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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for 2021

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The past year with the pandemic has been anything but normal with sporadic nationwide lockdowns, supply chain challenges and vehicle production delays. But there’s one thing we can still count on: Truck and van body manufacturers and upfitters are continuing to bring new products to market that equip your crews to get more work done in less time at lower operational costs.

Some companies have released new products with lighter-weight materials that increase a truck’s payload without bumping up to a larger vehicle. Some have added more versatile storage options to enhance accessibility and ergonomics for improved worker safety. And others have launched products that increase fuel economy and help fleets hit their sustainability targets.

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Sean M. Lyden

An Electric Pickup to Watch: The Lordstown Endurance

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A major bottleneck to large-scale fleet electrification is the electric pickup truck – because you can’t buy one right now.

That’s about to change.

Brands like Tesla Cybertruck, GMC Hummer, Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 are expected to launch a full-size all-electric pickup starting this fall to mid-2022.

But these models, at least initially, are being built with the high-end retail customer – not fleets – in mind.

So, does this mean fleets have a few more years to wait for a product that will be practical for work truck applications?

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Sean M. Lyden

Leadership Strategies: Negotiating as if Your Career Depends on It

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What’s a common trait among highly effective fleet professionals?

They’re skilled negotiators.

They get the best terms when purchasing vehicles, equipment and service. They persuade senior management to protect – and increase – their annual fleet budgets. And they gain top priority from OEMs to quickly address and solve critical equipment issues.

So, as you look for ways to advance in your fleet career, what can you do to take your negotiation game to the next level?

Consider reading “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It” by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss.

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Sean M. Lyden

Developments to Watch in Self-Driving Trucks

Just three years ago, the media was all abuzz about how a brave new self-driving world was right around the corner.

Today, the media and industry analysts have slow-rolled their predictions as technology companies and automakers still grapple with developing autonomous driving systems that are ready for prime time on a large scale.

As it turns out, humans still have the edge in making decisions in a wide range of challenging driving situations that continue to hamper the robots. 

But less hype does not necessarily mean a lack of momentum for vehicle automation. And self-driving technology developers and automakers have been making notable progress in recent months – especially in the heavy-duty truck segment. 

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Sean M. Lyden

CenterPoint Energy to Electrify 100% of Light-Duty Fleet by 2030

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In late September, CenterPoint Energy announced that, by the end of this decade, the company will replace 100% of its light-duty fleet – currently 134 cars, vans and SUVs – with plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles at CenterPoint’s electric operations facilities in Evansville, Indiana, and Houston.

Officials also said the company would electrify 5% of its heavy-duty fleet at those locations by 2025 and 10% by 2030.

So, what has led CenterPoint’s electric operations to go all-in on fleet electrification? What fleet applications will make the transition first? And what does the company see as the business case for electrified vehicles?

UFP recently spoke with Barb Varanauski, director of fleet, shop services and radio communications for CenterPoint Energy, to get her perspective. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

What Fleet Managers Should Know About Impact Attenuators

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An impact attenuator is a safety device, either mounted on the rear of a truck or towed as a trailer, that absorbs the force of a vehicle collision at speeds up to 62.5 mph to protect roadside crews working nearby.

While attenuators are not a new concept – they’ve been in use in the highway construction industry for decades – what is new is that they’ve started to become more prevalent in the utility industry.

“Utility companies are a new market for us,” said Brent Kulp, executive vice president at TrafFix Devices Inc. (www.traffixdevices.com), which builds both truck-mounted and trailer impact attenuators. “Typically, we sell to the highway departments. But beginning about five years ago, utility companies started coming to us, saying, ‘Hey, our guys are out on the highway, out on the city streets, fixing a gas line or doing a utility pole repair. We want to protect our crew working in front of that vehicle from distracted drivers.’”

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Sean M. Lyden

Freightliner: How Electric Trucks Will Change Your Garage Operations

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Numerous signs point toward an all-electric future in transportation.

But as more plug-in electric trucks become commercially available for fleets, how will the new technology impact your garage operations? What will change with technician training, equipment and other aspects of your shop?

Daimler Trucks North America plans to start production of its plug-in electric Freightliner eCascadia and eM2 models in 2022. So, UFP spoke with Gregory Bowen, the electric mobility developer and trainer at DTNA, and Jason Ascher, DTNA’s e-mobility engineer, to get their perspective on what you can expect as you prepare your shop to work on EVs in the coming years.

Here’s an edited excerpt of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

Why California’s Ban on Gas and Diesel Vehicles Matters

In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that his state will ban the sale of new light-duty gasoline and diesel vehicles, effective in 2035. And by 2045, new medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold in California must also be zero-emissions.

So, what does this news mean for utility fleets?

It means that the transportation industry is trending toward an all-electric future, with vehicles powered by battery only, hydrogen or a hybrid of both “fuels,” depending on a vehicle’s range requirements and duty cycle.

But how does California’s ban impact vehicle sales – and your fleet – outside the state?

Think about it. If California were a sovereign nation, it would rank as the world’s fifth-largest economy. And the state accounts for a massive share of U.S. auto sales. This means that when California talks, the automakers listen.

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Sean M. Lyden

3 Factors to Consider When Retrofitting LED Lights on Work Trucks

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It makes sense that most truck OEMs, body manufacturers and upfitters have made the switch from conventional incandescent bulbs to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting for their latest models.

After all, LEDs last exponentially longer, shine brighter, burn cooler and draw less power. And although LEDs are more expensive upfront, the cost drops significantly over the bulb’s life.

But what about the older vehicles in your fleet that still use incandescent bulbs? Would it pay to retrofit those lights with LEDs? How do you decide? And what factors should you consider before you make the switch?

UFP recently caught up with Ken Gillies, senior work truck consultant at Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), who offered these three considerations.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Impact of COVID-19 on Order-to-Delivery Time Frames – and How to Respond Effectively

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In early March, the coronavirus caused automakers to shut down production completely for two months. But even after reopening in late June, they’ve still had to deal with temporary plant closures as positive cases emerge.

As you can imagine, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on vehicle and equipment production schedules and supply chains, causing significant delays that have put many utility fleets in a bind.

So, what exactly is the current state of order-to-delivery (OTD) time frames? What can you expect to see over the next several months? And how can you minimize any disruption to your fleet operations?

UFP spoke with Cindy Gomez, vice president of vehicle acquisitions services at Donlen (www.donlen.com), a fleet management company, to get her outlook on OTD time frames and advice on how you can handle the issue.

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Sean M. Lyden

Smart Hiring Tips for Fleet Professionals

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You’re looking to hire a mechanic, shop supervisor or data analyst. You’ve sorted through the applications and resumes, creating a shortlist of candidates who look great on paper.

Now, it’s time for the interviews to assess who would be the best choice for the job.

But when candidates operate as their own public relations agent, selective about what they share – and don’t share – to put themselves in the best light, how do you get to the truth about whether they really have “the goods” for the job?

Enter Robin Dreeke, the former head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program.

Dreeke spent over three decades developing high-trust relationships with informants, including many unsavory characters, to gather intelligence to help the FBI and other agencies prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. So, he knows a thing or two about how to read people to quickly determine whether you can trust them – and work with them.

And he writes extensively about his system, which he calls “The Six Signs of Behavior Prediction,” in his latest bestselling book, “Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction.” 

UFP recently spoke with Dreeke to get his take on how you can apply his behavior prediction model to make better-informed hiring decisions that can take your fleet’s performance – and your career – to the next level.

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Sean M. Lyden

Shop Talk: Reimagining the PM as Predictive Maintenance

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A thorough and consistent preventive maintenance (PM) program is a core best practice of any high-performing fleet.

But the challenge is that too many fleets still base their PM schedules on OEM recommendations and not on field-specific data that takes into account higher-idle scenarios, hilly terrain, extreme climate conditions and operator behaviors – all of which accelerate wear and tear on the vehicle.

As a result, you could achieve near 100% PM compliance per OEM schedules and still get blindsided by higher than acceptable failure rates that lead to costly downtime and productivity loss.

So, how can you improve maintenance performance?

George Survant, principal at Fleet Mace Consulting, recommended that fleets adopt a predictive maintenance model, which requires a different way of thinking and operating than traditional PM.

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Sean M. Lyden

Who Can You Trust?

Whatever task you’re performing as a fleet professional – whether it’s purchasing equipment, hiring new technicians or presenting your case for a budget increase – you have to work with a wide range of different types of people to accomplish your objectives.

But how can you tell who you can trust? Try using a system called “The Six Signs of Behavior Prediction,” which you can learn more about in the book “Sizing People Up” by Robin Dreeke, the former head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. Here’s an overview of what to look for with each of the six signs.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets?

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When the job is to dig trenches, drill holes or dig in tight spaces, how can utility crews get more work done in less time at lower cost?

That's the question many heavy-equipment manufacturers ask themselves as they design and develop new digging machines and accessories.

So, what new products have emerged within the past six to nine months to help utility companies and contractors improve worker productivity and cut operational costs? Here are seven new developments to keep your eye on.

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What’s New: 19C-1E Fully Electric Mini Excavator
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As JCB’s first fully electric mini excavator, the 19C-1E is suited for construction and excavation applications in enclosed or urban job sites, or noise- and emissions-sensitive environments, such as hospitals and schools. The machine offers comparable power to JCB’s diesel 19C excavator, while producing zero exhaust emissions and one-fifth the noise.

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Sean M. Lyden

6 All-Electric Pickups in the Pipeline

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For utility fleets committed to electrification, the holy grail is to electrify pickup trucks.

That’s because pickups represent the largest vehicle segment for most fleets in the industry. So, if you can electrify a wide range of pickup applications, you’ll make a huge dent in your company’s sustainability efforts.

The challenge is that high battery costs and low range between charges have historically made the idea of all-electric pickups seem impractical for widespread fleet use. And there are no products commercially available for fleets to choose from.

But that could be changing soon. Here’s an overview of six electric pickups currently in development that are expected to launch in the next one to two years.

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Sean M. Lyden

Shop Talk: Verizon Communications

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In February, as the novel coronavirus spread overseas and cases began to trickle into the U.S., Verizon Communications, as a company, started grappling with how the pandemic might impact its operations.

“Before the media and most people were talking about what you should do, we’re thinking, ‘How would we operate? How do we keep our people safe?’” said Herb Pruitt, director of fleet operations for Verizon Communications.

UFP recently spoke with Pruitt to learn about the adjustments Verizon’s Fleet Operations team of over 400 employees, mostly mechanics, has made to ensure worker safety while maintaining a large fleet of about 29,000 vehicles during a pandemic. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

You Ask, We Answer: Your Research Team for Navigating These Uncharted Waters

One of the challenges of providing you with content that offers timely and interesting insights is that so much is changing so quickly in the world and in our industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed utility fleets to re-evaluate how they operate, spec vehicles and manage their shops.

For example, in cases where vehicles are no longer centrally garaged because they’re being driven home, how do you ensure that all PMs get done on time? (In this month’s “Shop Talk,” we spoke with Herb Pruitt at Verizon Communications, who offers lessons learned and best practices on this topic.)

When crews hand off vehicles to garage staff for maintenance and repairs, what should be the process to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus? What PPE should be worn and when? What types of disinfectants should be used?

And what will be the impact on vehicle and equipment manufacturers regarding their production and delivery timelines over the next 12 to 18 months? In what ways will you need to adjust to ensure all business units and their crews have the equipment they need when they need it?

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Sean M. Lyden

New Developments to Watch in Telematics

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The fleet telematics industry has come a long way since 2000, when Geotab’s (www.geotab.com) executive vice president of sales and marketing, Colin Sutherland, joined the Ontario, Canada-based telematics company.

“Back then, [telematics] was all about collecting data on board the vehicle itself and, in many cases, having to manually transfer that data to a computing environment using [thumb drives],” Sutherland said.

But with today's telematics, vehicles can automatically transmit real-time location and operational data to the cloud at a significantly lower cost. And as wireless technology has gotten faster and cheaper, telematics capabilities have expanded considerably to include onboard cameras, workforce management systems and machine learning to generate more comprehensive and useful reports.

So, what’s on the horizon? What new developments in telematics should you keep your eye on in the next 12 months?

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Sean M. Lyden

Flattening the Curve? The State of Transportation Electrification During a Pandemic

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A perfect storm of geopolitical forces flooding the world’s oil supply and COVID-19 causing global governments to temporarily shut down their economies has precipitated a steep drop in gasoline and diesel prices in recent weeks.

So, what does this mean for the electric vehicle market?

After all, conventional wisdom says that cheap gas will put the brakes on the demand for alternative fuels, including electricity.

But Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy, a public power utility and a department of The City of Austin, Texas, believes that demand for electrified transportation likely will continue to grow despite oil prices at historic lows.

Why? Popham points to four trends.

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Sean M. Lyden

Shop Talk: Developing Your Continuity of Operations Plan in a COVID-19 World

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If you were to lose one-third of your workforce in the fleet department at any given time due to COVID-19, what would your continuity of operations plan look like? What adjustments would you make?

Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water, which serves nearly 2 million customers in Northern Virginia, began posing these "wargaming" questions with his team in early March when it became clear that the pandemic presented a significant health risk to employees, especially the shop technicians who needed to be on-site to help keep the fleet running.

So, what changes have Collins and his team made as part of the water utility’s continuity of operations plan to ensure employee safety while maintaining high service levels for customers?

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