Commentary: Historical fleet assessment data may no longer be relevant

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When was the last time you performed a needs assessment on your fleet?

Too often specs are just repeated from one year to the next. In the past that might have made sense. You bought a truck, tracked all its expenses over the life of the vehicle — four, five, six, seven years or more — to determine your total cost of ownership. You learned which components worked in your particular applications and which did not. You stuck with the ones that gave you the best return on your investment.

Joe Puff is vice president of truck technology and maintenance for NationaLease.Joe Puff is vice president of truck technology and maintenance for NationaLease.

That strategy worked for many years. However, in recent years the pace of product development has accelerated.

New products, as well as enhancements to existing products, are occurring at a dizzying pace. What this means is that the historical data you collected may not have as much value as it did in the past.

By the time you collect and analyze data on an asset, the technology often has changed dramatically, not to mention faster product development cycles, engineering and materials enhancements and what seems like almost constant regulatory changes.

I am not saying you should totally discount the historic knowledge you get from your TCO analysis, but it certainly has less value than it once did. It is now more important than ever to carefully select suppliers. You want to partner with those that stand behind their products and services.

Given the shortened product development cycles, products may be hitting the market before they are fully tested and may not have the reliability and durability to which you are accustomed. This makes supplier selection even more critical. Find suppliers who will admit design, engineering and production errors and stand behind their products — even beyond the warranty period — when it is clear there has been a mistake.

The fast pace of technology can also make it difficult to determine residual value at the end of the asset’s useful life in your fleet. A great example here is automated manual transmissions (AMT). It was not that long ago that a truck equipped with an AMT would be valued lower than a similar truck with a manual transmission. Today the opposite is true, but that transition took place over five or six years.

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Right now, I think we are on that same trajectory with advanced driver assistance systems. Ask yourself what is going to happen five years from now when you try to sell a truck that is not equipped with these safety features?

Assessing the proper specs for your fleet has become quite complex – even confusing – as you try to get the best vehicle for your application, while at the same time balancing that with projections of durability, reliability and resale value. Aligning yourself with the right manufacturers and suppliers should make you feel more confident in your decisions.

Joe Puff has more than 35 years of experience in complex sales and fleet operations, including extensive experience in commercial vehicle maintenance. He is responsible for advising NationaLease members and the National Account team of new truck technology, industry trends, and maintenance best practices.