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Fleets stay focused on truck acquisition challenges

Sept. 22, 2021
An industry benchmarking survey from Fleet Advantage shows that fleets are holding onto trucks longer as build rates are down and supply chains remain strained.

Ongoing supply chain challenges are continuing to prompt fleets to alter their truck procurement plans and extend equipment lifecycles, a fleet benchmarking survey shows.

Fleet Advantage recently announced the results of its latest fleet industry benchmarking survey showing how trends in fuel economy, maintenance, environmental concerns, and procurement strategies have changed since last year. According to this year’s survey, 41% of fleet executives say the supply of new trucks and inventory challenges have altered their truck procurement plans due to lead times. Seventeen percent have begun to identify alternate procurement strategies in the acquisition of new trucks. Another 17% say the inventory challenges mean they may hold onto current trucks even longer than normal.

“We are seeing that about 17% of fleets are starting to extend their lifecycles, which will have a major impact on maintenance and repair costs,” Al Barner, Fleet Advantage’s senior vice president of Strategic Fleet Solutions, told FleetOwner. “We want to make sure that fleets have a 12- to 24-month or even a 36-month procurement strategy in place.”

In another sign of the times, 31% percent of survey respondents said they are leasing their trucks, which is up significantly from last year, when 14% of fleet executives said they were leasing. However, lease structure is a major area of concern for many as 28% are in an unbundled lease agreement and “see greater value on flexible fuel and maintenance costs,” Barner pointed out. This compares to 20% who say they are locked into a full-service lease, with some saying they are “trying to escape the contract because of inflexible costs on fuel and maintenance,” the survey said.

According to ACT Research’s latest State of the Industry: North American Class 5-8 Report, there hasn't been much change in the trajectory of macro data points that are influencing commercial vehicle demand. "Except for the asterisk that is the COVID Delta variant, economic strength is broad-based and concentrated in goods-related economic activity. However, build rates are down, with supply chains constrained," ACT noted.

Demand for equipment remains high, and fleets can’t get their hands on the trucks they’ve ordered. ACT Research recently reported that medium- and heavy-duty orders each rose to a five-month high in August.

“While ‘semiconductors’ has become the generic reference for the supply chain’s shortcomings, in actuality there are scores of parts that continue to be impacted—by the pandemic, by the lingering impact of steel tariffs, and even by the February storm that incapacitated Texas and shut down swathes of the U.S. plastics industry for two-plus quarters,” Kenny Vieth, ACT Research’s president and senior analyst, explained.

“Like the supply chains themselves, the issues are not only domestic and not only commercial vehicle,” he added. “Semiconductors might be masking other component issues, but they are at the heart of the supply chain’s inability to ramp production. Recent news indicates that COVID outbreaks shut down silicon wafer and subassembly plants in Southeast Asia, representing another nail in the coffin of a nearer-term recovery in supply.”

Because of these pandemic-related business challenges, 31% of fleet executives said their biggest motivator for procurement was to right-size the number of trucks in their fleet to align with economic conditions, the Fleet Advantage survey pointed out. Other motivators included more safety features added by OEMs, the importance of improved corporate image, and the conservation of natural resources/lower CO2 emissions through newer clean-diesel engines.

“I don't think we are going to pull out of this anytime soon,” Barner said. “We just saw orders in August hit another record, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that people are starting to realize there are supply chain issues, and people want to get their orders in. We are anticipating some strong orders throughout the rest of the year, but the OEMs that we’ve talked to have indicated that this is not an issue that is going to go away in the next 90 days.”

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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