UFP Magazine

Grace Suizo

What to Know When Spec’ing Service Vehicles for Utility Applications

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When it comes to spec’ing vehicles, the absence of an effective, proactive strategy often results in a significant number of units being purchased from dealer stock, rather than ordered from the factory. That drives up acquisition costs, delays delivery and hampers efficiency, according to Ted Davis, vice president of North American supply chain for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

“Additionally, without a proactive approach to spec development, you may not be able to acquire units with the ideal upfitting in a timely manner, which may result in a wide range of operational challenges for your frontline employees,” he said.

So, what are the basics you need to know when spec’ing service vehicles – such as vans – for your fleet? Industry experts recently shared some tips to ensure both an efficient and quality specification process.

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Grace Suizo

Is Now the Time to Rightsize Your Fleet?

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The task of cutting fleet costs while remaining productive and providing quality service to customers can be challenging. Over time, rightsizing has become a go-to strategy to accomplish just such a task. To gain greater insight on the topic, UFP recently spoke with three fleet professionals about their take on rightsizing and the strategies that have worked for their organizations.

Dan Remmert, senior manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois, said that rightsizing usually is driven by a need to reduce costs, but it’s important that fleet managers know exactly what they’re trying to achieve before they begin.

“Having the right number of vehicles or equipment is one aspect,” he said. “A second main driver is having the right type or size of vehicles. Before you start on a rightsizing effort, understand what you are trying to fix.”

A fleet also will want to consider what their business will look like in both the short and long term, advised Ed Powell, assistant manager of business intelligence and analytics for fleet management provider ARI (www.arifleet.com). For example, will more units be needed, or will shifts in your operating dynamic present opportunities to streamline your fleet?

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Grace Suizo

Operating a More Efficient Parts Management Program

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Making sure your shop is well-stocked to handle any issues that come your fleet’s way is a smart plan, but it also can be costly and inefficient if you overdo it and end up with bloated inventory. UFP recently spoke with two fleet professionals who shared some best practices about how to operate a more balanced and efficient parts management program.

The best starting point is to monitor what moves and then find a sensible minimum, according to Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia.

“Maintain an inventory of items that move quickly and be sure that your suppliers are able to provide quick sourcing of less frequently used items,” he advised, noting that mission-critical parts are important to have in-house.

For Fairfax Water, consumables – including fluids, filters, brakes and tires – are the most important. The majority of other items can be sourced quickly, Collins explained.

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What to Consider When Spec’ing Onboard Scales

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Operating an overloaded truck is categorized as a misdemeanor in most U.S. states. Aside from putting the safety of the operator and the public at risk, overloading also can increase fines and lead to premature vehicle wear and tear.

Fortunately, the availability of today’s onboard scale technology can help utility fleet managers ensure trucks operate at a safe weight.

So, what exactly should fleet managers consider when spec’ing onboard scales? Utility Fleet Professional connected with industry professionals who shared insight into selecting the right applications for your fleet.

Benefits of Technology
Nebraska Public Power District has been using onboard scale systems for more than 10 years and currently has approximately 20 scale systems in use between tractor-trailer units and dump trucks.

NPPD’s primary reason for installing the scale systems was to verify loaded axle weights to ensure they were compliant with DOT bridge laws.

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Grace Suizo

Choosing the Right Vehicle Lift for the Job

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Prior to purchasing a new vehicle lift, a fleet manager must understand exactly what is needed for their shop.

According to Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts (https://mohawklifts.com), fleet managers “need to do their homework in order to make an educated decision.”

So, what are some of the most important items to consider? UFP recently spoke to vehicle lift experts to find out.

Identify Your Needs
Maintenance is among the top factors fleet managers should think about before they buy, advised Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift (www.rotarylift.com).

“The best lifts will require minimal maintenance while offering years of safe, reliable service,” he said. “One of the first questions a fleet manager should ask themselves is, what vehicle maintenance am I going to perform, and will this lift help me do that faster, better and easier than I do it today?”

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Grace Suizo

Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

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Winter is just around the corner, and it often brings with it less-than-ideal operating conditions for utility fleets in many parts of the U.S. and Canada.

UFP recently spoke with two industry professionals who shared some best practices for keeping operations up and running while facing harsh weather conditions including snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

Start Preparing Early
For many utility fleets, the biggest challenge during the winter season is keeping vehicles and equipment in peak operating condition to avoid unforeseen downtime when those units are needed most. Heavy use during emergent situations often results in unscheduled repairs and breakdowns – or worse yet, accidents, according to Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

Michigan-based DTE Energy, which operates a fleet of more than 5,000 assets ranging from automobiles and SUVs to bucket trucks and construction equipment, experienced its snowiest month in January 2014, with 39 inches of snow. During that same winter, Southeast Michigan experienced 77 straight days with at least 1 inch of snow on the ground.

“Because of the snow, ice and colder temperatures, our challenges include an increased number of no-starts, de-icing windshields, door locks icing, increased towing and service calls, and increased response time due to icy and snowy roads,” said Mike Homan, DTE’s director of fleet.

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Grace Suizo

Mistakes to Avoid When Outsourcing Maintenance

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Outsourcing preventive maintenance and unscheduled repairs on light-duty units can help utility fleets minimize downtime and focus on the more complex mission-critical and specialized equipment in their operations.

It’s easy to rent a car or pickup truck if a light-duty asset is in the shop or down for a long period of time, explained Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for OG&E Fleet Services in Oklahoma. “Bucket trucks, trenchers [and] line trucks are a little more difficult to rent. We have tools and materials on pieces of equipment like that, so we can do maintenance in-house and control the timeline of the work,” he said.  

Keeping services in-house rather than outsourcing them also can help to ensure that safety remains a top priority when working on these assets.

“The utility industry as a whole requires a very high level of safety training, and this education extends to the in-house technicians,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

But if fleets determine they need to outsource some of their work, how do they make the most of it? UFP recently spoke with several industry experts who shared their tips, including mistakes to avoid.

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Grace Suizo

Best Practices for Managing Tire Costs

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Running a successful utility fleet operation requires fleet managers to, among other things, stay on top of any and every aspect of the business that will impact total operating costs.

A fleet’s tire program is one aspect that makes a significant impact. According to Gary Schroeder, director of global truck and bus tire business for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. (http://coopertrucktires.com), tire programs are the second-highest operating cost – behind fuel – for the majority of fleets.

So, what can utility fleets do in an effort to control those expenses?

“Helping fleets understand their total tire operating costs – and the role that tires can play in reducing these costs – is important,” said Dustin Lancy, marketing manager for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com). “Some fleets consider tire price to be the driving factor, but we urge them to look beyond the upfront cost of a tire and instead … optimize the return on their tire investment.”

Focus on What Matters Most
Keeping tire costs in check requires a tire program that includes proper tire selection, timely maintenance and frequent inspections.

Fairfax Water, a utility headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, maintains a selection of tires and tire/wheel assemblies at each of its maintenance facilities, replenishing as needed. Light-duty tires are mounted and balanced in-house, while the tire/wheel assemblies for the fleet’s larger heavy-duty trucks, trailers and equipment are sent out for servicing.

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Grace Suizo

Strategies for Addressing the Looming Technician Shortage

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With more baby boomers heading into retirement, industries that have benefited from these individuals’ decades of experience and expertise — including the utility fleet sector — are now left to hire and retain new talent.

That won’t be easy, according to Jennifer Maher, CEO and executive director of TechForce Foundation (www.techforcefoundation.org), whose mission is to champion students to and through their education and into careers as professional technicians. “There has been a critical shortage of qualified technicians for at least 20 years, so as the rest of the baby boomers retire within the next 10 years, things can only worsen. A report that we published late last year indicated that for this year alone, the vehicle industry – auto, diesel and collision – needs more than 137,000 new-entrant technicians.”

But it’s not just the retirements that will make matters worse, Maher said. “There simply are not enough young people seeking a technician career by any means – formal or informal education and training – to fill the void. Our school systems in this country have either reduced or eliminated vocational training in favor of a four-year degree. In effect, they have abandoned working with your hands as a viable career path, which is absurd not only because of the tech shortage, but also because a tech career offers a solid, middle-class lifestyle.”

So, what can utility fleets do to address this problem – and what should they opt not to do?

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Grace Suizo

3 Ways Telematics Can Help Improve Fleet Safety

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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 (www.elementfleet.com).

And once an undesirable trend or behavior is discovered, some telematics providers, such as GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), 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 (www.telogis.com).

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Grace Suizo

Using Technology to Reduce Engine Idle

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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 (www.anl.gov). 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 (www.ntea.com).

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.”

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Grace Suizo

Technology Helps Fleets Streamline Maintenance Operations

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Where fleet maintenance is concerned, technology providers including Decisiv (www.decisiv.com) and Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com) have been working with utilities to maximize visibility, consistency and transparency, among other things.

“Those actually go right to your bottom line because you reduce costs, you reduce downtime, and you make everybody more effective and the whole process more efficient,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of product and channel marketing for Decisiv.

Decreasing Downtime
Reducing downtime is a primary goal of nearly every utility fleet manager since it is a huge productivity killer.

“If your asset is down for two days but should only be down for two hours, that's a huge cost,” Riemer said.

One of the biggest culprits contributing to unnecessary downtime are inefficient and often outdated paper-based systems and communication methods. Much of the time involved in a service event – from the time someone realizes an asset is broken to the time it’s back in service – has nothing to do with fixing the asset, Riemer noted. “It’s all the other things: the talking, the paper finding, the communicating, the scheduling. It’s a highly inefficient process which dramatically increases downtime,” he said.

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Grace Suizo

3 Problems to Avoid When Spec’ing a Cable Reel Trailer

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When it comes to installing cables, pipes and the like, cable reel trailers can help utility and telecom crews boost productivity and efficiency so they can get more done in less time and for a lower cost of operation. That is, of course, assuming that they’ve selected the right equipment for the job.

Considering most cable reel trailers can last at least 10 years – or possibly even up to 20 if properly maintained – careful thought and consideration should be put into spec’ing the right unit prior to purchase. Not doing so could mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Mark Rapp, product manager for utility and telecom products for Felling Trailers (www.felling.com), the price of reel trailers varies greatly depending on weight-carrying requirements and the options the trailers are equipped with.

For example, a simple single reel trailer that can haul a 3,000-pound reel can start as low as $3,000, while a three-reel trailer – set up to haul 10,000-pound reels and loaded with options such as hydraulic payout/take-up assemblies and tensioning brakes – can be $65,000, he explained.

Donnie Bright, business development manager for Sherman + Reilly (www.sherman-reilly.com), had a similar response, noting that cost is influenced by the scope of work desired.

“Cost of ownership is very minimal if the cable reel trailer is sized and used correctly,” he said. “Keep your trailer properly maintained per the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. The life cycle will vary, but if properly maintained and only slightly abused, you should see a minimum 10 to 20 years of service on a quality-built trailer.”

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Grace Suizo

What CK-4 and FA-4 Engine Oils Mean for Your Fleet

What CK-4 and FA-4 Engine Oils Mean for Your Fleet

Manufacturers have stepped up their technology efforts to meet rigorous fuel-efficiency and emissions standards. In doing so, many next-generation engines will need higher-performing diesel engine oils to protect them. This requires changes in engine oil composition to withstand more heat without sacrificing engine protection.

A new generation of diesel engine oils was rolled out in December 2016. One of those oils is CK-4, a high-temperature, high-shear (HTHS) oil that can be used in both new and existing engines. It is available in the same viscosity grades and oil types currently being used in fleet operations.

According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), CK-4 can be used in high-speed, four-stroke-cycle diesel engines designed to meet 2017 model-year on-highway and Tier 4 non-road exhaust emission standards, as well as previous model-year diesel engines.

As much as possible, minimize exposure between new and old engine oils to ensure the benefits of CK-4 as well as continued OEM warranty support, advised Mark Betner, heavy-duty product line manager for CITGO (www.citgo.com).

A second oil type that debuted in December – FA-4 – has limited backward compatibility and is better suited for 2017 model-year engines and beyond. This “low-HTHS” oil is offered in lower viscosity grades and is not recommended for use with fuels having greater than 15 parts per million sulfur, according to API (www.api.org).


What Are the Benefits?
Benefits of the new CK-4 and FA-4 oils include increased fuel economy and lower emissions.

“Lower-viscosity engine oils will improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases over [previous] engine oils,” Betner said. “FA-4 engine oils in an FA-4-compliant engine will offer even greater fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases.”

In addition, “Today’s lighter weights can deliver the equivalent or even better wear protection than a CJ-4 15W-40 oil, along with significantly improved oil drain performance,” according to Len Badal, global Delo brand manager for Chevron Lubricants (www.chevronlubricants.com).

Betner agreed, noting the advanced technology of these two engine oils provides significant improvements in deposit control, shear stability and oil aeration control. “These engine oils will also have a 60 percent better oxidation resistance compared to API CJ-4, which aids in extended service intervals,” he explained.

Badal mentioned that off-road equipment would reap significant rewards from CK-4. “CK-4 oils deliver many benefits that directly address major issues with off-road equipment, including extended drain intervals, reduced engine wear and ability to extend rebuild intervals,” he said. “Off-highway equipment operators stand to gain a lot of benefits from the new API CK-4 oils, with a direct impact on reliability, productivity and profitability.”

Based on reduced fuel consumption, and extended oil drain and engine rebuild intervals, potential cost savings are expected.

Fleets surveyed by CITGO reported improved fuel efficiency after converting to its new API CK-4 oils, with improvement ranging from 1.6 to 3.2 percent after 50,000 miles.

What’s the Next Step?
Identify the units in your fleet that will be most impacted, and always check the owner’s manual for the proper lubricant recommendation.

One particular area of concern is for fleets comprised of various makes and models. Some automakers have indicated that neither one of the new engine oils should be used in certain vehicles at this time.

Nebraska Public Power District is one utility that has been proactively addressing that issue. Matt Gilliland, NPPD’s director of transportation and facilities, said he has been communicating with internal staff and servicing vendors to address the diversity of units in the organization’s fleet.

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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OEM Specs for API CK-4 and FA-4 Oils
Major diesel engine and truck manufacturers recently provided their own OEM specifications that connect with the new API CK-4 and FA-4 categories for their new model GHG 2017 diesel engines, with several also citing backward compatibility as well as upgrades to support longer oil drain intervals. These initial specs are mainly focused on CK-4 but should include more FA-4 data in the future.

OEM Specs

Source: Len Badal/Chevron Lubricants

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3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

Maintaining strong working relationships with vendors is critical to running a smooth fleet operation.

To find out what makes and breaks these relationships, UFP recently spoke with Ron Henne, transportation supervisor for Eversource in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts; Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District; and Mel Holloway, product manager for global fleet management company ARI.

For all three men, customer service stands out as a major factor in determining if a vendor is going to be a short- or long-term partner.

Nebraska Public Power District has been working with several suppliers for 10 to 20 years because they continue to meet the fleet’s customer service expectations, according to Gilliland.

“We look for a vendor who will fix or supply it right the first time, on time, and at a fair price,” he said.

In addition to great customer service, vendors that provide total support – including post-sales support such as training – help seal the deal for Henne.

But what prevents fleet managers and vendors from establishing effective relationships? Be cautious of these three pitfalls.

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Grace Suizo

Factors to Consider When Making Outsourcing Decisions

Factors to Consider When Making Outsourcing Decisions

Deciding whether to outsource maintenance and repair work or perform it in-house can be a daunting task for fleet managers. To gain some industry insight, UFP recently spoke with Holly Giffrow-Bos, fleet supervisor for East Central Energy (ECE), and Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), about what’s worked for their operations and what to consider if you’re leaning toward outsourcing part or all of your maintenance and repair work.

According to Giffrow-Bos, about 15 to 20 percent of ECE’s fleet jobs are outsourced. These typically include body work, warranty work and any kind of heavy-duty engine or transmission replacement work. The electric distribution cooperative, headquartered in Braham, Minn., has a fleet of approximately 180 units.

Due to the level of training and the resources required to perform body work, Giffrow-Bos said ECE “never got into it because of the expense of having that specially trained person and equipment.” The fleet also doesn’t have a lot of jobs that require body work.

In general, ECE handles all diagnostics, repairs and preventive maintenance in-house. This work, too, comes at a significant expense; each of the cooperative’s in-house technicians must be trained on all vehicle makes and models used by the fleet, as well as a range of different tasks.

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Grace Suizo

Aftermarket vs. OEM Replacement Parts

Aftermarket vs. OEM Replacement Parts

Are you unsure whether to purchase aftermarket or OEM replacement parts for your fleet’s vehicles? Using a mix of both has proven to be an effective strategy for Ameren Illinois Company (AIC), Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water) and Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), according to fleet representatives from the three utilities.

Safety, performance, availability and quality are among the factors that make OEM parts the best option for certain aspects of fleet operations.

“On critical components, it’s better to get the original equipment parts instead of taking a chance on questionable quality of the aftermarket materials,” explained Dale Collins, CAFM, fleet services supervisor for Virginia-based Fairfax Water, which maintains more than 400 fleet units. “Folks can easily replicate good-quality wiper blades, but not more sophisticated electronic parts.”

Several years ago Fairfax Water replaced the original brake pads on its heavy-payload pickup trucks with aftermarket pads that did not hold up well. The utility now relies on the durability of factory OEM brake parts that they have found to be superior to aftermarket products. Fairfax Water also depends on original equipment parts for engine management due to past performance issues with some of its construction equipment, and it uses OEM parts for auto body and crash repairs in critical areas of the vehicle in order to maintain “crashworthiness,” or the ability of a vehicle to protect occupants during an impact.

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How Plug-In Hybrids Impact Vehicle Maintenance

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 (www.viamotors.com), 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.

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