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Top Trends in Utility Fleet Maintenance

Inflation is impacting all areas of the utility fleet industry, with a profound impact on maintenance and operating expenses, according to Amanda Kazemba, senior consulting analyst, business intelligence and analytics, for Holman (www.holman.com).

“Overall, the cost to repair a vehicle is up approximately 20% as compared to 2020, and fleet operators should expect to see an additional 5 to 10% in 2023 as well – and potentially beyond,” she said.

Factor in the increased costs of raw materials, an ongoing labor shortage, repair facilities struggling with their own parts and labor shortages, the general lack of new vehicle inventory, and vehicles remaining in service longer than originally anticipated, and you have the perfect storm, she noted.

While costs are likely to increase as supply constraints continue through 2023, Steve Jastrow, vice president of consulting and analytics for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), said there is an opportunity for fleets to overhaul traditional practices to become more dynamic and implement more effective and efficient fleet management.

In recent interviews with UFP, Jastrow and Kazemba also offered the following insights on trends utility fleets can expect to see in the next year to two years.

Maintenance: More Important Than Ever
Utility fleets will want to stay close to their finance and operations teams, as costs will likely stay elevated and there may be an increase in vehicle unavailability, Jastrow advised.

“With the entire automotive supply chain severely disrupted and new vehicles still in short supply – a trend that will likely continue for the foreseeable future – taking care of the fleet vehicles you do have is more important than ever,” Kazemba said.

Keeping vehicles longer is also resulting in more frequent and costly repairs.

“Lead times will drive decisions on whether companies will want to replace vehicles or have maintenance work done to keep vehicles moving,” Jastrow said.

Impacts from the chip shortage and overall material shortages both domestic and abroad are leaving some replacement parts in short supply. The best action to avoid these impacts is to keep fleet vehicles maintained to avoid unexpected failures, he noted.

With that in mind, fleet operators must remain agile and adjust their maintenance strategy – and budget forecast – to account for this additional utilization during the costliest portion of a vehicle’s life cycle, Kazemba said.

“Reexamine your preventive maintenance strategy to better align with the reality that vehicles will be logging more miles, incurring additional wear and stretching their life cycle well beyond their original forecast,” she advised.

Using Data to Guide Decisions
According to Jastrow, fleets are going to become more dependent on data-driven decisions.

“Connected vehicles are here, and the insights can drive safety, fuel economy and maintenance improvements,” he said.

Leveraging maintenance data and analytics tools can help you better understand your fleet’s performance to identify trends and key performance indicators.

“This enhanced insight allows you to evolve your maintenance strategy from a traditional ‘break and fix’ model to a more proactive ‘predict and prevent’ methodology that further minimizes operating costs and downtime, allowing you to keep vehicles on the road longer,” Kazemba explained.

Shifting to Sustainability and Electrification
Shifting to greener operations is another trend that will continue in the coming years.

“Alternative fuel is now a focus in almost every conversation with fleet professionals as companies move to sustainable fleet practices and efforts to reduce their CO2 footprint,” Jastrow said.

He noted that sales of electric vehicles in the U.S. have reached a tipping point observed in other countries, indicating mass adoption is underway. “With corporate sustainability driving businesses to electrify their fleets, a pilot-first approach can inform longer-term decisions and enable a proper electrification scale.”

Larger EVs continue to come to market, providing more opportunities for fleets utilizing light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Confirmed through both OEM predictions and fleet data analysis, the cost to maintain EVs can be as much as 40% lower than their ICE counterparts, Jastrow continued.

However, the transition from ICE vehicles to EVs may take longer than fleets are thinking, so it is important that they begin exploring fleet electrification by mapping out their transition plans and setting up EV pilot projects. Hybrids can be a good steppingstone to EVs, Jastrow said.

In addition to EVs and hybrids, he noted that autonomous vehicle and fuel-cell electric vehicle growth is expected in the truck space.

“While a significantly higher cost to purchase, autonomous vehicles have lower fuel and maintenance costs. Fuel-cell electric vehicle (hydrogen vehicle) rebates and fuel credits are offered by states for infrastructure to support renewable hydrogen. However, keep in mind there is a shortage of fueling locations,” he noted.

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.

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Grace Suizo

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.

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