigation strategy. For instance, “Think of an aerial unit that could use stored energy for PTO operations but does not deploy the aerial unit often enough to justify the cost of the mitigation strategy,” Survant explained.

Realizing Benefits
Washington-based Clark Public Utilities wanted to provide its fleet exceptionally reliable equipment, reduce its dependency on fuel and lower transportation emissions – in that order, said Paul Chamberlain, fleet services manager for CPU.

The company sought a solution that would not impede upon the work required of the equipment, but that would provide operators access to heat and air conditioning, offer programmable features, be cost-effective, and have the capability of managing numerous inputs and outputs.

Of CPU’s 265-unit fleet, 29 over-the-road vehicles have been upfitted with idle management systems. The company is currently using two different systems: GRIP Idle Management System by Canadian Extreme Climate Systems ( for light- and medium-duty equipment, and Zone Technologies’ OZONE TECH ( for heavy-duty equipment. According to Chamberlain, CPU prioritized integration of idle management systems onto equipment that exhibited high levels of idling as well as high levels of mechanical failures due to idling.

The idle reduction module is designed to start and stop the engine within a controlled set of programmability values and ambient temperature. It can be integrated into both gas and diesel engine applications within the electrical system of any vehicle.

The results? “We are averaging about a 25 percent reduction within the trucks upfitted with idle management, with a fleet average of about 15 percent overall,” Chamberlain said. “Not all of it has been as the result of technology, but has been a combination of technology and employees making an effort to shut their vehicles off when they do not need to idle.”

Where to Start
If you’re wondering where to begin with an idle reduction strategy for your fleet, first and foremost, be clear about what you are trying to achieve.

“It is imperative to know what you need and are expecting from an idle management system,” Chamberlain said. “There are vendors more than willing to work with you toward a solution that will meet your needs.”  

Survant shared similar advice: “Weigh the existing fleet performance and forecast the amount of improvement potential to the units you are upgrading to the new technology. Some segments of your fleet may only get a 2 to 3 percent reduction in fuel burned, but when evaluated against the cost of the mitigation strategy, even what appears to be a modest improvement has the potential to provide a solid return on your investment.”

Good techniques for addressing fleet engine idling include identifying the idle characteristics of your fleet by vehicle type, understanding the root cause of the high-idle conditions you need to address and finding good technology-to-mission matches to deploy anti-idle strategies.

“As more and more equipment goes into service with idle mitigation technology, every gain becomes a permanent improvement in your operation into the fleet’s future for the life of the new technology,” Survant said.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

A Recovering Fleet Manager’s Guide to ICUEE

In just a few weeks, thousands of field operators and fleet managers will visit the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition ( in Louisville, Ky., with one thing on their minds: finding cost-effective equipment solutions that will make their crews more productive and enhance their emphasis on safe operation. Held every other year, ICUEE – The Demo Expo is perhaps the biggest equipment show for the electric utility industry.

After 30 years of working for an investor-owned utility, I’ve sat through my share of meetings with executives seeking to identify business plans and core values. But never did those efforts adequately convey the central concern of most fleet managers as this prayer a veteran mechanic once said before a monthly safety meeting: “Lord, don’t let us miss something that could cause someone to get hurt.”

Those simple words capture better than any corporate mission statement the true desire of fleet managers. Properly trained personnel and properly maintained equipment contribute to safe and productive work performance. Every person in an operation’s chain plays a critical role in achieving that goal. From stocking the right equipment, to thorough inspections and maintenance, to selecting the right equipment for your fleet, each is equally important.

ICUEE is an equipment show. More than 900 exhibitors will be there. When I’ve attended ICUEE in the past, my focus was becoming familiar with the latest technology and building relationships with peers, service providers and manufacturers. There’s much to compare. Often, I discovered that the lowest-cost option was not always the best option.

Terex Utilities ( will display at least 24 pieces of equipment, including aerial devices, digger derricks, auger drills and cranes. The Optima Series of aerial devices – the newest Terex product to be introduced at ICUEE – takes into account how productivity is impacted by each person in the operations chain. Lower ground access, for example, makes it easier for operators to enter and exit the bucket, allows one to easily hand off tools and supports ease of personnel rescue and platform debris cleanout. A simplified maintenance access and hose system makes it easier to keep equipment in top working order. For example, the new pedestal design provides convenient access to torque lower rotation bearing bolts.

Sharing knowledge with peers at ICUEE is just as important as seeing new equipment. Joe Suarez, director of fleets for Florida Power & Light, will present a case study with Dan Brenden, Terex Utilities’ director of engineering, on how our companies worked together to develop the Terex Load Alert system. This automatic load-sensing device supports safe work practices in aerial devices and has the potential to change the industry. We’ll also be introducing some new fleet management upgrades in the Terex Load Alert system. If you are attending the Utility Fleet Conference ( co-located at ICUEE, be sure to check out Joe and Dan’s session on Tuesday, Oct. 3. Finally, as ICUEE is The Demo Expo, Terex’s booth will provide visitors opportunities to see live demonstrations of our latest innovations and “Ask-A-Tech” any of your burning maintenance or service questions.

Desire for top-notch safety protocol remains a constant, but our industry is changing. As customers produce their own solar- and wind-powered electricity, utilities are realizing a devaluation of their revenue stream. Reimagining how the grid functions in the 21st century is the theme of the book “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke. Engaging in this dialogue is critical for the health and well-being of the electric utility industry. We hope you’ll join Terex and AEM for the “Diversity In The Grid” luncheon with Ms. Bakke on October 4 to learn more about this important issue. Register online at

Fleet professionals never stop looking for reliable, cost-effective solutions that can aid their safe work practices. Your challenge is our challenge. Terex Utilities is listening.

About the Author: Ted Barron is vertical market product manager for Terex Utilities ( He joined the company in 2017 after a 30-year career with Alabama Power and Southern Co., where he managed fleet engineering and technical support, including designing equipment specs and overseeing maintenance. At Terex Utilities, Barron assists with new product development and application of technology for investor-owned utilities as well as public power, rental, contractor, tree care and international markets.

Confronting the Human Dilemma in a Brave New Self-Driving World

In his speech at the AutoMobili-D Conference in Detroit this past January, John Krafcik, the CEO at Waymo – formerly the Google self-driving car program – cited this compelling statistic: “Each year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world.”

He then put that number in context: “That’s equivalent to a 737 [airliner] falling from the sky every hour of every day all year long.”

Krafcik’s point is clear. Society would never tolerate having a major airline crash every day; so, how can it accept the same number of people dying in automotive crashes? If self-driving systems could prevent the vast majority of fatalities on the road, wouldn’t it be a moral imperative for society to adopt that technology?

That’s the argument that Krafcik, several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and most automotive executives have been making in recent months as they present a vision of a “crash-less” society made possible by fully autonomous vehicles. After all, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human error. Remove the driver, eliminate human error – right?

But despite bold predictions by industry executives and analysts that fully autonomous vehicles will be available for sale in the U.S. within the next four years, human psychological barriers could put the brakes on societal adoption of this technology.


Fear of Autonomy
Consider this: Although autonomous vehicles offer the promise of significantly greater safety than their human-driven counterparts, U.S. drivers don’t believe it – at least not from an emotional and practical standpoint.

That’s based on the findings in a recent report from AAA, where three‐quarters of U.S. drivers said they would be afraid to ride in a self‐driving vehicle. And the majority – 54 percent – of those drivers said they would feel less safe sharing the road with fully autonomous vehicles while they drive a regular vehicle.

You might think, OK, that makes sense when you factor in older generations that may be more apprehensive about new technology, but what about millennials? Certainly, younger people would be much more open to riding in self-driving vehicles.

Yet according to the AAA study, 73 percent of millennials also indicated they were likely to be afraid to ride in a self-driving car, compared to 75 percent for Generation X and 85 percent for baby boomers – not that big of a difference.

So, how is the industry responding to counteract this fear?

Companies like Waymo, ride-hailing giant Uber and Boston-based nuTonomy have recently launched programs that offer self-driving rides to select passengers in limited locations around the world. The idea is to get people used to riding in these vehicles and to share their experiences with family, friends and colleagues, with the hopes of not only reducing fear but also increasing market demand for self-driving rides.

Collective Good vs. Self-Protection: The Double Standard
But then there’s also the issue of machine morality and how society will write the rules of the road for autonomous vehicles. When software assumes more and more of a human driver’s responsibility for decision-making, what moral model will govern those decisions?

Imagine this scenario: A self-driving vehicle is approaching a traffic situation where there will be an unavoidable crash. The car must decide between killing 10 pedestrians or its own passenger. What would you say would be the right moral choice?

According to a study titled “The Social Dilemma of Autonomous Vehicles” by scholars Jean-Francois Bonnefon, Azim Shariff and Iyad Rahwan, 76 percent of study participants said that it would be “more moral” for the autonomous vehicle to sacrifice one passenger than kill 10 pedestrians.

This is based on the moral philosophy of utilitarianism, where a morally good action is one that helps the greatest number of people – in this case, allowing the vehicle to sacrifice the one passenger to save 10 pedestrians.

But what if you’re the passenger of the self-driving car?

Now, that’s a different story. According to the study, you’re more likely to prefer a vehicle that will protect your life, not sacrifice it. “It appears that people praise utilitarian, self-sacrificing [autonomous vehicles] and welcome them on the road, without actually wanting to buy one for themselves,” the report states.

This is a prime example of what the researchers call a “social dilemma,” where people may have a strong consensus on what’s best for society as a whole but will still prefer to act in their own self-interest. And this double standard could have huge implications in terms of impeding the development of regulations that will make autonomous vehicles commercially available.

To encourage more public discussion on this issue on a global scale, one of the study’s authors, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Iyad Rahwan, launched Moral Machine ( It’s an online platform that invites the public to get involved with building a crowd-sourced picture of human opinion on how machines should make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas and discussing potential scenarios of moral consequence.

The Bottom Line
The emergence of self-driving systems could have a significant impact on utility fleet operations – by improving worker safety, boosting productivity and achieving the highest possible utilization rate from all your fleet assets. But there are human factors that go beyond technology development that could slow the market availability of these systems. Watch this space closely as technology companies, automakers and governments grapple with these societal issues to pave the way to a brave new self-driving world.

How Easy is it to Hack a Utility Fleet Vehicle?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hackers may be able to access a vehicle’s systems via a phone or tablet connected to the vehicle by USB or Bluetooth. The vehicle’s diagnostic port is another access point.

But a vehicle’s biggest vulnerability may be behind the wheel. According to a November 2016 blog post published by Promon (see, a Norwegian firm that specializes in app hardening, the company’s researchers demonstrated just how easy it is to trick a Tesla driver into giving a hacker access to the car’s systems. Tesla, like many vehicle manufacturers, offers a remote app that allows the driver to unlock the vehicle. During the experiment, Promon employees:
• Created a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
• Developed an ad for Tesla drivers that offered a free hamburger at a local restaurant if the driver downloaded a particular app.
• Used the app to gain access to the Tesla driver’s username and password.
• Located the car and used the Tesla app – and the previously captured username and password – to access the vehicle.
• Drove away in the Tesla.

Get Ahead of the Curve
When UFP spoke with Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District, he indicated that cybersecurity in vehicles was not historically a fleet management “care about,” but change is definitely on the horizon.

“The connectivity of our fleet is very limited,” he said, before noting that NPPD uses telematics and GPS intelligence, and that the fleet contains a limited number of new vehicles with Bluetooth capabilities. All of those are potential entry points for hackers and cyberattacks. In 2016, 3.6 million vehicles were recalled to fix cybersecurity issues; that figure is double the number recalled in 2015, according to the NHTSA, and this comes before vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity has really taken off.

“Technology grows and advances so fast that a lot of utilities and fleets are going to find themselves behind the curve,” Gilliland said. “I think it’s going to be a significant concern and will maybe catch a lot of us unaware.”

Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development and client information systems for ARI (, a privately held fleet management company, agreed. “While hacking and cybersecurity may have not been at the forefront in terms of concerns facing fleet managers, it will become increasingly important to have policies and processes in place that help prevent hacking incidents, especially when it comes to vehicles with telematics and other data collection devices,” he said.

Although new vehicles may have more potential hacker entry points, Candeloro noted that any vehicle with an OBD-II port is vulnerable. And as more and more enhancements are introduced, the cybersecurity issues multiply.

“Today’s vehicles are extremely sophisticated computers that are running millions of lines of code – many of which are susceptible to hacking,” said Dennis Straight, chief technical officer at Donlen (, a fleet management solutions provider. “Especially vulnerable are systems accessible from a vehicle’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or entertainment systems.”

Argus Security (, an automotive cybersecurity firm, has identified vehicles they believe to be most susceptible to cyberattacks. The commonality between them? All of the vehicles have weaknesses related to Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi capabilities.

These are particularly susceptible “by either providing a potential attack point or the limited security provided by most infotainment systems,” said Scott Goodwin, senior IT security and compliance administrator for Donlen. “Wi-Fi connections on vehicles are limited by the security available on the hub and the password used to connect to the Wi-Fi. Once connected to the Wi-Fi, the hacker can then attempt access to connected devices, which may provide the ability for data access/manipulation.”

An Appealing Target
Fleets make an especially appealing target due to their size – and the hacking-related possibilities are seemingly endless. Car and Driver ( anticipates that ransomware may prove to be a particular problem. A hacker can use ransomware to gain access to a computer system and hold it hostage until the hacking victim pays a sum of money. Using ransomware, hackers have the ability to do anything from locking drivers in or out of their vehicles to freezing a vehicle’s ignition.

In many ways, preventing cybersecurity issues in vehicles is much the same as protecting a laptop from hackers. It takes a combination of technology development, government intervention, good corporate policy – and savvy users.

“The current telematic devices we use for utility fleets only provide outbound communications, which prevents hackers from sending requests for data or updates to the vehicle,” Goodwin said.

Candeloro stressed that it is vital to keep all software up to date. “Fleets should also train their employees on how to spot security threats,” he said. “It is incredibly common for hackers to try to trick people into installing malware by sending fake – but very convincing – emails recommending phony software updates or other reasons that compel them to click links or download things that are dangerous.”

And know who has access to the vehicles’ computer systems, including that ODB-II port, Candeloro continued. Fleets should have “a clear policy regarding technology within your fleet and train employees on that policy and on what to look for in terms of possible cyberthreats,” he said.

For now, serious hacking threats haven’t materialized in vehicles, but that is likely to change. “As computers and technology are given more power within the vehicle, the opportunity for those systems to be manipulated also expands,” Candeloro said. “Fleet managers should stay alert to the kinds of technology being deployed within their fleet.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.

Putting a Lock on Lost Keys

Keeping track of keys in a utility fleet environment – which may have thousands of assets, from pickups to bucket trucks and beyond – can be a costly endeavor. In fact, the price tag associated with maintaining fleet vehicle keys and replacing those that are lost can hit well into five figures each year.

“Keys are pretty much a nightmare for every utility,” said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet manager at Eugene (Ore.) Water & Electric Board. With roughly 350 pieces of equipment, he has a lot to keep up with. Two keyboards – one master with keys that never leave the property and another keyboard for the shop to use – help some. In addition, two more keys for each vehicle go directly to the department receiving the equipment. But problems still arise.

The biggest culprit? When departments make their own additional keys, not realizing that for some vehicles, OEMs will only allow eight keys to be programmed the same.

“And if you’ve got four, and then someone goes back and makes a couple more, you’re at five and six, then we hit seven and eight, and when you go to make the ninth key, the number one key drops off,” Lentsch said. “It’s deactivated. That could be the one on your master keyboard. … It’s actually happened quite a bit.”

Another challenge is vehicles with an ignition fob and start button; those fobs are likely to be put in a purse or pocket, possibly going through the laundry or never being seen again.

Helpful Options
The good news is that there are options that may help.

For those with a variety of equipment on the same vehicle, for example, the one-key lock technology from BOLT ( allows fleet professionals to insert the vehicle’s ignition key into a padlock, cable lock, tailgate handle or other type of lock and have that lock “learn” that ignition key.

The advantage, said BOLT spokesperson Jason Buckles, is that there’s now only one key to keep up with rather than a whole ring, decreasing the potential cost of replacing numerous lost keys. He’s heard of trailer yards where all locks have been configured the same for added convenience. BOLT also allows fleet professionals to specify locks on Knapheide, A.R.E., LEER and other truck storage equipment, and matches locks for numerous OEMs, such as GM, Ford and Chrysler. Buckles highlighted BOLT’s high safety and security ratings as well.

As for key storage, the electronic key management system from KeyCodeBox ( tackles the challenge of lost keys from another angle.

KeyCodeBox is a key cabinet that isolates each key in its own compartment for greater accountability and reporting. The compartments require a confirmation code for opening, and the person overseeing the keys will receive notifications as the keys go out. There are options for fingerprint and magnetic stripe/ID card readers, and founder Buzz Siler said the product is ideal for fleet operations in which multiple people share the same equipment. In addition, the system can be configured to send text messages to those who have not yet returned keys by the expected time. Another bonus for utility companies, the way Siler sees it, is that the product can reduce the need for someone to sit behind a desk 24 hours a day, handing out keys.

“A key machine allows utility companies to do business 24/7 without having someone on the off shift,” he said. “You could have one admin that works nine to five, and the way the software is set up, you can communicate with the KeyCodeBox no matter where you are, give codes and reservation information, and the box can operate autonomously.”

In addition to utility companies, Siler is seeing KeyCodeBox used by property management and other industries; he foresees a day when smaller versions may be mounted in vans for secure deliveries.

In the meantime, utility fleet professionals will no doubt keep looking for creative ways to keep track of keys. And as those keys become more technologically complex – and therefore expensive – the stakes continue to rise.

“I’ve worked at three different utilities in my career,” Lentsch said. “And every one has fought the same thing. For some of these fleets that have several thousands of vehicles? I can’t even imagine.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


Mitigating Lost Key Costs
It would be great if you could somehow make sure your employees would never lose another key. As that’s squarely in the not-going-to-happen category, let’s consider the following ways to mitigate cost and lost productivity.
• Periodically test master keys to ensure they still work with the equipment they match; OEMs increasingly set a limit on how many times a key can be copied.
• Do a little math about the costs incurred with each lost key, including lost time, and share that information with employees. For added impact, track results for a quarter, six months or a year.
• Charge costs of key replacements back to employees or their departments.
• Consider using new technologies.

The State of Electrified Pickup Trucks in the North American Market

While a growing number of utility fleets are purchasing electrified passenger cars – like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf – and bucket trucks with plug-in electric power takeoff capabilities, one vehicle segment still seems out of reach for electrification for most fleets: light-duty pickup trucks.

But there have been some new developments in this space that could have important implications for utility fleets. Workhorse Group says that it will unveil a concept electric truck this May at the ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Earlier this year, Ford announced that it would offer a plug-in hybrid-electric version of the F-150 pickup. And XL Hybrids recently introduced a plug-in hybrid system designed for half-ton pickups.

So, what exactly are the prospects for electrified pickup trucks in North America? What are some of the key challenges to widespread fleet adoption? And when can we expect electrified pickups to become more cost-competitive with conventional-fueled trucks?

UFP recently spoke with Scott Shepard, senior research analyst with global market research and consulting firm Navigant Research (, to get his outlook.

UFP: Usually when fuel prices are low, there’s less interest in alternative-fuel vehicles. But we’re seeing a different trend with EVs, when you consider that about 400,000 people have paid deposits for the upcoming Tesla Model 3 and there’s a lot of buzz around the new Chevrolet Bolt and other electric passenger vehicles. On a macro level, what do you think is driving this interest in EVs despite current fuel prices?

Scott Shepard: With plug-in vehicles, the plug allows some conveniences that the conventional vehicle cannot allow – meaning that, with plug-in hybrids, you don’t have to go to the gas station that much anymore. Whether it saves you money or not, you can do most of your refueling at home. Therefore, electric vehicles are able to sidestep that whole refueling aspect.

Also, you can get some cheap electricity rates, depending on what utility service territory you’re in and how your vehicle is aggregated in the demand response program. That’s not for a majority of the market, but there is the potential there to make your energy costs so low that lower gas prices don’t register for you.

UFP: Yet in the pickup truck segment, electrification seems to be hitting a wall. Why is that?

SS: When you do the math on pickup trucks, the battery price point that would make the plug-in hybrid or the battery-electric-powered truck competitive against a conventional competitor is still below where battery prices are today.

The price points we look at suggest that you’re really not going to be within a competitive range within a few more years. When we plot out where the current technologies stand against each other, the plug-in hybrid truck and the battery-electric-powered truck have certain capability requirements that require stronger or more energy-dense batteries or larger batteries. They not only need to get you the range that you would expect from an electric passenger car, but you need to have that range competitive with your standard truck – to get to 200 to 300 miles. It’s a big cost, and it’s not easily overcome yet.

UFP: When do you see the price point of plug-in electric pickups becoming more acceptable for wider-spread adoption in utility fleets?

SS: I don’t see anything coming to the market really in the next two to three years, and even that is maybe a little bit aggressive to say three years. The reason is that whenever anyone comes to the market with an idea or a prototype that is a digital rendering, I add about three years to that expected deployment date. It takes a long time for these ideas to actually find good footing.

For these trucks to become more mainstream, it’s not going to start for a while. The rationale behind that is largely the added-on power and range requirements that these vehicles have to meet to even come to market. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. I think you’re looking out to 2025 or even 2030 before you get to the point where batteries are providing the same number of miles as an internal combustion engine. Then you’ve hit the point where this option is actually viable.

At Navigant, we estimate 2016 light truck/SUV-class PHEV sales in North America were 11,500, with sales looking to double in 2017, 2018 and 2019. And our baseline projection places this class/technology sales figure at just under 300,000 by 2025.

UFP: In his “Master Plan, Part Deux,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote that Tesla was going to include an electric pickup in their product mix. What are your thoughts on that?

SS: Given their timeline for new vehicle development, I would estimate that product would be about six to seven years out. [The pickup truck segment] is definitely a market that needs a vehicle – it represents nearly 30 percent of the U.S. market. So even if you’re just scratching the surface of this market, that’s huge. And nobody’s really figured out the right way to do it yet.

I think the right way to do it is probably to do it through some plug-in hybrid arrangement. And I think that’s going to come eventually from one of the established OEMs, like GM or Ford, maybe even Chrysler. Yes, if Tesla does it, that’s great. But I don’t think they’ll see near the amount of success that they’ve seen with their other vehicles.

What Utility Fleets Can Do to Curb Distracted Driving Incidents

Your company has clearly communicated its distracted driving policy to all employees. And the safety department is doing its part by screening at-risk drivers, providing consistent driver training and building awareness throughout the organization of the dangers of distracted driving. But when employees are out on the road, how can management ensure that drivers actually comply with the policy – to protect their own lives, the public and your utility’s reputation and bottom line?

That’s where your fleet department can make a difference. How? By equipping vehicles with technologies that counteract a driver’s impulse to read a text message or scroll through social media feeds on their phone while driving – even when they know it’s the wrong thing to do.

All It Takes is One Time
No one is immune. Even the best, most conscientious drivers can succumb to the temptation to look at their smartphone while driving, at least every now and then.

Think about it. You’re driving a service truck through a residential area when you hear your phone buzzing in the console, notifying you of a text message. Because you know better, your initial instinct is to ignore the sound and keep focused on the road ahead. But then a few seconds later you hear the phone buzz again … and again.

Now you’re curious. Who could that be?

It’s been a long day, and you’re exhausted. You start justifying to yourself: I’m going pretty slow right now and there’s not much traffic; it won’t hurt to take a quick look.

You take your eyes off the road for what you think will only be a second. But by the time you look up from your phone, you see that a boy on a bicycle has darted out from behind a vehicle parked along the street, right in front of your truck. You slam on the brakes, but there’s not enough time to stop before your truck hits him.

You could be a great driver, day in and day out, but one lapse in judgment and everything changes for you – and for the victim’s family and your employer. And because the truck displays your utility’s logo on it, the press coverage causes a public relations firestorm, while your employer is sure to face a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Addicted to Distraction
A survey commissioned by AT&T and Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, found that while over 90 percent of drivers say they know texting and driving is dangerous, many rationalize their texting-and-driving behavior – a classic sign of addiction. And three in four people surveyed admitted to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.

So, if drivers know that texting, checking email or scrolling through social media feeds while driving is hazardous – and illegal in most states – why do far too many drivers still do it? What makes the temptation so hard to resist?

According to Dr. Greenfield, the answer comes down to addiction. “We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” Greenfield said in a statement announcing the AT&T study. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”

Amy Dobrikova, president of Intelligent Fleet Solutions (, a fleet consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., refers to distracted driving as “the new DUI,” not only because it impairs your ability to drive but also because it’s the result of an addiction that causes you to think, “I can handle this,” much like a drunk driver, when engaging in risky driving behavior.

How Fleet Can Help
What can you do in fleet to help curb distracted driving incidents in your company?

“As a fleet manager, one area I have influence over [when it comes to reducing distracted driving incidents] is specifying new vehicles with available driver-assist technologies, such as reverse sensors and cameras, adaptive cruise control and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for communications,” said Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority in Fairfax, Va. “As technology advances become more mainstream, we’ll be able to bring additional driver aids, like collision avoidance systems, blind-spot detection and lane-keeping assist.”

The idea here is that even if the driver gets distracted, the vehicle won’t. That’s because it’s equipped with technology that can respond and avoid imminent danger, usually much faster than a human driver could.

But while automated driving technologies offer the promise of curbing the consequences of distracted driving, they aren’t yet foolproof, as the highly publicized fatal collision earlier this year involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot demonstrated. It has been widely reported that the driver was distracted and never took over control of the vehicle to apply the brakes before it slammed into the side of a box truck.

“There are many advances in technology being applied to vehicles that are helping fleets achieve improvements in safety and in most every other area imaginable,” Collins said. “Yet, as with any new technology, there can be a bit of trepidation with an operator’s fear of losing control, and the risk of unintended circumstances, where operators think, ‘I’ll just rely on the technology to do it all for me.’”

But what if you could equip the vehicle in a way that prevents drivers from being tempted to pick up the phone in the first place?

For example, Dobrikova recommends installing technology that disables certain functions of the phone while the vehicle is in motion, taking the possibility of phone distraction completely out of the hands of drivers.

“I always like to say that people are human, and no matter what policy is out there, people are going to break the rules,” she said. “I like having solutions that prevent the problem to begin with.”

The product Dobrikova is using with some of her fleet clients is DrivePROTECT from Cellcontrol (, a Baton Rouge, La.-based firm that develops technology to stop distracted driving in passenger and commercial vehicles.

“A device is placed inside the vehicle behind the rearview mirror, which senses the vehicle’s acceleration,” Dobrikova explained. “While the vehicle is moving, the system sends a Bluetooth signal to the phone to go into safe mode. But when they’re at a stoplight or a stop sign, drivers can still access their phone.”

Dobrikova said that fleet or safety administrators can customize the Cellcontrol system to allow for certain types of calls or apps to run – such as for navigation or music – while shutting down all other functions. “This way, if the fleet wants to be able to say, ‘Dispatch needs to call you at any time,’ you can set up the system to allow dispatch to call. Or, if you want drivers to have a route optimization app that they need to open, but they don’t need to be on Facebook, you can set it up that way as well. The fleet can decide what the parameters will be and what they’re going to allow for the phone usage.”

The Bottom Line
It’s one thing to have a strict distracted driving policy; it’s entirely another to ensure that drivers actually comply with that policy when they’re out in the field. That requires accountability – and technology can help. As Dobrikova put it, “I’m sure everybody will admit to being distracted on their phone at least one time in their life. If we eliminate that risk and are held accountable, we can prevent distracted driving from happening in the first place.”


Distracted Driving By the Numbers
• Text messaging increases your crash risk by 23 times. -Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)
• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting, which is roughly equivalent to covering the length of a football field blindfolded when traveling 55 mph. -VTTI
• Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. -National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
• Engaging in visual-manual subtasks associated with the use of hand-held phones and other mobile devices – such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting – increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times. -VTTI
• In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers and approximately 424,000 people were injured. -NHTSA

The Pros and Cons of Driver-Facing Cameras in Utility Fleets

In-cab cameras have gained a foothold and acceptance among numerous service and freight delivery fleets for the technology’s ability to improve safety and lower accident and claim costs.

Utilities, however, perhaps because of their different operational model and high system costs, appear to be relying on more traditional methods to manage risk and improve driver skills. In calls to six electric utilities across the U.S., only one – National Grid, which provides electric and gas delivery in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – is using the technology as of press time.

National Grid uses about 3,600 recorders fleet-wide. For Frank Prost, director of downstate gas construction, the 316 units in his department’s trucks have worked as advertised: They’ve helped to boost safety by improving driver skills, assigning accountability and preventing accidents.

The group has seen a significant improvement in driving, according to Prost. “We’re in a much, much better place with our driving,” he said. “It’s a safer environment for employees and the public. [The cameras have] helped us numerous times. We’d get complaints about incidents but didn’t have any proof. If there’s an event, now you have a video telling us what the driver was doing. Now you can prove it.”

The cameras also have all but eliminated backing-up insurance scams, Prost said. People would intentionally back into a National Grid truck at a traffic light and claim the driver hit them. Now, drivers can get out of their truck, point to the camera and say that the video will show the truth. “The people drive off,” he said.

More typical of the utilities contacted is Ameren Missouri’s approach. “We use driver training to mitigate accidents and improve driver skills,” said Steve Hampton, director of fleet services for the St. Louis-based utility.

Understanding Resistance
One reason for the lack of acceptance of in-cab cameras may simply be the operational model; utility trucks spend less time moving and more time on-site than other fleet operations, so traditional coaching methods and training seem to work. Combine that with the costs of the technology – $100 or more per unit plus monthly subscription fees, depending on the service and supplier – and showing a return on the investment can be difficult.

There’s also an issue of union resistance to the cameras, said Jeff Stoker, president of Safety Track (, a national wholesaler and direct supplier of fleet and asset tracking based in Belleville, Mich. “There’s a lot of pushback when unions are involved,” he said.

Del Lisk, vice president of safety services with San Diego-based Lytx DriveCam (, said Lytx has a different pricing model for utilities, but he would not discuss pricing except to say that it’s a subscription base.

In the typical system, cameras are positioned in the cab and continually record both in front of the vehicle and the driver’s actions. The systems have sensors that are triggered whenever there is an event, such as hard braking, a sharp turn, speeding or any of several customer-set situations. The system will automatically save a video of several seconds before and after the event and then either upload the data to a server or save it to an SD card for downloading later, or both.

At Lytx, videos are automatically uploaded to the supplier’s system, where they are reviewed. The customer is notified if any are deemed “actionable,” Lisk said.

“We’re reviewing about 2 million video clips a month, and about 10 percent are actionable,” he said.

Lisk also said their system could provide different coaching opportunities for fleets. “Depending on the customer’s capability, the supervisor can meet with the worker in the field via the web, or email the worker with a link with a video showing the issue or topic,” he explained.

The technology is not new, but it has been getting better, Stoker said. Videos today are higher quality and the cameras themselves are smaller and less obtrusive.

As for the technology’s value, Stoker noted that one catastrophic event could change a company. “Having this presents the opportunity to reduce or eliminate events,” he said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Video System Buying Tips
Are you thinking of purchasing an in-cab video system? Here are some points worth considering.

Use a system that includes both video analysis and coaching. Combine vehicle data and video event recording with a driving improvement program. In addition, it is a necessity that administration and operations have a strong commitment to the program.

San Diego-based SmartDrive Systems ( suggests that the broader the set of data sources used to trigger video events, the more effective the system will be at identifying risky driving. Accelerometer reports provide event data, but engine and vehicle data and active safety systems also can be used.

Consider how the data or videos are accessed. Are videos uploaded automatically or do chip cards have to be pulled from the system to upload or access the information? This will affect not only convenience but likely costs as well.

Is the platform open or proprietary, and how will that affect connectivity throughout your network? Will the system integrate with your back-office system, and how important is that feature?

What type of reports and key performance indicators does the system offer, and does that match your needs?

Anti-Theft Technologies to Protect Your Heavy Equipment

In 2014, heavy equipment theft cost U.S. companies about $400 million, and only 23 percent of stolen machines were ever recovered, according to a report by the National Equipment Register and National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Beyond a utility fleet’s loss of a machine itself, the fleet manager also has to factor in the costs associated with short-term equipment rentals, project delays and valuable personnel time consumed by dealing with the incident.

So, what can you do to protect your equipment and your organization’s bottom line? Here are three anti-theft technologies to consider.

1. Keyless Ignition System
Equipment manufacturers have traditionally opted for a one-key-fits-all approach that makes it convenient for equipment operators at job sites to operate any one of a number of similar machines without having to carry numerous unique keys. But this approach also makes it much more convenient for thieves, who can easily purchase these keys online (see as just one example). Then they can go to the nearest job site, find an accessible machine and drive it onto a trailer to haul it away.

How can you make it tougher for thieves? Consider a keyless ignition system.

One example is Start-Smart by Keytroller (, which provides a hidden wireless relay installed in the starter circuit that – when the relay is disabled – cuts off power to the starter, preventing a key or even an attempted hot-wire of the machine from being able to start the engine. The operator then uses the Start-Smart programmable keypad ignition to input a valid code or radio-frequency identification card, which enables the wireless relay and provides power to the starter circuit. At that point, the user can press start on the keypad and the engine will fire up.

2. Telematics
Think of a keyless ignition system, like Start-Smart, as a first line of defense against theft. But what if thieves are still able to find a way to take a piece of your equipment? And how will you know when it has been stolen if no one is at the job site at the time of the incident?

One answer is telematics, which uses wireless GPS technology to capture and transmit equipment location, condition and performance data via satellite or cell signal to authorized employees, who can then access that information through a website or have it sent directly to their smartphone as a text message or push notification.

Most telematics systems provided by equipment manufacturers or third-party vendors offer the option to set up geofencing alerts, where you create a virtual perimeter around a specified area on a job site. This way, when a thief attempts to move a machine outside its authorized area, you’ll know instantly and can respond quickly to give law enforcement the real-time tracking information they need to recover the unit before it’s too late.

3. Radio-Frequency Tracking
Although early detection through telematics is helpful, one of the downsides of GPS tracking is that these systems require line of sight with satellites or cell towers to transmit signals. And that means the tracking device needs to be installed on a highly visible area of the machine, which makes it easier for thieves to locate and disable the system.

So, now what? How do you recover your stolen asset?

That’s where a radio-frequency (RF) tracking device, such as the LoJack Stolen Vehicle Recovery System (, comes in. Since RF signals don’t require line of sight with satellites or cell towers, the LoJack system can track stolen equipment in places where GPS and cellular devices can’t – even if the machine is hidden in a parking garage, a heavily wooded area or a container on a ship. This also allows the LoJack transceiver to be installed on a discreet area of the machine, making it harder for a thief to find and disarm it.

The Bottom Line
There’s no one silver-bullet technology that can completely protect your equipment from theft. But any one of these three types of systems can at least help improve your odds of not losing valuable assets in the field. And a combination of all three would seem to cover all your bases – from theft prevention to instant notification to fast recovery.

Photo: LoJack


Top Targets for Thieves

By Category:
• Light Utility Vehicles/Work Trucks and Trailers
• Backhoe Loaders/Skip Loaders/Wheel Loaders
• Generators/Air Compressors /Welders (Towables)
• Skid Steers

By Brand:
• Ford
• Bobcat
• John Deere
• Caterpillar

Source: 2013 LoJack proprietary theft and recovery data

Getting Utility Fleet Drivers to Embrace Idle Reduction

Regardless of how cutting-edge a type of technology may seem, getting buy-in from prospective users often requires a pragmatic approach: They need to be convinced it works.

Such is the case with anti-idling technology. Today’s tools – aimed at reducing emissions and wasted fuel – include automatic shut-off systems, real-time alerts and plug-in hybrid vehicles that allow systems to work when the engine is off. But the only way utility fleet operators will fully embrace such tools, experts say, is when they grasp the difference that can be made, in terms of both the environment and their organization’s financial bottom line.

“It’s very spotty,” said Linda Gaines, transportation system analyst at Argonne National Laboratory ( and a recognized idling authority. “You’ll go to some meetings and talk to some fleets, and they’re on board. It’s like your job is done, and the information is all out there. A lot of states have regulations, and it seems like we’ve made a lot of headway. And then you go and visit some company and see how far there still is to go.”

Gaines referenced one organization that is interested in idle reduction and went through the process of installing telematics, but, she said, was still “absolutely shocked by how much idling their trucks were actually doing. I think that’s not an unusual occurrence. Just by sharing that information with the drivers, without any kind of threat or any kind of reward, either way, just by being aware, the drivers reduced their idling by some very significant fraction.” That fraction was near 30 percent.

Raising Awareness
Neil Holladay, regional fleet manager with NPL (, an infrastructure construction company that specializes in utility construction services, said that in 2014, he and his sustainability committee co-chair were individually working on issues related to fuel and carbon footprint. When it came time for a presentation, they discovered they had both identified idling as the biggest threat – and opportunity. With a fleet of roughly 3,500 assets, the company was wasting more than $1.5 million in fuel annually due to idling. They discussed whether the best tactic would be to create an awareness campaign or write a policy; awareness won out.

“We put a campaign together that was pure saturation,” Holladay said. They shared data about the effects of idling at every turn, created no-idling areas and gave away $25 gift cards for success stories.

“It was like advertising: When you hear something for the 10th time, you’re sick of it,” he said. “But it’s OK for people to frown upon it or even poke fun. It will still catch someone’s eye. And when [it does], it’s going to be effective. You just can’t get discouraged. It takes a little time.”

Within a couple of months, NPL’s idling had dropped a few percentage points. A few months after that, “we were seeing a large 10 percent drop,” Holladay said. And within the first year, the company had saved more than 1 million pounds in carbon dioxide emissions and just over $188,000 in fuel costs.

Perhaps the best part is that many of the company’s fleet operators are outdoorsmen and parents, and they connected with the idea of environmental stewardship for future generations. But it did take changing thinking about the way things had always been done.

The Lowest-Hanging Fruit
When it comes to getting drivers to change their mindset about idle reduction, concrete numbers certainly help. So, too, does the proper equipment. Odyne Systems ( is a leading manufacturer of hybrid systems for medium- and heavy-duty work trucks, and Matt Jarmuz, director of sales, sees such solutions as the lowest-hanging fruit in improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. In addition to powering, say, strobe lights and cabin comfort, Odyne’s large battery packs also can handle hydraulics and export power. And even while vehicles are in motion, the plug-in hybrid solution improves efficiency. As of press time, the company has placed roughly 300 vehicles in about 60 different fleets.

Jarmuz also is a strong proponent of telematics use and has seen fleets that, for example, have a system that sends an automatic email to a fleet manager when a truck idles for more than five minutes. Other fleets work from a more prevention-oriented coaching approach.

With hybrid technology, operators won’t feel that stopping idling is about “taking things away,” Jarmuz said.

But even without it, framing idle reduction as a gain – one that lowers fuel expenditures and contributes to reduced maintenance costs, greater asset reliability and longer vehicle service life – rather than a loss may well be the key to acceptance and implementation within your fleet.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.

Photo: GPS Insight


Idling by the Numbers
• Idling of heavy-duty and light-duty vehicles combined wastes an estimated 6 billion gallons of fuel each year.
• Many still believe that restarting a vehicle burns more fuel than letting it idle, but idling for 10 seconds wastes more fuel than a restart.
• Personal vehicles produce roughly 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year due to idling. Eliminating the unnecessary idling of personal vehicles would be the equivalent of taking 5 million vehicles off the roads.
• Numerous states have enacted fines for unnecessary idling, including Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Hawaii, and parts of California, Colorado, New York, Ohio and Utah, among others. A list of state and local regulations is available at


4 Smartphone Apps to Make You a More Effective and Efficient Fleet Manager

If you’re among the 64 percent of Americans who own a smartphone – up from 35 percent in 2011, according to Pew Research – you hold in your hand a powerful tool to record great ideas, facilitate collaboration, avoid traffic and make faster decisions, with thousands of apps available today.

The most obvious mobile apps discussed in fleet management circles are those associated with telematics providers to give you real-time access to fleet asset data on your smartphone. But beyond telematics, what other useful smartphone apps can help make your job easier and boost your productivity as a fleet manager? Try these four tools.

1. Evernote
Cost: Free for basic plan

Think of Evernote as a virtual library of notebooks that you fill with important ideas, documents, emails, pictures or audio files – all in one place, accessible from any device.

For example, suppose you’ve found an interesting article and want to reference it later. With Evernote, you can clip the entire article or a part of it, place it in a note and access it anywhere from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. And if you don’t remember the name of the article, you can find it fast on Evernote by searching keywords.

Or, perhaps you’ve just finished a highly productive brainstorming session with your team and want to capture everything written on the whiteboard. Through the Evernote app, you can snap a picture of the whiteboard with your smartphone, and it’s automatically recorded on a note and organized in the notebook of your choosing, which you can easily share with others on the team.

2. Audible
Cost: $14.95 monthly subscription (for one new book each month)

How can you make the most of your “windshield time” while commuting to work or driving to your utility’s other locations?

With Audible, an Amazon company, you can invest that time in professional development by listening to books on your smartphone wherever you go. As of press time, Audible has more than 180,000 titles available, with top-sellers such as:
• “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
• “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek
• “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future” by Kevin Kelly

You can also listen to “The Great Courses” series that includes college-style lectures from top teachers in the world on a wide range of subjects. A few courses that might interest you include:
• Seth Freeman’s “The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal”
• Michael A. Roberto’s “Transformational Leadership: How Leaders Change Teams, Companies, and Organizations” and “The Art of Critical Decision Making”
• Kenneth G. Brown’s “Influence: Mastering Life’s Most Powerful Skill”

3. Google Drive
Cost: Free for 15 GB

With Google Drive and its full suite of office applications – including Google Docs, Sheets and Slides – you can work on important documents on any internet-connected device and then instantly share your changes to authorized members of your team.

For example, suppose you’re working on a fleet policy that requires collaboration with multiple stakeholders, but the back-and-forth exchange of emails starts to get unwieldy. With Google Drive, your team can edit the document together in real time, no matter where each person is located or what device they’re using. And then, when you’re done, you can convert the final document into popular formats for distribution, such as PDF, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This way, you can remove the typical bottlenecks that slow down the production and approval cycles for important projects.

4. Waze
Cost: Free

Has your navigation system ever failed to alert you about a traffic jam before you got stuck in it? What if someone could have given you a heads-up that an accident occurred about a half-mile up the road – within seconds after the incident – so you could have rerouted in time to avoid delays?

That’s precisely what makes Waze a different smartphone navigation app. It takes GPS navigation a step further by empowering its users to update actual road conditions in real time for the benefit of all its users, issuing alerts before you approach red light cameras, police, accidents, road hazards or traffic jams. Waze can also guide you to the cheapest fueling station on your route.

So, when you’re looking for the shortest and safest route to your destination, Waze – and its community of users – will help show you the way.


Smartphone Stats on Transportation Apps
• 67 percent of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally for turn-by-turn navigation while driving; 31 percent say they do this frequently.
• 25 percent use their phone at least occasionally to get public transit information; 10 percent do this frequently.
• 11 percent use their phone at least occasionally to reserve a taxi or car service like Uber or Lyft. Just 4 percent do so frequently, and 72 percent of smartphone owners never use their phone for this purpose.

Source: Pew Research

New Power Sources Aid Anti-Idling Efforts

Unnecessary idling is still the bane of many utility fleets, and while not every fleet wants to turn off vehicle engines at job sites, some new and updated technologies are offering improved auxiliary energy options.

In March, Altec ( introduced JEMS 4, the latest version of its Jobsite Energy Management System, which offers integrated engine-off cab heating and cooling and an on-demand, electrified PTO for hydraulic power.

The anti-idling system is automatic; as soon as the truck is put in park or neutral, the engine shuts down. “In this way, idle mitigation is not something the operator has to think about,” said Mark Greer, Altec market manager.

JEMS 4 relies on a new generation of lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, which offer improved thermal and chemical stability – safer chemistries – than the previous cobalt-based lithium-ion batteries. Also, the battery pack is about half the weight of previous versions and takes up about half the space, Greer said. (For more information, see the “Better Batteries, Lower Prices” sidebar at the end of this article.)

The core of JEMS is the idle and power management system from Cullman, Ala.-based ZeroRPM ( In addition to the controller, components include lithium-iron power and energy modules to power booms, buckets and systems, said Evan Miller, vice president of sales and marketing. ZeroRPM also offers a stand-alone AC unit powered by the energy modules, and for organizations with enough roof space, the company has a solar-powered option to charge the batteries.

Florida Power & Light Co. added the JEMS system on more than 100 of its Ford F-550 bucket trucks, and this has helped meet the fleet’s anti-idling policy at most job sites, said Glenn Martin, manager of fleet quality and reliability. The auxiliary battery packs with the ZeroRPM system have “performed pretty well,” according to Martin. FPL also added ZeroRPM’s AC unit that operates “real close to the vehicle AC,” he said.

Baltimore Gas & Electric monitors idling via its onboard telematics system, said Joe Byrd, senior business analyst with the utility fleet. The operator controls idling, but managers receive regular reports, and it’s up to them to identify unnecessary use. Idling has dropped in half since installing the telematics system, with most of that coming from shutting down the trucks at the service center and during loading, Byrd said.

BGE also is testing Altec’s JEMS and Odyne Systems’ hybrid trucks, Byrd noted.

Solar Power Option
For some select applications, solar panels may be a power option.

Warwick, R.I.-based eNow Inc. ( offers a cab-top array of solar panels for the transportation sector. The panels provide 13 watts/1 amp of power per square foot, enough to power an HVAC unit as well as lights and other job site equipment, said Jeffrey Flath, founder and president. Although typically there is not enough array space atop a truck’s cab to provide power for buckets, cranes or heavy auxiliary devices, “our system would charge auxiliary batteries so the engine doesn’t come on as often,” he said.

The panels are encapsulated in ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a rugged plastic that resists tree branches better than glass systems, and are maintenance free, Flath said. The panels are one-eighth of an inch thick and weigh approximately a half-pound per square foot, compared to 2.5 to 4 pounds per square foot typical with glass systems, Flath noted.

The system ties in with the truck’s alternator. On sunny days the system charges the batteries, and on cloudy days the alternator takes over. The cost for a 100-watt system – including the panels, solar charge controller, wiring harness and installation – is about $960. eNow Inc. has installation arrangements with Mitsubishi Fuso, Johnson, Morgan and Hercules truck body manufacturers, as well as Palfinger Liftgates, among others.

Start-Stop System
Effenco (, headquartered in Montreal, offers a start-stop system for heavy trucks that essentially is an idle mitigation system. It incorporates batteries, an electric motor and an ultracapacitor to provide electric power to the aerial device, cab and chassis accessories, including the HVAC system when the engine is off. The electric motor is used to start the engine.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Better Batteries, Lower Prices
The batteries being used in today’s auxiliary battery systems are safer, lighter and less costly than their predecessors, all factors that may prompt more utility fleets to look at idle mitigation systems.

Before a fleet manager OKs an idle mitigation system that will shut down engines at job sites, they want assurance that the onboard auxiliary battery systems are going to provide safe, reliable power. Lithium-ion batteries were a huge advancement over lead-acid units, but they also are expensive, thermally unstable and toxic, reasons fleet managers have cited for not using them.

The latest generation of the lithium battery – the lithium-iron-phosphate battery – offers longer life, greater stability and more power density than the earlier cobalt-based lithium-ion battery.

“There’s been tremendous work in lithium-iron,” said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART (, a Pasadena, Calif.-based nonprofit entity that promotes clean transportation. The combination of the new chemistry and high-volume manufacturing has opened the door for cheaper, safer auxiliary power, he said.

High-volume orders for lithium-iron batteries from companies like General Motors (for the Chevrolet Volt) and Tesla Motors have reduced power prices for batteries to about $200 to $300 per kilowatt-hour, down from more than $700 and higher three to five years ago, Van Amburg said. Because the commercial truck sector doesn’t see that volume, the price drops are not as great, but he said “[they’re] still substantial” and trending down.

On Your Radar: The Latest Developments in Self-Driving Vehicles

Only a decade ago, the idea that self-driving cars could ever become mainstream within our lifetimes seemed far-fetched. Then came Google in 2009 with its fleet of retrofitted Prius hybrids and Lexus SUVs, which have since logged over 1.5 million autonomous-driving miles. And today, most major automakers, including upstart Tesla Motors, have also entered the race, with industry experts predicting that fully autonomous vehicles will enter the market within the next five to 10 years.

What’s fueling this momentum toward a self-driving world? There are many factors, but here are three interesting recent developments to keep your eye on.

1. Connected Convoys
Imagine three semitrailer trucks traveling at highway speed, one behind the other, with fewer than 50 feet between each vehicle. With conventional trucks, that’s a surefire recipe for a multivehicle pileup. But what if those three trucks were “connected” as a single autonomous platoon? Daimler is banking that its answer to this question will lead to improved safety and fuel economy, while contributing to advancements in the company’s autonomous truck technology.

In early April, three autonomous Mercedes-Benz semitrailer trucks completed a cross-border convoy drive from Stuttgart in Germany to Rotterdam in the Netherlands – about 400 miles – as a connected platoon.

The trucks were equipped with Daimler’s Highway Pilot Connect, which leverages electronic vehicle-to-vehicle networking between the trucks, allowing electronic docking – or platooning – by vehicles on long-distance highways. Connected vehicles in a platoon require a distance of only 15 meters (49 feet) between them instead of the typical 50 meters (164 feet), which significantly reduces aerodynamic drag, achieving fuel savings of up to 10 percent.

According to Daimler, connected-truck platooning also makes road traffic safer. That’s because while a human behind the wheel has a reaction time of 1.4 seconds, Highway Pilot Connect transmits braking signals to the vehicles in fewer than 0.1 seconds.

2. Sensors That See at Night
Just as humans must be able to see to drive, so must self-driving cars – and they see through sensor technologies, such as light detection and ranging (LiDAR), camera systems, sonar and radar. But what happens when the car can’t see potential hazards at night before it’s too late? Ford Motor Co. is making progress toward solving the night-visibility problem with its Fusion hybrid autonomous research vehicle.

A recent test at Ford’s Arizona proving grounds showed that its LiDAR system – working with the car’s virtual driver software – can steer the vehicle along winding roads in the dark of night, even without the use of headlights. The Ford self-driving car uses a high-resolution 3-D map that provides the vehicle with the latest information about the road, road markings, geography, topography and landmarks, such as signs, buildings and trees. And then the LiDAR system, at a rate of 2.8 million laser pulses per second, pinpoints precisely where the vehicle is positioned on that 3-D map so the vehicle can safely navigate its surroundings.

3. Partnerships Between Automakers and Silicon Valley Startups
Major automakers are expanding their presence in Silicon Valley and forming relationships with emerging technology startups that could help accelerate development of autonomous vehicle technologies. Following are a couple recent examples.

In January, General Motors said it would invest $500 million in the ride-sharing company Lyft in a venture that gives the automaker direct access to the growing market for ride-sharing and a potential channel for offering self-driving cars for on-demand use. GM is also in the process of acquiring Cruise Automation, a 3-year-old startup that has developed a highway autopilot system, which could help the automaker accelerate its autonomous vehicle development.

In April, both the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal reported that Fiat Chrysler and Google are in advanced talks to form a technical partnership. The partnership would be the first to match an automaker with Google’s autonomous car project.

This trend toward partnerships shows that self-driving vehicles aren’t viewed by automakers as a novelty or fringe technology; instead they are something that’s being taken seriously as a future product offering.


The Move Toward a Self-Driving World: By the Numbers
32,675: The number of lives lost on U.S. roads in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is roughly equivalent to one Boeing 747 aircraft falling from the sky, killing all 600 passengers, each and every week throughout the year.

94: The percentage of fatal crashes that NHTSA estimates is attributed to human error or decision. The logic: Remove the human, eliminate human error and save lives.

50: The average commute time in minutes based on U.S. Department of Commerce data. Imagine how much more you could get done with almost an extra hour each workday.

129,000,000: The number of autonomous-capable vehicles expected to be sold globally from 2020 to 2035, according to Navigant Research.

Top Trends in Utility Fleet Telematics

What’s next for fleet telematics? Utility Fleet Professional talked to a few experts in the field to see where it is trending in the coming years. The conclusions? By 2020, better data analysis, broader connectivity across platforms and devices, and more choices could mean increased safety, improved efficiencies and lower costs up and down a fleet’s hierarchy.

Data Analysis
“The most significant trend we’re seeing is the investment in data analytics,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI (

Fleets are being swamped with the amount of data their telematics systems are delivering, but fleet managers have to know what data is important and what data is not. “Telematics solutions without data analytics to assist in trending, predicting and engaging with the outcomes will have minimal impact in how a fleet operates,” Candeloro explained. “Aggregating telematics data with vehicle life-cycle data, operational data and historical business data opens up tremendous opportunity to find operational efficiency opportunities.”

In the near future, predictive analytics – i.e., using data to predict what will happen next – will have a significant effect on fleet safety by identifying risks sooner than is currently possible, noted Kimberly Clark, product leader with Element Fleet Management (

“Fleet managers will be looking at a broader array of data than has been available in the past, with the goal of preventing accidents,” she said.

Usage-Based Analysis
Clem Driscoll, principal with C.J. Driscoll & Associates (, a consulting and research services firm, predicts that over the next five years, more utility fleets will adopt usage-based safety analysis, which assigns risk and premiums based on a driver’s real-time habits rather than past performance. The result will be reduced accident risk and insurance costs.

“Usage-based insurance for fleet operators is in the early stages,” Driscoll said. “But even today, many insurance companies provide a discretionary discount of about 5 percent to fleets using telematics. Usage-based telematics programs are expanding in the consumer sector, and the commercial sector will follow.”

Broader Connectivity
Utility fleets also should be looking at ways to connect all divisions of their organization because the trend toward greater connectivity across multiple platforms and devices will increase safety, improve efficiencies and lower costs, according to Tim Taylor, chief success officer with Telogis (

“Our focus as an organization is on how the truck, mobile worker, work, organization, customer, mobile device and software platforms all connect to drive improvement in safety, efficiency, sustainability, asset utilization and customer service,” Taylor said. “Our language has changed from ‘telematics’ to ‘connected intelligence,’ or mobile resource management. Telematics implies data from the vehicle, which we do for sure, but mobile resource management encompasses a much broader picture of the connected, optimized and automated mobile enterprise.”

In five years, that interconnectivity will include the infrastructure, Element’s Clark said. Ford Motor Co. is working with onboard systems that read road signs and automatically adjust a vehicle’s speed, but that is just a lead-up to RFID sensors that beam speed restrictions to the vehicle’s system, she noted.

Related to broader connectivity, collaboration between and among the telematics providers, fleet management companies and OEMs will allow for quicker, more informed decision-making by fleet managers, according to ARI’s Candeloro. “Whether it’s reduced total cost of ownership, improvements in driver safety or enhanced operational efficiencies, fleet managers will see a true return on their investment regardless of the telematics solution they choose,” he said. “Fleet managers will also see opportunities to not just impact the bottom line by reducing costs, but actually see opportunities to help their businesses increase top-line revenues.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Factory-Installed Telematics: Good or Bad?
Experts predict that over the next few years, commercial fleets are going to see more OEMs and third-party suppliers in the telematics arena. But choose suppliers and platforms wisely, or you may end up with the telematics equivalent of the Tower of Babel.

“The line is starting to blur when it comes to companies that provide telematics services to fleet customers,” said Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development for ARI. “There are independent telematics companies, fleet management companies and, in some cases, OEMs that are all playing some role. In fact, it is not uncommon to have all three parties partnering together to provide the customer with a comprehensive solution. We are anticipating, however, that all of the various providers will eventually begin to develop the capability to offer and support a single-sourced solution. There are certain [OEMs] that have already integrated their entire telematics product offering.

“One particularly valuable role the OEMs will play in the future will be in streamlining the telematics device installation process,” Candeloro continued. “The more vehicles that can come off the line with a telematics device already installed, or line-fitted for a device, will drastically improve the supply chain overall.”

While that may make it easier for fleets to add onboard telematics systems, it presents a mixed blessing for utility fleets, said Ryan Driscoll, director of marketing for GPS Insight (

“One of the biggest problems with OEM-installed [GPS] solutions is that they do not work for mixed fleets,” he said. “It is very unlikely for a business to have just one make of vehicle or all new vehicles throughout their entire fleet. So if you do have other vehicle types with varied ages, you will end up using multiple OEM solutions to track those vehicles. Using multiple GPS tracking platforms is complicated, expensive and will waste valuable time.

“It is also important to remember that GPS tracking solutions are not created equally, and it is certainly the case when discussing OEM solutions and third-party GPS-tracking software,” Driscoll continued. “OEM solutions are typically a one-size-fits-all solution with zero customizations available based on your business model. Software development is not a focus for vehicle manufacturers, so OEM solutions are typically very basic and [often] fall short of expectations.”

Driscoll recommends that fleets investing in GPS tracking to help solve business challenges ensure that they choose software that has the capability to do so.

Is 3-D Printing Shaping Up for Replacement Parts?

The mere presence of some cars can inspire creative journeys and wishful thinking. But a life-size Shelby Cobra, made with a 3-D printer? That takes even visionaries down a whole different road.

Cincinnati Inc. ( – an innovative machine tool manufacturer for more than 100 years – has been behind the printing of two such cars through its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology; the first was in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (, the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy lab, located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Over the past couple of years, the cars have been used as marketing tools, a clear demonstration of potential.

Even though the Cobras have been transported to events in enclosed trailers rather than driven, they’re still enough to make many stop and wonder: If a 3-D printer can make a car or other vehicle, wouldn’t it follow that it would soon be in use to supply equipment parts as well? Will we soon see maintenance shops creating their own replacement parts for utility and other vehicles, rather than having to store them, purchase them elsewhere or wait for delivery?

Time to tap the brakes. Three-dimensional printing is indeed showing promise in a variety of industries. But in terms of creating parts that can withstand heat, water, chemicals and other challenges facing current automotive materials, we’re not there yet. First, there’s a fundamental point of physics to be overcome, said Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications research for Deloitte Canada ( Even if printers and processes become significantly faster – silencing those who believe no one will want to wait the hours it takes to create parts – there’s still the matter of allowing each printed layer to cool completely before the next one is applied. Eventually, the rate of progress will reach a saturation point.

“I am willing to say that 3-D printers will be faster in 2020,” Stewart said. “But that doesn’t mean that something that takes eight hours to print will take seven. It may go from eight hours to six, or maybe four, but it’s not going to be eight minutes.”

Listen to the current hype, and it’s easy to believe that 3-D printing is already being done en masse – and for a lot more than making Star Wars figurines. But as far as Stewart knows, based on conversations in recent years with those in the industry, there are no major manufacturers using finished parts in their production cars today.

What’s more likely is that 3-D printing will increasingly be used for tooling, jigs, dies, molds and rapid prototyping. Stewart also envisions a rise in service bureaus printing out specific items in “ones and twos” rather than larger quantities, as well as the use of 3-D printers for, say, items needed on an aircraft carrier or in space, where the wait for a spare would be significantly longer.

Overall, though, “we’ve got to dial this stuff back,” he said. “There are some unrealistic expectations.”

At Cincinnati Inc., BAAM is indeed available; the latest iteration can print objects as large as 20 feet long by 8 feet wide by 6 feet tall, at a rate of 100 pounds of material per hour. But it’s considered a beta machine rather than a product machine, and it’s offered through “pre-qualified sale,” said Matt Garbarino, marketing manager. Cincinnati’s forte is in machine building, not material development; the company wants to ensure that engineering resources and the right materials suppliers are able to join in the collaboration, so the company is more likely to sell to someone with like-minded objectives. Development must continue so that end products have the right properties.

Also of note is how a newly printed item comes off a 3-D machine. For the second Shelby Cobra, for example, the body took 12 hours to print, but sanding, painting and decaling it took weeks.

Regardless, 3-D enthusiasm continues to rise. When Cincinnati Inc. displayed one of the cars at The Work Truck Show 2016, which took place in March, Garbarino said many attendees were astonished. People’s familiarity with Cincinnati Inc. and the company’s understanding of fabrication made the conversations easy.

As for conversations about possibility? Those still come easy, too. But the path there may be a bit longer – and rougher around the edges – than many realize.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


In Some Industries, 3-D Printing Has Already Moved on Down the Road
No, the experts say – we won’t be printing spare parts from the back of a utility truck any time soon, due to cost, time and practicality considerations. But 3-D printing is making definite strides elsewhere.

Surgeons in numerous areas have begun using 3-D printing to provide new perspectives and practice for particular procedures. These might include, for example, the replication of a baby’s heart or skull. Training on the printed parts can reduce the time the child would have to spend under anesthesia.

Phoenix-based Local Motors ( is working toward the creation of a 3-D printed car that will exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards by 2017. Partners include IBM, integrating Internet of Things technology through IBM Watson; Siemens’ Solid Edge to provide CAD modeling; global design firm IDEO to “renew” Local Motors Labs (the company’s small-footprint micro-factories are aimed at sustainable, community-based vehicle development); and SABIC to improve materials.

The Future of Drones in the U.S. Utility Market

In the past year, a handful of U.S. utility companies – including San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern Co. of Atlanta and Commonwealth Edison Co. of Chicago – have received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform limited testing with aerial drones for transmission and distribution line inspections.

“Utility assets require regular inspections that can often be dangerous, time consuming and costly for human personnel,” said Christian Sanz, founder and CEO of Skycatch Inc. (, a San Francisco-based drone developer. “However, drones outfitted with different types of sensors and cameras can perform aerial surveys and provide high-resolution imagery at a much faster, safer and cheaper rate. We’ve seen this with using drones to detect things like defective panels on solar farms or blades on wind turbines, cracks in pipelines, and malfunctions with heavy machinery and equipment.”

And the future looks bright for drones in the utility sector. According to a recent report from Navigant Research (, global annual revenue for drone and robotics technologies for utility transmission and distribution is expected to grow from $131.7 million in 2015 to $4.1 billion in 2024, about a 31-fold increase over 10 years.

The biggest constraint for the growth of drones in the U.S. utility market is FAA regulations, said James McCray, senior research analyst with Navigant Research and author of the report. “The potential for high growth is there,” he said. “But it’s more of a question as to when the regulations will permit the utilities or service companies to operate drones on an as-needed basis rather than having to file a 72-hour-prior flight plan to put one in the air. So, I’m postulating that it will take until about 2018 before we begin to see dramatic growth in the commercial drone market.”

Drone-Guided Machines
Beyond line inspections, drones are also being tested for use as aerial 3-D mapping devices that transmit real-time job site data to help guide autonomous construction equipment on the ground.

The most prominent example right now is Skycatch’s partnership with heavy-equipment manufacturer Komatsu ( in Japan. Since there is a shortage of skilled construction laborers qualified to operate heavy machinery in Japan, Komatsu has developed autonomous excavators, guided from the air by Skycatch drones, to take the human operator out of the equation.

This combination of drones and robotics could have interesting implications for utility fleets in the U.S., with applications ranging from autonomous trenching machines to self-driving all-terrain utility vehicles with mounted robotic heavy equipment.

“Given our partnership with Komatsu and their strong presence in North America, we are optimistic about the future of bringing similar [drone-to-machine] solutions to the U.S. over the next 10 years, or even sooner,” Sanz said. “The highly accurate intelligence that drones are able to provide will become more compatible with heavy equipment and machinery, making them smarter, safer and faster.”

The Value of Drones is in the Data
Will utility companies manage their own fleet of drones?

That will depend on the organization, according to McCray. “While some utilities will manage their fleet of inspection drones, many will choose to contract under a drone-on-demand services model.”

In other words, the drone company would have the expertise and responsibility for maintaining and upgrading the drone hardware and software, while also ensuring that all drone operations are FAA compliant. The utility companies would then lease the drones and the software associated with them on an as-needed basis, which would help keep costs down.

McCray said that the drones themselves will eventually become commodities. “You buy one, run it for a year or two, and then you buy the next generation, like we do with mobile phones right now,” he said. “The real money in the drone market will be in the integration of the streaming information coming off the drones – such as visual, temperature, 3-D mapping data – with the analytics systems at the utilities’ operations centers.”

Sanz agreed. “The drone [hardware] is simply the tool we are using now to capture the data – and it’s in the data where the greatest value exists for customers.”


The Boundaries
The FAA requires special certification for commercial drone users, like utility companies. As of press time, here are the FAA’s conditions and limitations governing commercial drone operation:
• A drone operator needs a pilot’s license.
• The drone must weigh fewer than 55 pounds, including payload, such as cameras and sensors.
• Flights can go no more than 200 feet above the ground.
• The drone must be operated in the pilot’s line of sight.
• A Notice to Airmen must be filed no more than 72 hours in advance, but no fewer than 24 hours prior to the operation.
• A Certificate of Authorization report must be filed with the FAA every month, reporting the user’s number of flights – even if there were zero – pilot duty time and equipment malfunctions.

Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

In order to keep employee health costs and downtime to a minimum, ergonomics – or fitting a job to the person performing the job – must play a big role in upfitting fleet vehicles.

Many of today’s fleet administrators are tuned in to the importance of employee ergonomics, and an ever-increasing number are focused on keeping their utility fleet vehicle drivers safe and efficient, rather than simply giving them the tools to do their jobs. The mindset has evolved from determining vehicle shelf capacity and how ladders will be stored to asking questions of individual drivers such as:
• Do you need to carry all of your inventory and multiple ladders at all times?
• Which frequently used items can be located near the doors so you don’t need to climb into the vehicle?
• Is there a safer way to transport and access your ladders?
• How can you stay safe on the job without sacrificing productivity?

For cargo van drivers, one of the primary ergonomic issues associated with using that type of vehicle is climbing in and out of it, often while stepping over items on the floor with their arms full of gear. To minimize the need to enter the van – as well as the risk of back or joint injury – drivers should determine the tools and inventory they frequently use and place those items near the doors for easy access from outside the van. This can be accomplished using shelving and bins located within arm’s reach, drawers that open out through the cargo door and hooks for quick grab-and-go items.

Another major safety concern that stems from the use of cargo vans is the accessibility and use of ladders. Ladders have traditionally been carried on the roof of service vehicles, posing great risk to employees’ shoulders and backs when they attempt to retrieve, carry and stow these heavy pieces of equipment. Today, the goal of fleet administrators and upfitters alike is to find a way to make ladder use less of a liability. One solution is drop-down ladder racks. On a cargo van equipped with a drop-down rack, ladders are still carried on the vehicle’s roof, but a mechanized rack raises and lowers the ladders up and down the side of the van, delivering improved ergonomics for loading and unloading.

A second option to consider is keeping ladders inside the van. Workers can store short ladders upright on the partition or shelf end, hang them from the ceiling, or stow them under a subfloor or on a ladder shelf. By determining the ladder or ladders that need to be carried first, and by considering the vehicle being used, a utility fleet’s upfitter can suggest the best ladder storage options for optimal ergonomics.

Education is Essential
In order to create the most ergonomic vehicle work interiors, it is critical for utility fleet managers to research options, interview drivers and collaborate with the fleet’s upfitter. But what happens if – after the vehicles have been upfitted – driver feedback is still less than ideal? What’s missing? Is it possible that the drivers don’t fully understand how to make the upfit work for them?

Driver education is an essential part of the process of upfitting vehicles for improved ergonomics. When the vehicles are first delivered, fleet managers should be sure to lead a walk-around with their drivers to explain in detail why a shelf or drawer is located in a specific place and what cargo it is intended to hold. Recommend that frequently used items be positioned near the door, while other items can be stored deeper in the van. Demonstrate how to safely load and unload ladders. In addition to being an ergonomics and a safety imperative, training drivers is key to getting the most out of the fleet’s upfit investment.

And make no mistake, it is an investment. Fleet managers invest time and money upfront to create a work environment that suits employees, with the goal of improved efficiency and minimized downtime. When upfits and employee training are properly executed, the utility’s return on investment will include greater driver satisfaction, increased productivity and more satisfied customers.

About the Author: Tricia Singer has been writing for the commercial vehicle market for more than 18 years and has extensive experience within the commercial van equipment and upfitting industry. Her background includes marketing and graphic design for the Adrian Steel Co. (


Make Your Current Vehicles Work Better for You
If new vehicles or upfits aren’t in your immediate future, here are a few ideas to improve the ergonomics of your current interiors.
• Re-evaluate the cargo you are carrying. Do you need everything?
• Items that are used on most jobs should be stored near the van’s doors so you don’t have to climb into the van to reach them. Add storage hooks or removable totes to these areas for additional organization.
• Store items that aren’t accessed every day – but must be kept on hand – deeper in the van. They’ll be easy to locate without getting in the way of other items you need to access more frequently.
• Store large and heavy items on the floor or as close to waist-high as possible to ease in lifting.
• Learn the proper, most ergonomic way to load and unload ladders from the roof racks you are using.

How Plug-In Hybrids Impact Vehicle Maintenance

Utility fleets are leading the way when it comes to the use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – a growing solution for operations that must work around the clock to provide vital services to the general public.

While going green and convenience are definite pluses, plug-ins also enable significant operational savings over conventional vehicles and typically have longer useful lives, according to the Edison Electric Institute. Extending vehicle life also means lengthening purchase cycles and really getting the most value out of these units.

Fewer Parts Provide More Savings
Part of the value of owning and operating plug-ins is reduced maintenance expenses. Manufacturers and fleets agree that electric-based vehicles have lower maintenance costs due to fewer parts and less engine use. Some manufacturers even purposely design their trucks with that in mind.

VIA Motors (, for instance, did away with the transmission, starter motor and alternator in designing its “virtually maintenance-free” single-speed, extended-range electric pickup, according to Jeff Esfeld, VIA’s director of national fleet sales and business development. The company currently installs its technology on GM platforms, specifically the Silverado truck and Express van. Installed components are maintenance-free except for coolant. Any component failure is a plug-and-play replacement.

“Maintenance is a function of components,” Esfeld said. “When items are not there, obviously you’re talking of a lower maintenance cost situation.”

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), which operates 1,500 electric-based vehicles and has even made the plug-in its standard company car, can attest to the maintenance reductions from these models. Dave Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services, said the utility hardly uses the internal combustion engine, which has stretched time between oil changes from quarterly to yearly.

On top of fewer moving parts in the electric drive tank, he also noted extended brake life as a result of regenerative braking.

“On an internal combustion, we take our foot off the gas and put our foot on the brake. Now, in many cases, we’re just taking our foot off the gas,” Meisel explained.

Keeping Vehicles in Top Shape
Manufacturers typically service vehicles, but they also provide training to larger fleets with in-house mechanics.

Maintenance for VIA Motors vehicles is done by its dedicated team of master technicians or through specific GM-authorized service centers. The company also trains GM technicians to get them up to speed and to the level of its master technicians, some of whom have come off the production side and moved into service and maintenance because they know the VIA pickup so well, Esfeld said.

Odyne Systems (, a manufacturer of hybrid systems for medium- and heavy-duty work trucks that is partially owned by Allison Transmission (, uses Allison’s service and warranty network throughout North America.

The company also offers a two-day course for larger fleets with in-house mechanics.

“It gives them a good base for common repair work,” said Matt Jarmuz, director of sales for Odyne. “If it’s a major issue, we’ll take that to the Allison dealer for repair.”

Using the train-the-trainer model, PG&E spent about three days training its in-house technicians to work on the utility’s electric vehicles. With 63 garages in its service territory and about 380 shop-based and mobile mechanics, PG&E had the vehicles’ manufacturers train some of its best technicians and then let those technicians train their peers on how to work the high-voltage systems.

Jarmuz described the training process as more electrical than mechanical. “It’s a different skill set – troubleshooting wire harnesses and trying to solve issues on a hybrid vehicle versus a mechanical failure where a part’s broken and you have to replace it,” he said.

Preparing Your Fleet for Plug-Ins
Luckily, fleets don’t have to change much to outfit their shops for plug-in vehicle maintenance. For example, PG&E had to purchase specific plug-in tools, but its shops stayed the same.

“The manufacturers were really clear on what we were supposed to have, so we created a high-voltage kit for every garage when they work on a high-voltage unit,” Meisel said.

VIA customers need two specialized pieces of equipment: a custom transmission lift that drops the battery pack and the H bracket, and a special hand-held diagnostic tool. The tool recognizes every GM and VIA part and also codes all their parts and labor jobs. In addition, it has a video camera and light that connect to the company’s technical assistance line. “A technician can actually call and speak to the engineer and tell them what issue they’re having and our guy can see it,” Esfeld said.

Overall, preparing for plug-in vehicles is not a highly complicated process, Meisel said.

“Train your people how to use them, teach your technicians how to work on them, have your hardware in place and have charging infrastructure in place,” Meisel said. “Buying them and fixing them is the easy part.”

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.


The Payback for Plug-Ins
Are plug-in hybrid vehicles the right fit for your fleet?

A plug-in hybrid system will cost more upfront versus a conventional model, but the initial investment will pay back over the years through reductions in fuel and maintenance.

Payback depends on the application, according to Odyne’s Jarmuz.

“The big thing about plug-ins is the more miles you run or the more hours the vehicle engine operates, the more that you save,” he said. “Primarily, you’re exchanging diesel/gasoline for electricity and you’re extending the mileage intervals – the oil changes and those scheduled maintenance items. So the higher the miles or engine hours, the better the return.”

Jarmuz recommends calculating your direct costs, such as fuel and maintenance, but also factoring in soft costs, which are more difficult to assign a dollar figure and include items such as refueling time and the time a vehicle is out of service while in the shop.

“We see payback anywhere from five to 10 years depending on how often [utility fleets] use the vehicle and number of miles or engine hours per year,” he said.

Using Gamification to Improve Employee Performance

Today’s utility fleets have a powerful tool at their disposal, and it’s one that nearly everybody already carries with them: mobile apps that run on cellphones and tablets.

By tying new apps into existing fleet and work order management systems, fleet managers can help employees improve their execution of day-to-day tasks through use of their mobile devices. This article will take a look at exactly how today’s utility fleets can use gamification to coach and improve worker performance in real time, and why utility fleet managers should consider engaging with gamification to drive a more satisfied, efficient and safe workforce.

What is Gamification?
Gamification is the use of game mechanics in a context that is typically not game-oriented. It is used by software companies to build business applications that increase engagement and participation while accelerating learning. Gamification leverages our human nature to compete with ourselves and others, with the objective of encouraging teams to achieve company-wide goals and – in the fleet world – deliver greater safety, productivity and compliance. To accomplish this, the apps provide real-time data to users so they can track and eventually improve their performance.

So, how can you integrate gamification into your organization? There are three phases you must complete: establishing your mission, aligning objectives with your mission and deployment.

Establishing Your Mission
While your crews may be a subset of a larger business, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have their own mission that aligns and supports the overall corporate mission. Once the mission is established, it’s time to break it down into individual objectives that support the mission. For example, the mission may be to operate the safest utility fleet in your region, so the objectives may include reducing speeding incidents, hours-of-service violations and vehicle idle time.

Measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) should be created based on the established objectives. Make sure they are as specific as possible. No sport would ever achieve popularity if the goal was unclear to players. Regardless of what your objectives are – increasing productivity, decreasing fuel costs or improving the safety of your crews – the secret to achieving them is to keep them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Aligning Objectives
The next step is to review your objectives to ensure they align with business operations. For instance, if your company puts working as quickly as possible first and safety second, then setting an objective to reduce speeding won’t align with the mission. Get your company influencers – typically managers and supervisors – involved to review objectives and ensure they align with operations.

It’s important that managers are on board with the new objectives; as leaders, they will play an important role in influencing others and working toward a successful outcome.

After reviewing and refining your objectives and aligning them with your mission, you’re ready for the deployment phase. This phase should go relatively smoothly if you correctly execute the first two phases. The size of your organization will determine the scale of your deployment planning.

In the case of rolling out the use of an app such as Telogis Coach, which provides proactive driver coaching with gamification, smaller utilities may only need brief training. This would include a review of a quick-start guide that explains how the app works, as well as instructions about how to download, install and log in to the app. For larger utility organizations, a more tailored implementation would be beneficial.

But don’t be fooled – deployment involves more than merely instructing your employees to install the gamification app and leaving them to it. For the game element to be most effective, it needs to be refereed. This means determining how long a game will last, monitoring results and celebrating wins.

Employees will soon tire of a game with no end in sight, so set a length of time and make them aware of it. A 90-day game period is most common for achieving fleet KPIs.

To monitor results, you will need a scoreboard to help reinforce the KPIs so drivers know what they are trying to achieve. Gamification apps use predetermined metrics to generate a score, which an employee can access to see how he or she performed against his or her peers. A utility fleet manager can also compare employee scores. The ability to view these scores – and, more importantly, the ability to review the direct correlation between what an employee is doing and how it is impacting the operation – presents an opportunity to improve employee behavior, which is a direct intention of gamification apps. Fleet managers can also use these apps to review the types and frequencies of training content being accessed. By comparing scorecards and training content metrics to fleet’s rates of accidents, lost-time injuries and productivity, managers can draw correlations between what’s working in terms of meeting objectives – and what isn’t.

And finally, celebrate employee wins. You don’t need to do cartwheels in the office every time an employee achieves a perfect score, but there should be recognition and reward. In most cases, the size of the reward isn’t important; it’s about making sure the employee knows you are aware of his or her accomplishment, and that it means something to you and the company.

Real Results
Done right, implementing gamification into your work can be much more than a passing fad. The data derived can be a powerful force for change in your organization, and you’ll have employees who feel more engaged, recognized for good performance and motivated to do their best.

About the Author: Tim Taylor is chief customer success officer for Telogis (

Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

Winter is approaching, and for utilities operating in the Frost Belt, keeping crews warm isn’t just a good thing to do – it’s a safety imperative.

For vehicle cab comfort, the choices fall between keeping the engine running and using the truck’s HVAC system, or using an auxiliary heater. As always, the choice depends on the fleet’s desires.

The simplest solution is to keep the engine running, but that’s a costly option for fleet managers focused on keeping down fuel costs. Idle-limiting systems help fleets get over that hurdle. With numerous choices available on the aftermarket, these systems automatically shut down the engine at a work site, periodically turning it on for a few minutes to recharge the batteries to power the PTO and hydraulics. They significantly reduce fuel use, and the length of time the engine runs can be adjusted to ensure the truck’s heater keeps the cab comfortable.

Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, Wash., is testing a system from ZeroRPM ( that has a cab comfort setting to maintain temperatures when the truck is on-site. The system automatically starts the engine and will run an average of five to seven minutes every hour, depending on the level of heat needed, according to Evan Miller, ZeroRPM’s vice president of sales. “The system can provide full HVAC service if [the fleet] wants. There are different applications for heat,” he said.

Avista’s primary goals are to reduce fuel costs while keeping the crew’s safety at the forefront, and the ZeroRPM system suits their needs, said Greg Loew, fleet manager. “We do burn a sizable chunk of fuel a year idling vehicles, but you have to think about how to take care of the guys who are out there,” he said. “It’s a safety thing and it’s a critical thing to consider. You need systems that allow the guys to be comfortable.”

If the idle mitigation system performs well this winter, Avista will consider adding more during the next buying cycle, Loew said.

Don’t want – or need – to run the engine, even periodically? Auxiliary air and coolant heaters from companies such as Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems ( and Webasto ( will handle cold-weather needs while saving engine use. These systems operate independently of a truck’s temperature control system and typically use a fraction of the fuel a truck would use while idling, according to the manufacturers.

If all you need to heat is the air inside the cab, auxiliary air heaters are the way to go. These are mounted inside the cab and tied into the truck’s fuel line.

Hydronic (coolant) heaters are integrated in series or parallel to the existing coolant lines and will preheat the engine and also supply warm air into the cab via the vehicle’s heat exchanger, explained John Dennehy, Eberspaecher’s vice president of marketing and communications. The heaters are mounted inside the engine compartment or along the frame rail.

Detroit-based DTE Energy uses a variety of systems to keep trucks operating and crews warm in winter temperatures that often hit below zero, said Gerard Huvaere, procurement specialist. The hydronic system from Eberspaecher (formerly Espar) heats the coolant to help engine starting, ensure cab comfort and warm the aerials’ hydraulic oils. DTE also uses Eberspaecher space heaters as well as Altec’s JEMS (Jobsite Energy Management System), an auxiliary battery-based system that provides power for job site needs and cab comfort systems.

DTE is looking for “startability and employee comfort” in its heating systems, Huvaere said. “All closed work spaces have some sort of heating.”

Crews like a system that gives them the ability to set the start time, but in the end, Huvaere said, it’s “any system that keeps them warm.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Selecting Auxiliary Heaters
The first decision utility fleet managers have to make when considering an auxiliary heating system is which type fits their needs: hydronic or air.

The simple answer is that if all the fleet needs to heat is the vehicle’s cab, an air heater will do the job. Air heaters consume a fraction of fuel per hour compared with an idling truck. The Air Top 2000 ST from Webasto, for example, will use about 1 gallon of fuel per 22 hours, according to the company. Air heaters also are easier to install and cost less than hydronic systems.

Size depends on the space to be heated, but John Dennehy, vice president of marketing and communications for Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems, said the company’s smaller model would be appropriate for most utility cabs.

Hydronic systems, on the other hand, are used to preheat the engine coolant, provide heat to the cab and warm the aerial hydraulics, if needed. Suppliers offer multiple sizes depending on engine sizes and the fleet’s needs, but the smaller sizes may suffice for most utility fleet needs.

The principal benefit of auxiliary heaters is lower fuel costs. Suppliers have simple fuel-saving calculators on their websites, but beyond direct fuel savings, the total cost savings from using an auxiliary heater in lieu of idling the engine may also come from longer service intervals, longer engine life and improved startability on cold mornings.

Using Video Monitoring Wisely

Whether the goal is to improve driver performance, protect against fraudulent claims or reduce accident and liability costs, in-cab video monitors can provide utility fleets with another tool to aid their safety improvement efforts.

But if they are installed without laying the proper groundwork with employees or not used wisely, they can also be a waste of money at best and, at worst, a disruptive force that can push safety efforts in the wrong direction, fleet executives cautioned.

Northern Indiana Public Service Co., a NiSource subsidiary, has been piloting the DriveCam system from Lytx ( in more than 200 systems for over six months, said Chuck Bunting, NiSource fleet manager.

NIPSCO uses both union and nonunion drivers, and the utility’s approach has been to pitch the DriveCam system to them as another layer of safety and a way to help people become better drivers, according to Bunting. “We tell them it’s something else in [their] toolbox,” he said.

“We’re using the system in situations where it’s warranted, where the driver needs coaching,” Bunting continued. “It’s too early in the pilot to have any data on its efficacy. We are looking for the ROI on it, but we have no hard data to date.”

Jason Palmer, president of SmartDrive Systems (, said it’s most important for companies to be transparent when rolling out the system to fleet drivers. “Explain clearly what the system does and what it doesn’t do,” he said. “The biggest mistake a fleet can make is to just install the system and not tell drivers.”

This is especially critical with utilities that often use union workers, he said. “We meet with the company and the union stewards ahead of time to explain the system and work with them. Drivers are concerned that the camera is recording them all the time, so we explain that we’re only recording when something happens, when there is an event.”

System Differences
In-cab video systems differ from telematics and other event data recorders by providing a visual and audial record of actions. In these systems, the in-cab camera is continually on, but video and audio are captured only when a G-force event occurs, such as a hard brake or avoidance maneuver. In Lytx’s case, for example, when an event as determined by the customer occurs, the recorded video and audio, consisting of up to eight seconds before and four seconds after the event, are saved and uploaded to the company’s center for analysis. If the event meets preset conditions, such as driver error, it will be forwarded to the fleet for action.

Fleets can set the event trigger depending on their priorities, Palmer said. “Utilities most of the time have zero tolerance for any cellphone use in the truck. We allow the customer to set the [system triggers].”

Drivers could also actuate it if needed, such as when entering a potential problem area in a rough neighborhood, for instance, explained Greg Lund, director of corporate communications for Lytx.

A basic system consists of cameras that record the driver and what’s occurring in front of the vehicle.

Systems can also tie into other radar-based safety systems, such as those that focus on collision avoidance and lane departure warnings, as well as provide a visual record of outside activities 360 degrees around the truck. Costs range from $500 to $1,000 per unit for hardware and $30 to $50 per unit for monthly subscription costs, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan (

The most common use of an in-cab monitoring system is to coach drivers on how to eliminate poor habits, but it also provides a visual record of accidents, regardless of who was at fault.

“Not only are fleets using it for improving driver behavior, but we’re seeing more exonerations where a video can show a driver not at fault for an incident,” Lund said.

The use of these systems has grown substantially over the past few years as technology has improved, and the rate of growth is only going to increase. A June 2015 report from Frost & Sullivan noted that there are about 300,000 units in use worldwide, with North America accounting for about 90 percent of those installations. Growth in the use of onboard safety sensors – such as the previously mentioned collision avoidance and lane departure warning systems – will drive a fourfold increase to between 1.3 million and 1.5 million units by 2021, the report predicted.

“This represents a compound annual growth rate of over 25 percent, which seems reasonable, but we believe there is even more opportunity,” Lund said.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.

Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

Overloading trucks and trailers can be an expensive habit. It puts the safety of operators and the public at risk, increases fines and leads to premature wear and tear on vehicles. But when you can’t physically inspect drivers’ loads throughout the day, how do you ensure your trucks are operating at a safe weight?

One solution is to install onboard scales, which help operators immediately determine whether loads fit within the allowable weight capacity of a truck and/or trailer.

How do onboard scales work? Air-Weigh’s LoadMaxx system ( measures change in pressure within an air suspension and then converts the scale’s measurements into comparable on-the-ground weights displayed on an in-cab digital gauge. For axles with leaf-spring suspensions, LoadMaxx uses a deflection sensor that measures the flex in the suspension to determine weight.

Vulcan On-Board Scales (, which are compatible with most suspension types, use load-cell technology with built-in strain gauges that monitor changes in electrical resistance when the cell is deformed by a load. The system transmits and converts the cell’s resistance signals into actual weight readings.

Hauling Variable Loads
While onboard scales can be applied in a wide range of straight truck and tractor-trailer applications, they are especially useful when hauling variable and unpredictable loads.

One day, for example, a Class 8 tractor-trailer might haul a heavy transformer. The next day, that same unit could be transporting a large backhoe. When you’re dealing with variable weights from load to load, onboard scales give crews visibility into the weight of the truck and individual axles (or axle groups) during the loading process.

And the weight of each axle is important to get right. As Tricia Baker, marketing manager for Air-Weigh, put it, “The DOT will still issue a fine when you have just one axle that’s overloaded, even if the total vehicle weight is OK.”

To help ensure compliance with individual axle weights, onboard scales enable crews to quickly identify the optimal load placement relative to each axle. “If you place the transformer too far forward on the trailer [ahead of the trailer axle], your drive weight will be too high because too much weight has been transferred toward the fifth wheel [the hitch above the tractor’s rear axle],” Baker explained. “But if you load the transformer too far behind the axle, the trailer’s axle weight will be too high.”

With onboard scales, crews get immediate feedback on load placement so they can make adjustments, if necessary, without having to drive to the nearest truck scale and wait in line.

Both Vulcan and Air-Weigh systems offer wireless communication capabilities to transmit vehicle weight data to fleet managers and other authorized personnel, giving them greater visibility into their crews’ performance with their day-to-day vehicle payloads.

Baker also said that Air-Weigh’s customers have talked about using onboard scale technology as an effective CDL driver retention tool. This is because onboard weighing helps CDL drivers ensure their load is always compliant, reducing the risk of truck-weight violations being placed on their safety record.

According to Baker, an Air-Weigh tractor and trailer system starts at about $1,000 and goes up from there, depending on the configuration that best fits the application. The company’s online return on investment calculator ( offers scenarios of how much time it can take for fleets to recoup their investment based on the system type, projected number of weekly loads and the estimated scale fees that are eliminated by using onboard scales.

A Practical Application
When you can’t personally inspect each vehicle before it leaves your yard, onboard scales offer a practical way for you to hold crews accountable, ensuring they are operating their vehicles within the proper weight limits. This protects their safety while reducing your organization’s liability exposure.


The Expense of Excessive Weight
Onboard scales can help your fleet reduce these costs associated with operating overweight trucks and trailers:
• Increased liability and safety risks to crews and the public.
• Department of Transportation fines.
• Accelerated wear on tires and brakes.
• Premature failure of major components such as engines, transmissions and axles.
• Potential loss of warranty coverage.
• Shorter vehicle life cycle.

Backup Cameras are Getting Smarter

According to the National Safety Council, the average medium-sized truck has a blind spot that extends up to 160 feet behind the vehicle. So you can imagine that for larger utility trucks that sit higher off the ground, with wider bodies, it’s even more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, other vehicles and property when backing a vehicle.

That’s why a growing number of utility fleets are installing backup cameras on their vehicles: to enhance rear visibility and to reduce incidents – and the expense – of backing crashes.

But a new breed of vehicle camera systems is taking visibility to the next level.

Imagine a backup camera that’s also equipped with a motion sensor that automatically turns on the camera, records footage and alerts the fleet manager in real time when someone is attempting to steal equipment or tools from the truck. What if the video data captured by that same camera could also be combined with GPS telematics data to help exonerate drivers and the company from false claims?

This combination of advanced camera technology, digital video recorders and telematics is the promise of a new product that Newport Beach, Calif.-based Convoy Technologies ( has aptly trademarked as Videomatics.

In a nutshell, Videomatics integrates driver behavior software and telematics (GPS and routing) with live and recorded video from around and inside a vehicle, so that drivers and management can see everything with video that’s accessible via PC, tablet or smartphone. That way, fleets can be better equipped to eliminate backing incidents, improve overall driver behavior and generate high-quality video evidence for the purpose of proving fault.

Video data is stored locally on an external hard drive and can also be accessed remotely from the cloud. The local hard drive offers storage capacities up to 2 terabytes, which translates to about 45 days of data.

“What we’re seeing in the market is that backup cameras are becoming a standard, a commodity. Now the big question is, how do we turn vehicle camera technology into a tool for overall risk mitigation?” said Blake Gasca, Convoy Technologies’ founder and chief executive officer. “That’s what has led us to building motion detection sensors into our cameras and making sure the camera system can integrate with a monitor and external device to either broadcast video to the cloud or store it locally on the vehicle.”

Videomatics tracks and records events such as speeding, G-shock (impact and vibration), GPS coordinates, geofencing, route deviation, mapping and positioning of an entire fleet. Fleet managers can select whether they want continuous, event-driven or scheduled video recording.

How exactly does crash data recording get triggered?

“It can happen with a hard brake or hard stop or some sort of G-force event,” Gasca explained. “Video is stored 20 seconds before the event and 10 seconds after, so you have visibility into what happened before, during and after the event.”

While Videomatics can connect up to eight cameras per vehicle, the company said the typical configuration deploys three to four cameras.

How much does the system cost?

Videomatics’ monthly subscription pricing is based on a customer’s specific system requirements, starting at $59 per system. The company said hardware cost ranges from $300 to $1,700, plus installation, depending on the number of cameras.

Videomatics is available through participating truck equipment manufacturers and upfitters or directly through Convoy Technologies at

The Rise of ePTO Systems for Utility Trucks

When it comes to electric vehicles (EV), what usually garners headlines are consumer cars, like the Toyota Prius, Nissan LEAF and the eye-catching Tesla Model S sport sedan. But the future expansion of the EV market will likely be driven by commercial fleets, including electric utility companies, which are stepping up investments in all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles.

In November 2014, the White House and Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, announced that more than 70 electric utility companies have committed at least 5 percent of their annual fleet acquisition budgets to purchasing plug-in EVs and technologies. This adds up to total investments of approximately $50 million per year, or $250 million over five years, starting in 2015.

According to the White House’s “Fact Sheet: Growing the United States Electric Vehicle Market” (, the utility companies expect to meet the 5 percent commitment by purchasing a variety of technologies, from electric passenger cars to medium- and heavy-duty work trucks with electric power take-off (ePTO) systems that power a truck’s onboard equipment – such as aerial platforms and digger derricks – without the need to run the engine.

Traditionally, the power take-off system, which is mounted to the truck’s transmission, redirects engine power to operate onboard equipment. But when you consider that engine idle burns as much as 1 gallon of fuel per hour, a bucket truck that might idle several hours per day wastes a lot of fuel and creates excessive toxic emissions.

That’s why a growing number of utility companies, like Pacific Gas and Electric Co., are expanding their fleets of hybrid-electric trucks equipped with ePTO systems to reduce fuel costs and their carbon footprint. PG&E recently unveiled its plug-in hybrid electric drivetrain Class 5 bucket truck, developed in partnership with Efficient Drivetrains Inc. (EDI) and Altec Industries. The truck features up to 40 miles of all-electric driving and ePTO capabilities that electrify all onboard equipment including the boom, eliminating the need for engine idle at job sites.

PG&E estimates that each plug-in hybrid electric vehicle will reduce emissions by up to 80 percent compared to conventional fuel vehicles and will save the utility more than 850 gallons of fuel per year.

Utility equipment manufacturers Altec Industries ( and Terex Corp. ( both offer hybrid-electric systems with ePTO capabilities for customers.

Dubbed JEMS – for Jobsite Energy Management System – Altec’s hybrid-electric system uses stored electrical energy to power the onboard boom and other equipment, provide exportable power, and generate in-cab heating and cooling, without engine idle. The system’s batteries are charged by plugging into shore power or by operating the truck’s internal combustion engine.

Terex’s hybrid-electric system, called HyPower, also features a plug-in ePTO, harnessing stored energy from rechargeable batteries to power aerial devices and onboard equipment for up to six hours before needing to be recharged. According to the company’s website, Terex estimates that the HyPower saves utility fleets up to 1,500 gallons of fuel per year, based on 7,000 miles and 1,250 job site hours per year.

As utility companies increase their investment in hybrid-electric trucks, they will provide a credible proof of concept about the capabilities of plug-in technologies, setting a compelling example to their commercial fleet customers to follow their lead.

For deeper research, check out “Transportation Electrification: Utility Fleets Leading the Charge” (, a white paper produced by Edison Electric Institute.

The Latest Developments in Crash Avoidance Systems

In July, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, debuted its fully autonomous Future Truck 2025 with an on-highway test drive on the Autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany.

And while a production model of the self-driving truck may be more than a decade away, many of the technologies required to make autonomous driving a reality are available today. They’re known as crash avoidance systems, which serve as an extra set of eyes to help keep drivers and the public safe.

Considering that 90 percent of all accidents in the U.S. are caused by human error, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, crash avoidance technologies could make a major impact on reducing accidents – and the costs associated with those crashes.

This is especially important to utility fleets because drivers of large aerial platform, digger derrick, and service trucks often must navigate congested roads and parking areas in residential and urban areas. These areas may have numerous potential blind spots to parked cars, property and even children who might dart in the way of the truck. All it takes is one preventable accident that causes a major injury or fatality to ignite a potential public relations firestorm.

How can you reduce preventable accidents to protect your drivers and your company’s reputation? Following are three crash avoidance technologies available today for commercial trucks.

Collision Avoidance Systems
What if your truck could see an obstruction as you drive in reverse and, as you get closer and closer, tell you the precise distance from potential impact so that you can effectively maneuver the vehicle and avoid damage?

That’s what the Collision Avoidance Systems Vehicle Reversing Aid is designed to do. Using ultrasonic echo location sonar, the system alerts the driver to potential obstacles, with an audio pulse alert that changes frequency as the vehicle backs closer to the obstacle.

The system also offers a Voice Distance Indicator module, which employs an audible voice to inform the driver how close the rear of the vehicle is from the obstruction. The voice calls out the distance in feet, starting at 12 feet. Then, as the vehicle reverses toward an obstacle, you hear the system say, “9 feet … 6 feet … 5 feet … 4 feet … 3 feet … 2 feet …18 inches …12 inches.” When the system senses the vehicle is fewer than 12 inches from an obstacle, the voice issues the urgent warning, “CRASH!”

Additionally, when a detected object suddenly moves outside the system’s sonar zone, the system issues a loud “OBJECT IN BLIND AREA!” warning message.

OnGuard Collision Mitigation System
Even with the best reflexes, you can’t always sense when traffic ahead of you will come to a sudden stop – until it may be too late. But what if your truck had the ability to automatically detect the danger and apply brakes as necessary to help you avoid a crash?

Enter OnGuard, a radar-based active safety system developed by Meritor WABCO, a joint venture between Troy, Mich.-based Meritor Inc. and WABCO Holdings Inc., which is headquartered in Piscataway, N.J.

OnGuard uses radar sensors and advanced algorithms to measure your truck’s position relative to other vehicles, alerting you to possible danger of collision using audible and visual warnings – through an in-cab display – so you can take corrective action.

If the system senses that a potential collision is impending, and the driver hasn’t adjusted course, OnGuard automatically de-throttles the engine and applies both the engine and foundation brakes to decelerate the truck.

Imagine that your truck had an extra “eye” that never got distracted and could see danger, even when you couldn’t, to alert you in time to do something about it.

That eye is Mobileye, which uses an intelligent camera system mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard to identify objects in your vehicle’s path that may pose threats, such as other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians. The system continuously measures the distance and relative speeds of these objects to calculate the risk of your vehicle colliding with them.

The system can also detect lane markings and traffic signs, alerting drivers when they veer out of their lane or when they go over the speed limit. When Mobileye detects imminent danger, it issues visual and audio alerts in real time that warn the driver and give him or her sufficient time to make necessary corrections.

The Bottom Line
The promise of self-driving vehicles may be not be fully realized for another 10 to 20 years. However, fleets can at least begin to incorporate some of the component technologies available today to equip their vehicles – and drivers – to more effectively avoid crashes.

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Strategy + Writing (

Crash Course on Collision Avoidance Terminology

Front Crash Prevention System: Uses various types of sensors – such as cameras, radar, or light detection and ranging – to detect when the vehicle is getting too close to one in front of it, issuing a warning and precharging the brakes to maximize their effect if the driver responds by braking.

Lane Departure Warning and Prevention System: Uses cameras to track the vehicle’s position within the lane, alerting the driver if the vehicle is in danger of inadvertently straying across lane markings.

Blind Spot Detection System: Uses sensors to monitor the side of the vehicle to detect vehicles approaching blind spots.

Park Assist and Backover Prevention System: Uses cameras and sensors to help the driver avoid objects behind the vehicle when backing up.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (

Four Technologies That Curb Distracted Driving

Bing! A new text message. Your phone is facedown on the passenger seat. You know you should ignore it and keep your eyes on the road, but you’re curious. Is it urgent? Is it my boss? A quick look won’t hurt, right? I’m a good driver; I can handle this!

But the research says otherwise.

Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting – enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded at 55 mph, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

VTTI also says that visual-manual tasks such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting increase the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

That’s why, as of press time, 44 states have banned text messaging for drivers. And 12 states prohibit any use of hand-held cell phones while driving. (For the latest information about state laws on distracted driving, visit

Mobile devices are powerful tools to boost productivity for workers in the field. But they also can put your drivers – and the public – in danger if used while driving, increasing your company’s exposure to lawsuits and the likelihood of costly negative publicity.

It’s not enough to craft a strong policy to curb distracted driving; you also have to be able to effectively enforce that policy. But how can you ensure drivers won’t put themselves and your organization at risk when you can’t be in the cab to monitor their behavior? Following are four technologies designed to help solve that problem.

The Origo system requires drivers to place their phone in a docking station to start the vehicle. The driver can then engage hands-free technology, with allowable phone capabilities configured by the administrator.

If the phone is removed from the docking station at any time during a trip, the system will sound an alarm until the phone is replaced. The next time the driver tries to start the vehicle, he or she will be forced to contact the administrator in order for the phone to be reauthorized.

If the phone is lost or stolen, a one-time use code can be obtained from the administrator to start the vehicle. If the vehicle is taken to be serviced, the administrator would provide the guest driver with a PIN, and the technician would be able to normally operate the vehicle.

Cellcontrol has developed an enterprise mobile enforcement technology for fleets that directly integrates with the vehicle and installs on mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Once the system is installed, no driver interaction is required.

The company’s new DriveID module, which is placed on the vehicle’s windshield, can automatically detect who sits in the driver’s seat and only applies the safety policy to that individual’s mobile devices, leaving passengers free to talk, text and browse the Web on their devices.

As the account administrator, you set the policy. So, if you want to allow drivers to make calls and use navigation, but not browse or text, you can configure the system accordingly.

FleetSafer works with most smartphones and tablets. When employees start to drive, the system senses vehicle movement – through GPS, an onboard diagnostics (OBD) port device or telematics – and locks the phone’s screen, preventing access to text, email and browser applications. Inbound text and email alerts are suppressed and a custom reply is automatically sent informing others when the employee is busy driving.

With FleetSafer, the administrator sets the policies, defining how many or how few of the phone’s features are available while driving. Options include hands-free phone operation, white-listing – which allows inbound calls from authorized phone numbers, while blocking others – and select application permissions, such as enabling navigation.

Kyrus Mobile
The Kyrus Mobile solution is installed on each cell phone or mobile device and then paired with a Bluetooth module that is plugged into the vehicle’s OBD-II port (for cars and light trucks) or J1939 port (for heavy trucks and buses). When the vehicle starts to move, the system enables a safe mode that prevents the driver from using the cell phone until the vehicle stops.

Users cannot type or read text messages or emails, nor can they surf the Web or use other distracting applications. Administrators have the option of banning all voice calls or permitting voice calls, if done through a Bluetooth earpiece and using voice-based dialing. If drivers attempt to tamper with the system, management is notified through email alerts.

Eliminate Temptation 
Oftentimes, the urge to pick up a mobile device while driving is too strong to resist. So, why not eliminate the temptation altogether? That’s what these four technologies are designed to do, empowering you to effectively manage and enforce your company’s distracted driving policy across your entire fleet.

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Strategy + Writing (

Distracted Driving Facts
• Ten percent of fatal crashes, 19 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in 2012 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
• In 2012, there were 3,328 people killed and an estimated additional 421,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
• Drivers under 25 are two to three times more likely than older drivers to send text messages or emails while driving.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Latest Developments in Self-Inflating Tires

What if tires could inflate themselves and maintain optimal pressure at all times, with no human intervention required? How much of an impact could that make on fuel efficiency, tire life cycle, driver safety and a fleet’s bottom line?

New self-inflating tire technologies being developed today may provide a glimpse into future possibilities.

Cost of (Improper) Inflation
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a tire that’s underinflated by just 10 pounds per square inch (psi) can reduce fuel efficiency by up to 1 percent per tire.

That’s because an underinflated tire, as it flexes, creates greater friction with the road surface, requiring more energy – or fuel – for the vehicle to overcome the added resistance.

This friction also causes heat to build up in the tire, leading to accelerated deterioration and increased risk of blowout. A report by the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations on tire pressure monitoring and inflation maintenance states that tires operating constantly at 20 percent below appropriate pressure levels could increase the wear of the tread by 25 percent.

The challenge is that many fleets don’t do a great job of keeping up with tire pressure on a regular basis, with more than half of truck tires on the road operating outside of their target pressure range, according to research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

This is important because tires left on their own, just by natural diffusion, will leak about 2 psi per month. Then there’s the issue of pressure fluctuations resulting from extreme climate temperatures that impact tire performance and longevity. So, it can be difficult and often impractical for fleet managers and drivers to manually keep up with tire pressures all the time.

Self-Contained, Self-Inflating System
One solution under development is Goodyear’s Air Maintenance Technology (AMT), a self-maintaining tire inflation system that enables tires to remain inflated at the optimum pressure without the need for any external pumps or electronics. All components of the system, including the miniaturized pump, are fully contained within the tire.

The project was unveiled in 2011 and has been aided by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office. The grant money funds research, development and demonstration of the AMT system for commercial truck tires.

How does AMT work?

“AMT has an internal regulator that senses when the tire inflation pressure has dropped below a specified level,” explained John Kotanides Jr., project manager at Goodyear ( in the Akron, Ohio-based Global Innovations Group. “Once the system senses the pressure drop, the regulator opens to allow air to flow into a pumping tube. And as the tire rolls down the road, under the load of the vehicle, the deflection of the tire will flatten that pumping tube, pushing puffs of air back into the tire through the inlet valve. The air flows into the tire cavity and continues to fill the tire as it rolls down the road until the regulator senses that the specified tire pressure has been met and then shuts the system off, until it senses another pressure drop.”

Kotanides said that the company expects to begin piloting AMT on commercial trucks by the end of 2014, but he could not comment on pricing and when the system will be available for sale.

What fleet applications will benefit from AMT?

“Right now, our focus is on the long-haul Class 8 tractor-trailer setup. But we think this type of system could work on almost any tire that has inflation and that travels down the road under a load,” Kotanides said.

Bolt-On Hub System
Another solution to the problem of underinflated tires is Halo, which was launched earlier this year by Burlingame, Calif., startup Aperia Technologies (

Halo is mounted outside the tire, onto a truck’s axle hub, and is designed to use a wheel’s rotation to maintain optimal tire pressure in dual and wide-based tires on the drive and trailer axles of trucks, tractors, trailers and buses.

“Halo operates on a similar principle to a self-winding watch,” said Josh Carter, chief executive officer and co-founder of Aperia. “It uses a wheel’s rotational motion to pump and maintain optimal tire pressure and therefore does not require any connection to a compressor.”

This is an important distinction because using compressors to power self-inflating tires increases complexity – and cost – and could add weight to a level that negates the fuel economy savings generated by maintaining proper tire pressure in the first place.

Carter said that Halo, which bolts on to the hub on each side of an axle, weighs about 5 pounds per unit and requires fewer than 10 minutes to install by a service technician, without expensive tools.

Since the system is mounted on the axle hub and not integrated into the tire itself, each Halo unit can be remounted for use with multiple sets of tires for up to 500,000 miles or 10 years, the company said.

This bolt-on approach also gives fleet managers flexibility in tire choices, Carter said. “Fleets have a lot of loyalty with a tire manufacturer and they get into a groove with a tire program. With Halo, they can use whichever tire manufacturer they want.”

Carter said that Aperia’s first Halo production run was allocated quickly after launching in March, and the company is currently taking orders for the next round of production. List price is $299 per unit.

Will this system be made available for applications besides long-haul trucking, such as utility fleets?

“Right now our focus is on Class 7 to 8 trucks, primarily those used in long-haul applications because of the payback time frame those fleets can expect from cost savings driven by improved fuel economy,” Carter said. “But we have received a lot of interest for tailoring the system for a wider range of truck sizes and applications. And we have plans in place to conduct a pilot program for the utility market later this year.”

The Bottom Line
Since tire inflation is a critical factor to reducing fuel consumption and overall fleet operational costs, it’s likely that some form of self-inflating tire technology will gain widespread market acceptance. But when? And will the systems of the future look more like Goodyear’s AMT that is integrated within each tire or Aperia’s Halo that is bolted on to the axle hub outside the tire? Or will there be a new, even more effective approach to solving this problem? Keep your eye on this space.

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Strategy + Writing (

Fleet Telematics: Technology on the Move

When it comes to onboard vehicle technologies, it is easy to forget how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. We’ve advanced from rudimentary tachographs and not-always-reliable engine control modules to globally connected, high-tech telematics that provide real-time data and automated maintenance solutions.

Before the telematics boom, many of us looked to those little black boxes installed in vehicles that monitored oil, coolant and fuel levels, engine temperatures and pressures, fan usage and exhaust emissions.

As that monitored data changed, the black box would automatically adjust and optimize engine performance to maximize performance efficiencies. Should the engine experience a performance problem, the data would be stored to a central fleet user function and the little black box would alert the driver to the mechanical issue. The device would also put the engine in “limp-in mode” to help reduce added mechanical failure while at the same time giving the driver the ability to get the vehicle to a location to be serviced without exacerbating the failure.

However, as any fleet manager who used those pre-telematics technologies would likely tell you, the technology was far from refined and had its fair share of bugs. Issues with consistency and reliability were common, which made it even more difficult to justify the technology costs. It would take several years for the technology to advance enough to provide more reliable and comprehensive fleet management solutions that fully mitigate the expense.

When the federal government opened up GPS satellites to civilian use in the mid-1990s, we saw real, meaningful growth in telematics technologies.

By the mid-2000s, telematics technologies had grown to feature theft-deterring automatic shutdowns, remote fuel usage monitoring and vehicle operation tracking – all providing cost- and risk-reducing solutions that helped fleet managers project fuel costs, schedule OEM maintenance, and decrease insurance and vehicle replacement costs. Yet, even with those advancements, telematics systems were still hindered by a lack of available vehicle data and fast, reliable mobile data delivery.

Modern Technology
Today’s telematics are now more akin to the technology found in modern aircraft. OEMs have begun building in more advanced vehicle performance tracking ability by adding new hardware and more direct-wired sensors to vehicles. Additionally, high-speed mobile data technology has become a dependable and affordable solution.

Now, telematics systems can provide global access to real-time vehicle location and activity data, automated logging, mobile workforce tools, camera integration and more. With ongoing real-time engine performance monitoring, maintenance planning can shift from the utilization of vehicle usage milestones to condition-based maintenance.

And should urgent repairs be needed, telematics can improve the efficiency of the process. By automatically alerting your maintenance team or local dealership about the required repair before the vehicle arrives, a bay can be open and waiting with the necessary maintenance crew members and parts when the vehicle pulls in to the lot.

The value of telematics extends to fieldwork performance as well. Lifts and digger derricks depend on properly inflated tires as an integral part of their stability systems. With tire pressure-sensing technologies, workers can quickly assess whether or not tire air pressure is at safe levels, and then correct any issues prior to beginning work. Furthermore, dispatch has more data to work from to reduce fuel costs and maximize productivity.

Telematics Implementation Tips
Telematics has provided the ability to support safe work methods, lower maintenance costs and extend vehicle life cycles. However, it is vital that any fleet management professional approach a new telematics implementation with a thorough understanding of how to maximize its value and offset its impact on the bottom line. Following are five tips to help ensure your telematics implementation is successful.

1. Build extended warranties into the management process.
Implementing a new technology into a business process requires patience and an understanding that wrinkles may need to be ironed out along the way. To account for this, make sure you build sufficient warranty periods into the purchase.

2. Track value with a cost-benefit analysis.
Telematics systems costs have decreased over the years. For instance, a device that used to run $7,000 per vehicle may now be available for less than $1,000. Regardless, the technology is still a significant investment that needs to be justified. Make sure you keep records of the benefits gained, including thoroughly detailing the performance, maintenance and efficiency improvements that occur as a result of using the new technology. Don’t forget to factor in the value of increased vehicle and equipment availability and usage benefits.

3. Do your homework by determining internal needs.
There is an abundance of fleet telematics solutions in today’s market. To ensure you choose the best technology for your organization, you need to understand the solutions needs of those who will benefit from its implementation. Recruit leaders from maintenance, dispatch, the field and any other affected department. Get them involved in the selection process by asking them to provide you with the ways they envision the technology will help their respective departments or teams.

4. Think outside the little black box.
When an experienced fleet professional applies his or her innovative, application-specific perspective to a new technology implementation, new ideas often arise about how to maximize its value. Always look for new ways telematics can bring added return on investment. Think beyond the ways the manufacturer suggests you use the solution – within the realm of usage that is covered by the warranty, of course – and find ways to employ the technology for your organization’s specific needs.

5. Make sure users are trained to use the technology – and commit to using it.
The value of any tool can be diminished when it is not used properly or not used at all. Make sure all users of your telematics are thoroughly trained on how to maximize their value, and also ensure that users commit to capitalizing on that value by continuously using the tools. The best way to accomplish this is by taking time to explain the ways the technology will benefit them professionally as well as how the organization as a whole will benefit.

By proving the value of telematics and establishing its return on investment, you will have more success dealing with political and cultural resistance to the new technology within the fleet structure.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Struggles and Strategies

To some, spare vehicles are presumed to be extra units that, for the most part, sit idle and therefore have no real cost associated with them. For the unfortunate fleet managers and end users who believe this, they will inevitably find out how inaccurate they are.

A vehicle deteriorates when it sits idle for too long, and spare units kept at an end user’s location are usually idle more of the time than if they are shared with other departments. When it comes time for these vehicles to be put to work, they typically have deteriorated from lack of use – regardless of whether they are stored inside or outside – and are not functional unless serviced to avoid breakdowns. Deterioration can come in the form of rust, corrosion, component cannibalization, lack of preventive maintenance and dead batteries due to parasitic drain from new technology.

So, why would someone keep spare vehicles, particularly when many units that have been replaced with new vehicles are auctioned off, traded in or scrapped? The logic behind keeping spares is that the fleet will have properly configured extra vehicles in the event that they are needed, providing convenience and an alternative to renting units that may be costly and not fully meet the fleet’s needs.

This logic, however, is faulty. If these units were truly capable of functioning as required, why were they replaced instead of having their lives extended? Once vehicles exceed their life cycles, maintenance costs increase, making old units more costly than new ones to own and operate. If a unit has been replaced, it should be removed from service because it does not support reliability, safety or cost-efficiency.

It’s crucial for fleet needs to be reviewed on an annual basis. This assessment gives fleet personnel the opportunity to define and refine the mix of their motor pool as well as determine what units should be removed from the mix due to lack of use. These units typically should not be replaced because if they are not being used, they are not needed. At the same time, if there is an underutilized vehicle in the mix that still has some economic life left, it can replace a unit in the same vocational class that is higher in cost, and that more costly unit can be removed from the fleet inventory.

A Spare Solution
As previously stated, keeping spare units at an end user’s location can result in them being idle more often. This is not the only end user-related obstacle fleet managers run into when addressing spare vehicles.

The reality is that sometimes vehicle replacement programs have politically and culturally powerful end users at the top of the pecking order. Their influence and authority allow them to bend or even break rules that were put in place to keep the fleet running in a cost-effective manner.

As fleet managers, we support these end users who, due to their power and perceptions, still want spare vehicles even though they are idle and costly. In the face of their choices, our vehicle support personnel can only do their best to provide operating and cost information, furnish return-on-investment analyses, and support end users’ work methods in the most fiscally responsible way possible.

It is worth the time spent to educate yourself, your staff and end users about arguably the best use of true spare vehicles (not those units that have been replaced by newer, better vehicles) – making them part of the fleet’s central motor pool. The motor pool usually consists of a number of reliable light-duty and vocational units that are put into service when other, more frequently used vehicles are in need of maintenance or repair, or during peak service times when the workload is greater than usual.

Adding these reliable spare units to the pool has multiple benefits. First, since they are being added to the rotation, they will not sit idle and continue to deteriorate. This leads to lower costs of operation and ownership, as well as greater safety and reliability. Second, fleets will potentially spend less on rental units if they have more vehicles in the central motor pool. And third, if it appears they are no longer needed after three to six months, units can and should be removed from service and cost-effectively disposed of.

It is a good idea for all companies with fleets to take the time to create a written policy that details why and how the company rotates vehicles in a central motor pool, and why and how units should be removed from the fleet. The policy should be signed by the company’s chief operating officer and published for all departments to review and follow.

Changing Times, Changing Technology
Times are changing, and it’s to a fleet’s advantage to adapt to new technology and adopt the most recent best practices, including how to handle spare vehicles. Due to global competition, a vehicle manufactured today is designed to last longer and achieve more miles than one produced 20 to 25 years ago.

The lives of top maintenance and repair components – among others, tires, brakes, steering, air conditioning, starters, alternators, drivelines, engines and transmissions – have also been extended due to better technology. In turn, they are more reliable for greater periods of time in their application-specific environments. Today’s vehicle warranties are also better and longer than in the past, which is further proof the vehicle components are more reliable and last longer.

On top of all that, vehicle maintenance technicians, mechanics and related workers are more highly trained now than ever before. Their input to management continues to improve fleet best practices every day, and we’re seeing repairs we have never seen in the past. For example, it was previously unheard of to replace a vehicle’s hydraulic brake line because the brake lines used to outlive the vehicle. Now, vehicle life cycles are much longer, so many components need to be replaced or have their lives extended, which also extends the cost of the unit beyond its original purchase price.

Today’s fleet service personnel are also highly aware that young vehicles require different services than older vehicles. Mounted equipment needs are different from chassis to chassis and application to application, and usage keeps spares more reliable for longer periods of time and better controls costs.

In summary, spare units should be removed from fleets if at all possible, but if an end user insists on keeping spares, adding them to a central motor pool is the best way to prevent them from becoming idle and unduly costly. The bottom line is that chief executives, fleet personnel, and all departments need to communicate and work together to establish spare vehicle guidelines that best meet everyone’s needs.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

New Model

Dave Seavey, fleet management director with the City of Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services, Fleet Management Division (FMD), sums up his organization this way: “The Fleet Management Division is 126 people helping 10,000 employees acquire and maintain the right vehicles and equipment to effectively do their jobs.”

“We manage the city fleet internally and lease vehicles to most departments, including police, fire and parks,” Seavey said. “We purchase equipment and custom design about 300 vehicles each year. The fleet numbers over 4,100 units, and includes everything from bicycles to cars, passenger vans, hybrid SUVs and trucks. The most expensive piece of equipment in the Seattle fleet is a fire ladder truck, which cost just over $1.2 million.”

FMD maintains and repairs Seattle’s vehicles and specialized equipment, including cars, trucks, and fire apparatus and heavy equipment. Routine maintenance and repairs are part of each lease. In addition, Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) own their vehicles, but both departments pay FMD to maintain and co-manage their fleets. Annually, Seavey related, the FMD maintenance operation performs about 10,000 preventive maintenance checks and changes almost 4,000 tires.

In 2008, FMD hired an outside consultant to assess its fleet operations. The consultant evaluated current practices, equipment and facilities, identified and proposed appropriate best practices, and developed an implementation plan. In addition, in 2005 SPU hired a consultant to review its fleet operations, and because SPU’s fleet is managed partially by FMD, the study included a review of FMD’s competitiveness and internal business processes.

Implementing Best Practices
While the overall assessment of FMD’s operations in both studies was favorable, they did find room for improvement, and since then FMD has been implementing best practices recommendations. Resulting changes in how Seattle manages its vehicle fleet netted taxpayers more than $3 million in savings during one budget cycle.

Those savings, according to Seavey, include lowering fleet fund reserves by $2 million. “By developing a new forecasting model that projects out 10 years,” he explained, “FMD is able to minimize its reserves, which frees up funds for other city uses.

“Extending vehicle life cycles saves about $350,000 per year,” Seavey continued. “We have re-evaluated the useful life of every type of vehicle in the city fleet. In some cases, we found life cycles that were too short, meaning that vehicles may have been replaced before their optimal point. By selectively extending certain life cycles, we have cut replacement costs without any impact on the cost of maintaining those vehicles. The life cycle extensions initially saved the city more than $700,000 in 2009 and 2010, and the savings continue.”

Seattle’s FMD has also been working to reduce the size of its fleet. For example, in 2010 and 2011 the fleet was downsized by 200 vehicles. “This is an ongoing effort,” Seavey reported, “and we expect it to save millions over the next five years. In just the past year, we eliminated 188 vehicles, so not only will Seattle avoid the cost of replacing those vehicles, it will also avoid the cost of maintaining them in the future.

“We routinely benchmark our operations against other government agencies and fleet costs against the private sector,” Seavey added. “Government agencies that provide the same type of services that we do make good comparisons, and fleet costs, such as labor rates and markups, are compared with local private vendors who do the same work for profit.”

Green Fleet Policies
Another initiative in the City of Seattle is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by implementing green fleet policies. “One of the best things the city can do to protect and improve air quality, and encourage smart fuel and vehicle choices in the community, is to make our own vehicle fleet a model of environmental best practices,” Seavey stated.

Among the things Seattle has done to green its fleet in the past, Seavey noted, is to convert the entire diesel fleet to ultralow sulfur diesel (ULSD), and to use a B20 blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent ULSD for select fleets. In addition, FMD has retrofitted all of the city’s heavy-duty trucks with emissions control devices. Combined, the two measures have cut harmful emissions by about 50 percent per vehicle.

Other green fleet initiatives in Seattle include making more than three-fourths of light-duty vehicle purchases for hybrid or biodiesel vehicles, and at least half of all compact cars purchased by the city each year use alternative fuels or get at least 45 miles per gallon.

In addition, in 2011 the city began adding all-electric vehicles to its fleet, and it has adopted Segways for jobs like water meter reading and parking enforcement. With zero emissions, a cost of just $3 per year to recharge and in some cases replacing the use of a car, the personal mobility vehicles are paying dividends in many ways.

Upgrading Technology
FMD is also focused on using technology in its maintenance operation to improve efficiency and productivity. At the 2013 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, Seavey presented how “Technology in Maintenance is Essential to Reaching the Green.”

“Technology and data matter,” Seavey said. “We have been upgrading the technology in our shops. We have cleaned the facilities and identified and replaced broken tools. We have replaced lifts and we’re adopting scan tools and laptops as well as using Web-based OEM repair programs.”

Examples of technology in the Seattle FMD include software from Cummins, Bendix, Meritor WABCO, International Trucks, GM, Eaton, Detroit Diesel, AutoEnginuity, TPMS and vehicle electrical system suppliers. Management tools in place include systems from MotorVac, Zonar, Mitchell and NAPA.

FMD also converted technology to better manage its fueling systems. At a cost of $250,000, Seavey pointed out, the division now has an automated solution that streamlines fueling for drivers including capturing mileage, provides transaction data for accurate billing, and has better internal controls for reconciliation and inventory control.

“We have also embarked on a complete makeover of our fleet management information systems,” Seavey related. “With our supplier, who had a project manager on site for one year for system setup, data correction and staff training, the two-year project has included establishing a wireless network and placing computers in the bays of all five FMD shops.

Overcoming Obstacles
“We did have to overcome some obstacles,” Seavey continued, “including securing $400,000 in funding. We also had to sell the reason for change to our technicians and supervisors. These systems meant a new way of working and in some cases we had to overcome false beliefs about technology.”

The benefits, however, are obvious, Seavey noted. “We’ve improved shop operations, morale and established integrity,” he stated. “We’ve decreased downtime significantly, which has allowed us to reassign staff and increase billable hours. We’ve also produced data that helps us make better vehicle and specification decisions.

“One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is to improve our understanding of finance, including business operations, and to embrace technology, such as information management systems,” Seavey added. “Fleet managers can no longer just rely on vehicle maintenance management skills. To be competitive, we must expand in these areas.”

Seavey, who spent 21 years in the U.S. Navy as a submarine force enlisted man and officer, brings a wealth of experience to FMD. After retiring from active duty, he worked for five years as a maintenance supervisor at Intercity Transit in Olympia, Wash., then spent five more years as the City of Olympia’s fleet manager. He joined Seattle’s FMD as fleet management director five years ago.

“In the past,” Seavey said, “our customer service model meant that FMD provided service to city operations. Our new model is that fleet services and operations are 50-50 partners. With that in mind, our Fleet Management Division manages the city’s vehicle and equipment operations with one goal – to ensure timely, cost-effective, and high-quality vehicles and maintenance services.”

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 27 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Valuable Insight

For the Facilities & Transportation Fleet team at Indianapolis Power & Light Co., the key to productivity and efficiency is not just the programs and technologies that have been put in place. Equally important and absolutely essential, they note, is to ingrain a process of organizational efficiency throughout the culture of the operation.

Keith Dunkel, team leader and fleet manager, Kim Garner, fleet administration, and Les Gose, fleet maintenance at IPL, all point to the successful implementation of the 5S methodology within the fleet maintenance operation. This workplace organization methodology, based on five Japanese words all beginning with the letter “S” when translated into English (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain), has benefited the fleet’s maintenance shops through improved organization of work spaces.

“A primary focus was on the efficient and effective storage of work tools and supplies, maintaining the work area and these items, and sustaining the new order,” Dunkel said. “The decision-making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization, which builds understanding among employees of how their work should be done.”

At IPL, the 5S methodology has brought a new cultural mindset to shop floor efficiency and safety within the fleet maintenance operation. “It’s a process that builds collaboration among employees and management specific to work design and flow,” Dunkel stated. “In addition to improving shop safety by reducing hazards, it has also provided structure within the shop environment to identify and reduce waste.”

Today, IPL crew leaders, technicians and management personnel use the 5S methodology to effectively run shop operations. A weekly safety walk, for example, is used to identify housekeeping issues, such as defective lighting or other concerns, based on a comprehensive checklist of items specific to the operation and environment.

Organized Approach
An organized approach is also in place in other areas of the IPL fleet and maintenance operation. “Three years ago,” explained Gose, “we brought in NAPA to manage our parts system. NAPA now operates our parts room as a private store, staffed 16 hours per day. The facility exclusively serves the IPL fleet, handles paperwork for our business with a local tire vendor, and as an added convenience, IPL employees can make purchases for personal use.

“With this arrangement,” Gose continued, “we are ensured competitive pricing within a consigned parts format. This has given us access to a substantial inventory without tying up financial resources for owned inventory.”

Gose also explained that IPL and NAPA are working closely together to ensure that the parts supplier is prepared to provide the wide variety of standard and specialized items needed for utility vehicles. “Our initiative is to ensure that NAPA understands our needs,” he said. “We do not want to wait for parts that we should have in stock and we expect NAPA to adjust the consignment inventory as our specs change.

“We have established and track metrics specifically to the NAPA operation,” Gose continued. “Those target wait times, fill rates and inventory location accuracy. We believe these to be core competencies for parts management and are integral to the productivity of our technicians.”

The IPL fleet is serviced in two locations, Dunkel noted. “At our main hub in Indianapolis we house about 80 percent of the fleet of 422 vehicles,” he related. “At a satellite facility we handle the other 20 percent. About 80 percent of the fleet is used in operations across our 528-square-mile service territory and the rest is allocated to our three generating plants.”

Meeting Needs
The composition of IPL’s fleet is designed to meet the needs of field operations that maintain 835 circuit miles of transmission lines and approximately 12,668 circuit miles of distribution lines, as well as 144 substations. A total of 88 heavy-duty units account for 20 percent of the fleet, another 92 are medium-duty models and the balance consists of 242 light-duty vehicles.

Primary makes represented in the IPL fleet include International heavy-duty, Freightliner and Ford medium-duty, and Chevrolet and Ford light-duty models. IPL’s alternative fuel vehicles are primarily within the light-duty segment of the fleet and use E85 from a central fueling station.

Vehicle types at IPL are varied for line, substation maintenance and construction needs, Dunkel pointed out. Aerial units supplied mainly by Altec include 45-foot models for trouble trucks, 55-foot models for line truck material handlers, 85-foot high reach noninsulated and 125-foot insulated units, and there are 42-foot material handlers and articulating squirt booms.

Also in operation at IPL are digger derricks, light-duty cranes, cable pullers and rodders. Truck types include step and hi-cube vans, 3/4-ton vans, and 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-ton pickups. The fleet also has sedans, minivans and SUVs, and the maintenance staff services and repairs support equipment such as easement rigs, backyard buckets, tensioners, wire reel trailers, forklifts, backhoes and small excavators.

“We have established replacement cycles based on vehicle size and use,” Garner said. “Light-duty models are in service for five years or 60,000 miles, trouble trucks are replaced after seven years and line trucks see 10 years of service in our fleet.

“For remarketing our retired heavy-duty trucks, and some nonroad equipment, we have been using the services of J.J. Kane Auctioneers,” Garner related. “We were working with a local auction company, but Altec brought J.J. Kane to our attention because of their specialization in selling construction utility equipment.

“They know the markets where we can get the best resale value for our trucks,” Garner added. “Overall, it’s been a very smooth and effective process. We have maximized our recovery dollars using the J.J. Kane process.”

Software is also in place to help specify and manage the IPL fleet, Gose noted. For example, there’s Diamond Logic Builder at International Trucks’ Body Builder Resource Center, as well as the CFAW fleet maintenance management solution and E.J. Ward automated fuel management software and reporting tools.

In the shop, Gose reported, technicians are trained on a regular basis and have multiple diagnostic tools at their disposal. Included are the Rotunda (IDS) service tool for Ford vehicles, Mentor, Pegasus, INSITE (Cummins) and Tech II diagnostic equipment, and the ServiceMaxx diagnostic and programming tool for Navistar MaxxForce engines.

Accelerated Implementation
“In 2010, we started using the Telogis Fleet management solution for vehicle telematics,” Dunkel said. “Initially, we phased in 50 trucks, but once we experienced the wealth of the data available, we accelerated our implementation plan.

“By the end of the first year we had over 300 vehicles on the system,” Dunkel continued. “The telematics solution reports GPS location data, engine performance, idle, PTO and battery time, and odometer readings, along with hard braking and acceleration information.

“Now that we have over two full years of baseline data from vehicle electronics systems over the Telogis solution, we’re taking it to the next level,” Dunkel added. “We have completed the next step [Enterprise Level] using the system’s InSight Alerts function to develop driver scorecards and a [key performance indicators] Dashboard.

“With these capabilities,” Dunkel stated, “our field operation teams use the system to enhance productivity by determining arrival and departure times at job sites. In the fleet department, we will be able to model scenarios that will show us the impact on costs of reducing idle time and get alerts to mechanical conditions previewing potential costly breakdowns and repairs.”

IPL’s management team, Dunkel added, has given strong support for this investment in vehicle telematics. “This technology has provided new and valuable insights into how our trucks are used,” he said, “giving us opportunities to lower operating costs, improve driving behaviors and better manage our assets.”

About IPL: Indianapolis Power & Light Co. provides retail electric service to more than 470,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Indianapolis, as well as portions of other central Indiana communities surrounding Marion County. During its long history, IPL has supplied its customers with some of the lowest-cost, most reliable power in the country. Its parent company, AES Corp., provides affordable, sustainable energy to 25 countries through a diverse portfolio of distribution and generation businesses.

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 27 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Driver Behaviors that Waste Fuel – and How to Correct Them

As utility fleets look for ways to blunt the impact of rising fuel costs on their bottom line, one opportunity for substantial cost savings can be found in training and motivating their drivers to operate their vehicles with more fuel efficiency.

According to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (, the cumulative impact of neglecting good eco-driving practices can take a highly fuel-efficient vehicle with baseline performance of 36 mpg down to 19.8 mpg, a 45 percent drop in efficiency. Considering that commercial trucks are used in much harsher duty cycles and conditions than passenger vehicles, there’s potential for even greater negative impact on fuel economy if drivers aren’t managed effectively.

Biggest Fuel Wasters
Three driver behaviors tend to be the biggest fuel wasters.

1. Unnecessary Idle
Engine idle wastes 0.25 to 0.5 gallons per hour depending on engine size and air conditioning operation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency ( “Whether it’s the guy that eats lunch in his vehicle or, in some cases, we see people who leave the vehicle running almost the entire the day [to keep it cool during hot summers], that’s a significant waste of fuel, as well as additional wear and tear on the vehicle,” said Karl Weber, vice president of enterprise sales for SageQuest (, which is owned by Fleetmatics Group (NYSE: FLTX) and a provider of GPS fleet tracking and management technology designed to improve mobile workforce efficiency.

As a frame of reference, if only one driver excessively idles the vehicle for two hours per day, that adds up to a nearly $1,000 annual hit to the bottom line assuming $3.75 per gallon. Spread that over 10, 20, 50 or more drivers and the loss compounds.

Not all idle can be avoided, however – especially in utility applications. “In some types of vehicles, you have equipment on them that requires the engine to run,” Weber said. “If you take a vehicle in the utility industry that’s equipped with a bucket, often the engine has to be running for the bucket to be engaged and go up [via a PTO provision]. In that instance, organizations are going to be interested in tracking their drivers’ PTO idle versus non-PTO idle.”

2. Speeding
“For every 5 mph you travel over 65 mph, you reduce your efficiency by 7 percent,” said Nick Ehrhart, telematics vice president of business development for Donlen (, a full-service fleet management company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., and a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Hertz Corp. (NYSE: HTZ). “So, slowing down when it’s safe to do so will greatly increase your vehicle’s fuel economy.”

This is because as speed increases, so does the aerodynamic drag (wind resistance), which forces the engine to work harder and consume more fuel to operate at the higher speed.

3. Aggressive Driving
Rapid acceleration and harsh braking reduce fuel economy by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent in town, according to the EPA. Therefore, if you have multiple drivers who make it a habit to “punch” the accelerator “off the line,” weave through traffic or slam on the brakes, their behavior is eating a chunk out of your organization’s bottom line.

Correcting These Behaviors
What can fleets do to help drivers break these habits so they become more fuel-conscious? Here are three tips.

1. Hold drivers accountable. “By far the most critical strategy to changing driver behavior is to create a driver policy [that clearly states expectations and consequences for noncompliance] and enforce it,” Ehrhart said. “You want all drivers to have a chance to be recognized or given a token of thanks [for improving behavior], but for those that don’t try and continue to behave poorly, there needs to be some type of repercussion.”

2. Educate drivers on the big-picture consequences of fuel-wasting behaviors. “I think most people realize that aggressive driving is not good, whether it’s from a safety perspective, or wear and tear of the vehicle, or fuel economy,” said Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics (, a Newark, Del.-based driver training firm for corporate fleets. “We focus on challenging the drivers to think about the responsibilities they have when they’re on the road, getting a little bit deeper into the person’s psyche. Instead of just saying, ‘It’s because you’re going to reduce your gas mileage by 5 miles per gallon,’ the focus is more about how this activity, action or behavior has even deeper consequences, drilling down all the way to how much these [driver behaviors] affect the financial viability of the employer.”

3. Incentivize positive driver behaviors. Weber referred to one client that implemented a driver incentive program, based on vehicle data captured by SageQuest’s GPS/telematics system, that helped reduce daily idle per vehicle from two hours to 45 minutes, saving the company nearly $1,000 in fuel costs per day. “They said, ‘All right, we’re going to rank our drivers every week based on the average idle time per day. And if you hit a certain threshold, you go into a bucket. Once a week, we’re going to pull a name out of that bucket with drivers that qualify based on appropriate behavior. We’re going to give away prizes, such as Xboxes or 40-inch LCD TVs.’ They’ve significantly reduced their idle and maintained it with this [incentive] program.”

Learning Moments
When it comes to correcting driver behaviors, Liggio summed it up this way: “If you want to change behavior, it’s not about throwing facts and figures at your drivers. You have to give them a 360-degree view into how their behavior actually affects others, and their employer in particular. And that opens their mind. Then they have this learning moment where they say, ‘Hmm. Maybe being an aggressive driver gets me to appointments faster or on time, but maybe being three or four minutes late is not as painful as the other things my behavior can cause.’”

Said Weber, “Fleets are realizing that they’re not just going to be able to eliminate the behavior, they need to manage it. They need to help drivers understand the benefit to them – ‘If we can cut this [idle] down, we’ll have more money to do other programs.’”

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Lyden Fleet Strategies (

What’s in a Name? – Part II

On this page in the last issue of Utility Fleet Professional, we asked what exactly constitutes telematics in the realm of fleet management. Our question was based on the widespread use of the term “telematics” to denote automated vehicle systems. We also promised to focus more closely on what fleet managers need to know.

It turns out we had some very valuable information at our fingertips. During the 2012 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (, two of the presentations in a session entitled “GPS/AVL – Looking for ROI” offered key insights.

Alan Riddle, director of transportation services, and David Guerrero, fleet asset manager at Southern California Edison, presented “SCE and Telematics” about the evaluation of this technology on vehicles operated by the SCE Transportation Services Department. The SCE Fleet Performance Management System, they noted, provided management with real-time data on fleet vehicles, which can be utilized for more effective decision-making in three key areas:
• Fleet utilization including managing fleet size, vehicle reassignment, reducing the number of rentals, creating vehicle pools for short-term use, making informed vehicle replacement decisions, assigning the right vehicles for the right job and tracking unauthorized vehicle use.
• Fleet maintenance including improved preventive and corrective maintenance, increased safety during vehicle operation, and identification of poor performing vehicles and vehicle tampering or misuse.
• Fleet efficiency including reduced fuel consumption, decreased nonproductive idle time, improved driver performance, increased fuel economy, decreased emissions, fuel cost tracking, optimal routing, maximized fuel tax credits and increased compliance.

Findings from SCE pilot testing indicated that if this system lowered indirect idling to under 10 percent, speeding to under 5 percent and underutilization to less than 10 percent, and mpg increased, SCE would realize a return on investment from telematics within three years. Additional benefits include improved public and employee safety, better job planning and routing, vehicle life extension, faster response times to an incident and enhanced storm resource management. Also included is resolution of customer complaints regarding driver behavior, less theft and fraud, fuel tax savings and improved environmental stewardship through fleet efficiencies.

Tim Taylor, customer success officer at Telogis Inc., was also on the panel. He began by detailing four levels of telematics systems:

Level 1: Traditional AVL/GPS indicates where the vehicle is located; if it is driving, idled or stopped; how fast it is moving; and if it is in the right place compared to the location of the work.

Level 2: Vehicle intelligence includes getting data about the vehicle and its key components; how the vehicle is performing; if it is being utilized effectively; and if maintenance performed is based on real hours and miles.

Level 3: Connected intelligence uses customizable scorecards, dashboards and benchmarking to monitor and manage safety; utilization for emergency response coordination; and for coaching driver behavior about idling, speeding and hard acceleration/braking.

Level 4: Integration, interoperability from the connection between mobile intelligence and other enterprise applications, creating improved visibility, unique metrics, interoperability/integration with vehicle telematics, maintenance applications, and ERP and HR, inventory, cost, work order and fuel management systems.

In Level 1, Taylor noted, ROI for telematics comes from fuel cost savings, reducing miles driven and maintenance costs, and improving fleet utilization by identifying underutilized vehicles, as well as reducing capital investment and operating costs and the number of safety incidents.

“Telematics initiatives are about the creation of intelligence via the connection of mobile assets to the needs of the enterprise; providing operational levers for measurable improvement in operations, costs and efficiencies; driver performance and safety; emergency response and visibility; asset utilization; and customer service and satisfaction,” Taylor concluded.

To answer our own question, we couldn’t have summed it up better.

Seth Skydel

What’s in a Name?

Originally, the term “telematics” was coined to describe the combination of telecommunication and information management systems. In fleet operations, the idea was that onboard systems could communicate with fleet management solutions to provide valuable data on vehicles and operations that would enhance processes and streamline maintenance and repair activities. This activity could take place across cellular- and satellite-based mobile communication platforms, and using new wireless handheld devices.

Over time, telematics has also been used to refer to many automated vehicle systems. One of the earliest examples was General Motors’ OnStar, which was among the first systems to combine GPS location capabilities with roadside assistance and remote diagnostics. On a growing number of trucks, including those used by utility fleets, telematics solutions can combine data from electronically controlled components, such as engines and transmissions with onboard communication technology.

In preparing for this issue of Utility Fleet Professional, we began asking ourselves what exactly constitutes telematics in the realm of fleet management. Our searches of several industry databases, for example, turned up a long list of systems that are associated with the term. Those include accident management systems, alarms/warning systems, audiovisual equipment, backing safety systems, backup alarms, collision warning systems, onboard computers, electronic obstacle detection, electronic safety devices, engine monitoring and controls, GPS tracking, ignition interlocks, mobile data terminals, rearview camera systems, vehicle monitoring systems, video safety systems and video surveillance equipment.

While we make plans to cover this growing area of interest in future issues – with a focus on what fleet managers need to know – we’re hoping to gain some valuable insight at the Telematics for Fleet Management USA 2012 conference ( scheduled to be held in Atlanta in mid-November.

The focus of the conference is “Fleet Telematics Geared for Mass Market: Utilize Data, Heightened Applications and Connectivity to Deliver ROI for Fleet Operators.” Topics on this year’s agenda include:
• Create Transparent and Seamless Fleet Operations: Understand the types of benchmarking – such as performance and energy – relevant to fleet operations to give context to data and visibility to fleet managers for operational efficiency.
• Establish OEM’s Priorities from a Fleet Perspective: Understand which additional data is being sent to the engine bus, such as rpm, odometer, fuel usage in real time, and flow indication to monitor myriad data streams and offer a comprehensive telematics solutions portfolio.
• Software as a Service (SaaS) – Prosper Through Cutting-Edge Business Models: Assess how to adopt a competitive pricing model that takes into account initial setup, usage parameters and opportunities to charge per transaction of data to gain optimum ROI.
• Embracing the 4G Future: Consider the 4G spectrum to integrate new fleet-centric services, such as real-time maps and driver behavior monitoring that will encourage heightened safety and promote fuel efficiency.

The commercial telematics industry has reached a key tipping point, according to conference organizer Telematics Update, which bills itself as “the reference point for automotive telematics, mobile and web industries.” Look for UFP to follow up on this increasingly important topic in the future.

Seth Skydel

Software Solutions

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative Improves Safety and Efficiency with Telogis
Wiregrass Electric Cooperative provides electric services to 24,000 members across six counties in southeast Alabama. Technicians are responsible for keeping the electricity flowing across the region, each one assigned to cover a specific area or zone. Unfortunately, in order to keep track of where the technicians were during the course of the day, the dispatch team had to constantly communicate with them via two-way radio.

“I had to converse with them to see where they were starting at, and then check with them during the day to see where they were at and what progress they were making on completing their work,” said Wiregrass service manager Larry Galloway. “If there was an outage, I would have to call them and find out where they were to see who was closest.”

The company needed a real-time view of where their service trucks were located and began searching for a GPS-based fleet management solution. The company ultimately selected Telogis Fleet, a hosted solution, and installed Telogis GPS units on 16 vehicles, including its six small bucket trucks, large construction bucket trucks and the trucks used by the company’s four construction crew leaders.

With a real-time view of each technician’s location, Galloway has been able to greatly improve dispatching efficiency. “If we have an outage, I can immediately look and see who is the closest to the problem, and dispatch them accordingly,” he said.

Wiregrass has improved equipment utilization and reduced the amount of time it takes to locate a technician to respond to an outage. “I can look instantly and see where all the trucks are located,” Galloway said. “If there’s an outage in one zone, and I can see that a technician who doesn’t usually work there is closer to the problem, I can dispatch him and have him on site much faster. In those cases, I can get the technicians there twice as fast.”

According to Galloway, Wiregrass is currently considering installing additional GPS units on other vehicles and equipment. Eventually the company would like to more closely monitor vehicle performance indicators such as idle times and braking.

“The Telogis system has really helped improve our dispatching and our response times, and our technicians are confident that we can reach them quickly in an emergency,” Galloway said. “We hope to improve operations even further as we leverage more of the Telogis functionality on additional equipment.”

Telogis Fleet 9, the company’s next generation of fleet management software, is designed to give fleet managers greater flexibility in configuring reports to fit their exact needs. The software-as-a-service fleet management system integrates with Telogis Route, Telogis Progression and Telogis Mobile in a single strategic and dynamic routing, real-time work order management, telematics and mobile platform.

Telogis Fleet 9 features new configurable reporting functions and settings, including:
• Ad Hoc Reporting, which allows users to define data elements they want to see, organize them in a way that is the most logical for their operations, and create and run reports in real time;
• Terminology Module, which lets users rename key terms to match internal nomenclature;
• InSight Alerting Engine, which allows users to create unique alerts based on almost every piece of data that the system collects; and
• Layers, which enables organizations to quickly and easily integrate unique GIS layer data to locate relevant locations in their company infrastructure that do not appear on standard maps, such as power poles, oil wells, gas and water lines, land use grids, and forestry and parcel information.

Telogis Fleet 9 also incorporates new features of Telogis Asset, including asset-specific alerts and reporting functions that provide greater visibility as to how each asset is being used in the field. Users have the ability to view all assets in a single view, customize data by asset type and integrate that information into larger fleet-wide reports, an important feature in large, mixed fleets. Loss prevention and utilization monitoring tools also protect assets from theft and misuse. Visit for more.

New Jersey American Water Uses Trimble Fleet Management to Lower Fuel Costs and Optimize Scheduling
New Jersey American Water, a subsidiary of American Water Works & Guarantee Company, provides water and wastewater service to 600,000 customers in six counties using a fleet of 600 vehicles.

“Our drivers read meters, change meters and fix main breaks,” said Jeff Bowlby, operations supervisor for New Jersey American Water. “To better serve this many customers and still maintain a high level of service, New Jersey American Water needed a fleet management solution to improve scheduling and raise worker productivity.”

The company chose Trimble GeoManager Fleet Management, a GPS cloud-computing platform that allows it to track vehicles in real time, confirm a vehicle is at its scheduled location on time, and view and print detailed reports about daily activities. “GeoManager has definitely been a helpful tool,” Bowlby added. “We can give customers a window and the driver will call half an hour before getting there so the customer is always updated on their service status.”

GeoManager Fleet Management offers visibility into day-to-day operations to identify, manage and improve key areas of the business so New Jersey American Water has better control of driver safety, customer service, back office administration, fuel consumption and field service vehicle efficiency. Another issue was excessive idling. “We were spending $2.6 million on fuel each year,” Bowlby said. “Now GeoManager sends an alert if a vehicle exceeds 15 minutes of idling. We’ve cut our fuel expenses almost in half.”

An added benefit of GeoManager is its vehicle diagnostics solution, which schedules vehicle maintenance and reduces the chance of mechanical failure. “Our drivers are very busy servicing customers and they don’t have time to track maintenance issues,” Bowlby said. “Sometimes they don’t even notice that the check engine light is on. Now we get a code when the light is on and we know right away whether the truck needs servicing.”

Trimble Field Service Management suite includes fleet management, work management and scheduling, worker safety and mobility solutions. The cloud-based portfolio offers industry-specific, enterprise-level solutions. Visit for more.

DC Water Gains Real-Time Visibility Over Fleet Costs with Chevin Fleet Solutions
The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority provides wastewater treatment and quality drinking water to multiple counties in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. DC Water supports these offerings with a fleet of more than 2,000 pieces of equipment.

Utilizing FleetWave from Chevin Fleet Solutions, DC Water can link each of its facilities together, allowing the utility to share resources, reduce on-hand parts inventories, and significantly improve maintenance practices and compliance with inspections and certifications required for its diverse fleet.

With integration to the utility’s enterprise financial system as well as external maintenance providers and fuel management system, FleetWave can streamline labor- and paper-intensive processes. Additionally, with FleetWave’s support of auto-generated email notifications of pending, due, and past due PMs and safety inspections, DC Water has enhanced its management and oversight of statutory and safety-related tasks.

With extensive fleet management requirements from complete asset and life cycle management, workshop, inventory, purchasing, warranty and campaign management, and driver management as well as accident and risk management, DC Water’s fleet management team is able to use FleetWave to manage its fleet using a simple deployment over DC Water’s intranet.

“With FleetWave, DC Water’s extremely diverse requirements will be accommodated,” said Ron Katz, senior vice president of North American sales for Chevin. “In addition, with FleetWave’s flexible capabilities, DC Water’s future needs can be easily met without the need for expensive and time-consuming programming.”

Chevin Fleet Solutions is a provider of enterprise fleet management software with two primary products. FleetWave is a Web-based fleet management information system and RoadBASE is a PC-based fleet management system. Visit for more.

East Bay Municipal Utility District Uses AssetWorks FleetFocus to Manage Resources and Increase Customer Satisfaction
The East Bay Municipal Utility District supplies water and provides wastewater treatment for Alameda and Contra Costa counties along the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. The utility has approximately 1,215 vehicles and uses the AssetWorks FleetFocus Enterprise Asset Management solution to manage its fleet operations.

“To run a fleet well, you need good information for constant evaluation,” stated Bob Sonnenfelt, EBMUD equipment supervisor, fleet management. “FleetFocus allows us to know about problems long before they impact business, which helps us be a better service provider within our organization.”

EBMUD fleet management processes 6,000 work orders a year, averaging 12 to15 vehicles a day. Some of the ways in which the utility uses FleetFocus include developing a systematic replacement analysis function that includes a hands-on evaluation of the unit as well as a cost-benefit analysis and history review. By accessing accurate maintenance and repair data in the work order center of FleetFocus, EBMUD can better determine the reasons for maintenance and repair. Over time, this practice saves labor time and costs, and has extended the PM cycle on most vehicles.

EBMUD is also able to set parts operations parameters that match specific terms with FleetFocus. This practice helps the fleet management department accurately provide needed items while carefully managing inventory costs. Additionally, EBMUD uses FleetFocus to capture all shop labor in real time. Technicians log on and off tasks in the application via shop floor computers. By tracking direct and indirect time in real time, the utility can accurately assess productivity as it relates to mechanics, vehicles and tasks, establishing standards and goals for productivity.

FleetFocus also integrates with EBMUD’s other systems, including its automated fuel system, which provides both fuel consumption and updated odometer readings. The system integration includes the Networkfleet AVL/GPS wireless vehicle management system, which provides another point of data capture for odometer readings as well as vehicle diagnostic information, alerting maintenance when a vehicle engine reports a fault code.

FleetFocus is seen as vital to EBMUD’s efforts to effectively and efficiently run its fleet operations while offering impeccable service to its internal and external customers. “AssetWorks built FleetFocus to include functionality that is the best in the market,” said Sonnenfelt. “We’ve been able to extend PM cycles, extend replacement cycles, minimize our parts inventory, and identify and manage where our labor is going. All this results in productivity gains and makes our operation stronger.”

AssetWorks FleetFocus tracks all functions related to the maintenance of vehicles and equipment, including processing repair and preventive maintenance work orders, capturing operating expenses, and billing and tracking for vehicle usage. FleetFocus also integrates with an automated fuel management system, FuelFocus, in real time. Other integrations available with FleetFocus include the AssetWorks Vehicle Data Collector for capturing engine data and error codes and transmitting them directly into the FleetFocus database; Networkfleet wireless in-vehicle technology that merges remote diagnostic systems with GPS-based automatic vehicle location technology; NAPA’s parts inventory management system; Lincoln’s fluid inventory control system; and the Zonar Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report system. Visit for more.

Orangeville Hydro Manages Projects and Tracks Costs with WennSoft
Orangeville Hydro Limited, based in Orangeville, Ontario, 46 miles from Toronto, supplies power to more than 10,000 customers from five substations. To assist in providing quality service, Orangeville Hydro has utilized WennSoft Job Cost since April 2006.

“Prior to using WennSoft, we did not have a work order system,” recalled Jan Howard, Orangeville Hydro’s manager of finance and rates. “We tracked everything through general ledger, including budgeted and minor capital jobs. However, we lacked the ability to report on costs and had no ability to determine current value of an asset when replacement was required.”

With WennSoft, Howard is able to track costs to see if Orangeville Hydro is coming close to budgeted amounts. Work orders for chargeable work are tracked in the work order system and directly invoiced. The utility’s operations department also tracks maintenance.

WennSoft helps provide accurate information and a history about jobs or projects to refer to at a later time. “In the past we couldn’t go back and see the initial cost of a project,” Howard said. “With Job Cost, we have access to historical project costs. That allows us to compare historical information to similar projects under consideration. We build a history, call up the last project, examine historical costs and go from there.”

WennSoft Evolution is a complete solution for work order management, asset management, installation, field service and maintenance designed for equipment in energy, construction, communication and other industries. Built on the Microsoft xRM framework, Evolution delivers asset management, maintenance agreements, simple and segmented work orders, field service, advanced dispatching and scheduling, mobile solutions for field technicians, quotes, purchasing and invoicing.

Evolution can operate as a stand-alone solution or be integrated with Microsoft Dynamics ERP and other business application software and services. The software can be implemented in phases or across an entire organization, and can be deployed on premises or in the cloud. In addition, technicians in the field can use multiple devices across operating systems to access FieldTech, a mobile solution that has both online as well as store and forward capabilities. Visit for more.

Utility Equipment Leasing Corporation Adds to Rental Fleet
To meet electrical transmission and distribution customer demand, Utility Equipment Leasing Corporation has added more than 60 new trucks to its fleet in 2012. This is the third consecutive year the company is investing in trucks for U.S. utilities. The most recent expansion included RMX 75- to 100-foot buckets, Commander 6000 diggers and Generals for transmission customers. The company also added 45- to 60-foot digger derricks, 29- to 40-foot bucket trucks, and other digger derricks and cable placers for the distribution market. Visit for more.

Ditch Witch Offers Financing and Leasing Options
Through Ditch Witch Financial Services, customers now have a variety of financing and leasing options available, including zero percent financing, 90-day and 6-month delayed payment plans, skip-payment plans, lease options and other programs tailored to customer needs. Visit for more.

Progress Report

Successfully implementing new technology into fleet operations is a major challenge for managers. In the past few years, perhaps no greater challenge has been faced than the adoption of 2010 emissions-compliant diesel engines. During the 2011 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (, two fleets detailed their programs and the performance of these engines in their operations.

Since the most recent diesel engine emissions standards took effect at the beginning of 2010, trucks equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) engines have been fitted with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tanks. DEF is a necessary component of emissions compliance using SCR technology.

Georgia Power Company
A subsidiary of Southern Company, Georgia Power Company (GPC) is an investor-owned utility serving 2.3 million customers in the state of Georgia. Its fleet includes 4,500 units, half of which are vehicles. Steven Hopkins, manager, fleet technical services, oversees engineering, maintenance, testing, procurement and financial issues for the fleet, and serves as the team leader for Southern Company’s fleet engineering team.

“By 2011,” Hopkins said, “about 10 percent of our total diesel fleet of 1,128 units had 2010 and newer engines. That included 96 Cummins-powered Freightliners and 17 Fords. By 2015 we project that half of the diesel fleet, or about 573 vehicles, will have engines that require DEF.”

Diesel-powered trucks at GPC typically travel 12,000 miles and run on-site for 1,200 hours per year. Average per day idle time for these vehicles is six hours.

To meet its DEF needs, Hopkins reported, GPC awarded a contract to Brenntag North America, the manufacturer and distributor of TerraCair Ultrapure DEF. Brenntag, an OEM supplier for GM, Ford, Chrysler, Freightliner, VW and BMW, offers its product in 2.5-gallon containers, 55-gallon drums and 330-gallon bulk totes.

“For the next couple of years we’re providing DEF in 2.5-gallon containers at our fleet service centers,” Hopkins related. “We will also be installing heated cabinets at fuel islands in higher usage locations to make it more easily available. DEF tanks are usually filled every three or four weeks, or after approximately 1,000 miles and 100 hours of idling.

”As usage increases we plan to upgrade to 55-gallon drums or 330-gallon totes,” Hopkins continued. “Replenish intervals will be a moving target as more emissions-compliant units are added to the fleet and are something our fleet parts department will be monitoring.”

DEF handling concerns at GPC follow Southern Company safety and health rules. Dispensing always takes place in well-ventilated areas. All employees are already required to wear safety glasses in the work environment, which includes the fuel island, and when adding DEF, the use of impervious gloves such as nitrile, Viton or butyl for DEF handling is recommended. Hopkins also pointed out that the 2.5-gallon DEF containers are equipped with a tubular spout that inserts into the filler neck of the DEF tank to minimize the possibility of splashes and spills during the filling process.

“We have not had any maintenance issues with the 2010 engines and no drivability concerns have been reported,” Hopkins said. “The use of DEF has not presented any issues for our vehicle operators, except for adding the product as needed. It’s just another thing to be responsible for monitoring.”

AmeriGas Propane
A supplier of services to more than 1.3 million customers in nearly 50 states, AmeriGas Propane provides home and commercial deliveries of bulk fuel and cylinders. In the company’s fleet operation are more than 7,900 units, including 5,158 vehicles. By the end of 2012 there will be almost 700 AmeriGas units with newer emissions-compliant engines, including 190 vehicles purchased in 2010, 352 added in 2011 and 388 projected in 2012.

AmeriGas is moving ahead to transition its fleet, noted Jay Massey, corporate fleet manager, in part because the rules changed in California. “We needed to replace 32 trucks in California by the first of this year and will need to replace 138 trucks by 2013,” he said. “Our plan is to move 2007 and newer units into California throughout the year, in addition to sending new trucks.

“That needs to happen soon,” Massey added. “As the order cycle continues to get elongated with OEMs and with builders, it’s urgent we place orders as early in April as possible to meet a fall build schedule.”

For its 2010 and newer models, Massey related several upfit issues that had to be addressed. “We needed clear inside and outside frame rails, and had to determine DEF, air and fuel tank, along with air dryer and battery locations,” he said. “We standardized on a vertical exhaust, but some emissions component routing conflicted with air suspension placement, forcing us back into spring ride on some initial units. We also had a PTO access issue to resolve.”

Driver training was also on the fleet’s agenda. Included was helping drivers interpret system alerts and understand how to respond to protect the asset. On the fleet’s 2010 models, the DEF tank was positioned where batteries and air tanks were previously located, and each unit was equipped with a separate DEF fuel gauge.

“We anticipated about 2 percent DEF consumption, or about 1 gallon of DEF for every 50 gallons of fuel,” Massey reported. “Based on the number of units in the fleet, that lets us plan for inventory needs. Initially, we purchased DEF from truck dealers and some retail outlets. Now, virtually all major truck stops and some large fuel providers are carrying DEF. We also have to consider on-site storage based on the number of units at a domicile location consuming DEF and the ability to store it in a climate-controlled environment.”

Massey explained that different vehicles have different size onboard DEF tanks ranging in capacity by OEM and vehicle type. For example, straight chassis units had 6-, 9- or 13-gallon tanks and tractors are equipped with 23 gallons of DEF capacity. All DEF tanks in the fleet are heated plastic models.

“It’s too early to see if one manufacturer or another has a better truck from a maintenance standpoint,” Massey stated. “Routine maintenance on these vehicles has been primarily preventive and, compared to non-DEF units, has been cost and time neutral.”

Potentially offsetting the higher cost of the latest emissions-compliant engines – as much as $6,500 more for trucks and $9,500 more for tractors in 2010 – is the indication of a slightly better half-mile per gallon increase in fuel efficiency and less non-PM maintenance. Analyses have also revealed a cost per mile for 2010 and 2011 models about equal to or less than 2008 and 2009 trucks.

“Performance is still to be determined,” Massey said, “but we have noticed some improvement and we’re getting good indications about throttle response and fewer occurrences of system regenerations based on driver feedback and other reporting.”

DEF and Storage, Dispensing and Testing Technologies
Nontoxic but corrosive to aluminum and carbon steel, DEF must be stored onboard and on-site in tanks made of stainless steel or plastic. In addition, DEF is sensitive to both extreme cold and high ambient temperatures, requiring adequate climate-controlled systems. Available today are the following:

Old World Industries offers BlueDEF for use in on-highway engines in 1- and 2.5-gallon containers, 55-gallon drums, and 275- and 330-gallon totes. The company also provides a variety of dispensing systems and offers the BlueDEF Equipment Program, an installation, service and maintenance network, as well as a DEF Equipment Training Program for service and support technicians. Visit for more.

Terra Environmental Technologies (TET) produces DEF that is sold under the TerraCair brand name, including the newly introduced TerraCair Ultrapure DEF, in 1- and 2.5-gallon jugs, 55-gallon drums, 330-gallon totes, 5,000-gallon tankers and 20,000-gallon railcars. TET also offers dispensing equipment installation and training services to DEF users, including fleets with in-house systems. Visit for more.

Colder Products Company is offering its DrumQuik PRO closed-dispensing solution for extracting DEF from drums, small containers and totes. The system is in use by DEF suppliers, including Airgas Specialty Products and Balcrank Corporation, who offer it as a stand-alone component or as part of a package in both fixed and portable pumping systems. Visit for more.

Gilbarco Veeder-Root offers its Encore S DEF and Encore S DEF + 1 along with the new Atlas DEF dispenser. The products are fully compatible with the company’s Gasboy dispensers and other existing fuel management systems. The DEF dispensers are installed in a thermostat-controlled, heated cabinet that prevents DEF from freezing or crystallizing. Visit for more.

Powerblanket wraparound DEF heaters are available for totes, pumps and dispensing units. Utilizing the company’s GreenHeat Technology, the heated enclosures can be used on metal and plastic containers. Standard models are available for 275- and 330-gallon tote sizes, and custom sizes are offered. The heaters can provide several hours of protection in the event of a power failure. Visit for more.

Reichert Technologies DEF-Chek testers for measuring the correct concentration of DEF can be used to perform quality control checks on bulk supplies and vehicles. The tester accurately measures DEF for the right urea content, providing a digital measurement in seconds. The Reichert Digital DEF-Chek tester is powered by two AAA batteries. Visit for more.

Green Fleet Technologies

The developer and manufacturer of hybrid power systems for commercial vehicles, Eaton’s parallel hybrid systems are already in use in many utility fleets. Available through truck manufacturers, the systems include the electric hybrid solution featuring an engine-off power-takeoff (ePTO), and an optional auxiliary power generator and AC power panel for utility, telecom and municipal operations using medium-duty bucket trucks.

The Eaton electric hybrid power system maintains the vehicle’s conventional drivetrain and blends engine torque with electric torque. The system recovers power normally lost during braking and stores the energy in batteries. It can provide ePTO and work site capability for operations needing hydraulic and electric power on job sites. The system is coupled with the vehicle’s engine and Eaton’s UltraShift automated manual transmission and clutch. Between the output side of the clutch and the transmission, the system includes an electric motor/generator that is connected to a power inverter and lithium-ion batteries, and is controlled with an electronic control module.

Eaton also offers its Hydraulic Launch Assist (HLA) hydraulic hybrid system. During regeneration with the HLA system, the vehicle’s kinetic energy that is normally lost during braking is captured and used to drive a pump, which transfers hydraulic fluid from a low-pressure reservoir to a high-pressure accumulator.

As the fluid pumps into the accumulator, it compresses nitrogen gas and pressurizes the system. The regenerative braking captures about 70 percent of the kinetic energy produced during braking. For acceleration, the fluid in the high-pressure accumulator is released to drive the system’s motor, which propels the vehicle by transmitting torque to the driveshaft.

The Eaton HLA system has two different operating modes: economy and performance. In economy mode, the energy stored in the accumulator during braking is used to initially accelerate the vehicle. Once the accumulator has emptied, the engine will begin to perform the acceleration. In performance mode, acceleration is created by both the energy stored in the accumulator and the engine. Once the accumulator has emptied, the engine is completely responsible for acceleration.

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Working with Delphi Automotive and Remy International, Allison has developed a hybrid propulsion system for medium-duty trucks. The new technology combines an Allison 3000 Series automatic transmission, Remy International’s High Voltage Hairpin (HVH) electric motor-generator, and Delphi Automotive’s lithium-ion energy storage system and transmission control module.

The Allison Hybrid, according to the company, combines the benefits of the three suppliers’ systems to offer better fuel economy. Among the fuel-saving features of the Allison automatic is the manufacturer’s torque converter technology that is designed to provide for full power shifts, using engine power more efficiently and consuming less fuel. The Remy HVH electric motor-generator, Allison also notes, is a compact design that captures more braking energy while using less energy to generate propulsion power and torque.

Tailored to meet the specific needs of any medium-duty truck application, the Allison Hybrid utilizes Delphi’s scalable lithium-ion energy storage system. The Delphi modular design also includes a transmission control module with the computing capability, memory and processing speed to control the entire hybrid system.

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alte-webALTe Powertrain Technologies
Range-extended electric powertrains for light- and medium-duty vehicles up to 26,000 pounds GVW will be available from ALTe initially through a nationwide network of conversion facilities. Eventually, ALTe expects to sell and license its technology to OEMs.

The major components of the ALTe powertrain include a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, a four-cylinder engine, electric drive motors, a generator, a proprietary hybrid controller unit and HVAC modules. The powertrain is projected to provide an initial 30 miles of driving in an all-electric mode, powered directly from the lithium-ion battery pack. The vehicle can then drive an estimated additional 275 miles in a charge-sustained mode before the vehicle would need to be either plugged in or refueled. The battery pack can be charged within an eight-hour time frame from a 110-volt outlet or in about four hours from a 220-volt outlet.

ALTe, a shortened version of the words “alternative energy,” recently announced a contract with Remy to supply HVH 250 electric motors that will act as onboard generators to recharge batteries and deliver electric drivetrain traction power for ALTe’s powertrain conversions. A joint venture with Inmatech Inc. will produce hybrid electric storage devices composed of batteries, supercapacitors and control electronics. An agreement between ALTe and Manheim will provide installation of its powertrains in vehicles at Manheim locations.

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azure-dynamics-2-webAzure Dynamics
The Balance Hybrid Electric vehicle from Azure Dynamics is built on a Ford E-450 commercial stripped or cutaway chassis with a modified drivetrain and electronic controls system. The system’s traction motor, in parallel with the unit’s Ford 5.4-liter EFI FFV gasoline V8 engine and automatic transmission, propels the vehicle. The traction motor assists acceleration and captures energy during regenerative braking events. This energy is stored in the energy storage system (ESS). When the vehicle comes to a stop, the engine will shut off and the electric power assist system is enabled to maintain power steering, power brakes and 12-volt charging.

The Azure system also has an integrated starter generator mounted to the front of the engine, which is used to provide quick restarts of the engine when accelerating from a stop. It also generates power to charge the ESS. The high-voltage system is self-contained and does not have to be plugged in to an external power source for charging.

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odyne-webOdyne Systems, LLC
The Odyne hybrid propulsion system for medium- and heavy-duty work trucks with extended stationary PTO job site functions – such as bucket trucks, digger derricks and cranes – can be applied to most new chassis or as a retrofit. The Odyne plug-in hybrid drive system uses a Remy HVH 250 electric motor, and provides 50-HP launch assist capability, regenerative braking or plug-in charging, and electrical energy storage to power air conditioning and cab heaters while the engine is off. Exportable power up to 7000W is available from the system’s 14 kWh or 28 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

The Odyne hybrid system is compatible with most chassis over 14,000 pounds GVW and does not require drivetrain modifications. The system’s integration is simplified through the power takeoff (PTO) and propulsion components are placed within chassis frame rails for ease of installation. Battery packs can be placed in a variety of locations

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quantum-3-webQuantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc.
Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies offers a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) conversion for Ford F-150 model pickup trucks. Pilot vehicles will be available for fleet testing in the fourth quarter of 2011. Production at the manufacturer’s Lake Forest, Calif., facility is scheduled to begin in the third quarter of 2012. Base vehicles shipped to the facility are partially disassembled, the new drive system is installed and tested, and the vehicle is reassembled and shipped to the customer.

The Quantum PHEV is powered by the company’s F-Drive hybrid drive system, developed specifically for Ford F-150 4×4 Regular and SuperCab models with a 145-inch wheelbase. The system provides a 35-mile electric-only range, shifting to hybrid electric mode for a total range of more than 400 miles. The F-Drive has been integrated in the F-150 pickup truck to ensure there is no loss of cab or cargo space, and to maintain full ground clearance. F-150 models with the Quantum system have a payload capacity up to 900 pounds and towing capacity up to 5,800 pounds. The 150 kW parallel hybrid drive system can be recharged using 110- or 220-volt power.

Quantum provides a five-year/75,000-mile limited warranty on the drive system. The company also trains fleet maintenance personnel on servicing the system and has an on-call team available to support customer fleet maintenance departments.

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City of Sacramento

For the City of Sacramento, Calif., the recent implementation of vehicle telematics has led to significant reductions in fleet fuel consumption and operating costs. Recently, the municipal fleet equipped more than 400 of its vehicles with electronic fleet management products from Zonar Systems.

“Utilizing trip-level metrics on operator behavior and vehicle performance directly impacts behavior and leads to improved fuel efficiency,” said Keith Leech, City of Sacramento’s fleet manager. “Visibility into fleet operations brings automatic accountability that impacts workforce productivity.

“Performance and cost data prior to and post-Zonar installation, for a sampling of 184 of the city’s fleet vehicles representing 14 different vehicle types, was analyzed to conduct an ROI analysis,” Leech continued. “The analysis identified savings in excess of $60,000 a month in fuel costs alone, quite an impressive figure considering the cost to equip those 184 vehicles was just over $110,000. Simply stated, the Zonar system paid for itself in just two short months, making it an excellent investment for the city and a real money-saver for the taxpayers.”

The Zonar solution optimizes vehicle routes, monitors vehicle performance, identifies opportunities for improvements in driver behavior and streamlines the pre- and post-trip inspection process. Products include an Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report (EVIR) that ensures pre- and post-trip inspection compliance while eliminating paperwork and speeding vehicle repair; V2J with HD-GPS capabilities that combine real-time delivery of vehicle location, operation, fuel consumption and performance data in one device; and Ground Traffic Control, a Web-based fleet management portal that provides managers with visibility into fleet performance information.