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What were fleet leaders' top challenges of 2023?

Dec. 8, 2023
Costs, the economy, labor shortages, and fraud were among fleets' most significant concerns in 2023, according to a new study on trucking operations.

The trucking industry has had its fair share of challenges this year. With less freight and lower rates, high fuel prices, and lingering supply chain woes, 2023 has been a tough year. These are on top of persistent industry challenges, such as truck parking, cargo theft, and predatory towing.

Trucking companies are also still feeling the effects of the pandemic, as new drivers and trucking companies that flooded into the market are now left with no work.

There was a big amount of chaos that was generated during the pandemic,” Ryan Plutnicki, chief customer officer at Motive, told FleetOwner. “Then, for the years that followed, there was, in some cases, a big boon and, in some cases, a lot of turmoil.

During those high times, company drivers ventured out on their own. Plutnicki said many drivers have returned to company trucking because the current trucking climate has made it difficult for independent owner-operators to make it on their own.

See also: Exodus of fleets reaches historic level in Q1, U.S. data shows

To gauge just how much this dismal year has impacted companies that employ physical operations—such as trucking, oil and gas, and construction companies—Motive, an integrated operations platform for the physical economy, surveyed 1,000 leaders and decision-makers in the industry.

2023’s top trucking challenges

Macroeconomic challenges have the most significant impact on physical operations, according to survey results. The biggest threats over the past 12 months were identified as:

  • Rising costs of insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, accident-related expenses, etcetera, for 59% of respondents.
  • Economic instability with interest rates, inflation, lack of access to capital, and more, for 51% of respondents.
  • Labor shortages and talent retention were top concerns for 50% of respondents in management but only 39% of respondents in the C-suite. 
  • 42% identified supply chain issues as a top concern of 2023.
  • Operational efficiencies, such as mismanaged assets, lack of visibility into operations, excess admin work, and more, concerned 36% of respondents.
  • Extreme weather events concerned 33%.
  • Regulatory issues and changes affected 32% of respondents.

See also: How carriers can best manage insurance costs and risks in 2024

When viewed on an operational level, these industry concerns have led to an average loss of $867,634 per company, with many companies reporting losses of $1 million or higher, according to the report.

Problems with visibility

Introducing data into fleet operations can significantly impact efficiency, with Motive customers reporting 91% improvement in safety, 50% less time spent on manual paperwork and processes, and a 20% savings in insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs.

“I cannot imagine trying to manage the amount of data and the safety events the technology is pulling in,” Jared Whitson, director of safety at Bennett Family of Companies, shared in a Motive report. “The efficiencies that the platform has added, where it’s doing a lot of that work for us, that’s a huge deal.” 

Fleets that aren’t using data analytics to make informed decisions—or those that aren’t capturing fleet data at all—put themselves at a disadvantage. But even those who collect data and use fleet management systems find it challenging to manage their fleet more effectively and efficiently.

One repeated theme in Motive’s report is visibility due to using multiple methods of data caputure and fleet management. Simply having awareness and visibility can put fleet leaders at ease. Unfortunately, one-third of respondents admitted not having the visibility they need to do their jobs effectively, and 42% said they lack a “single view” into their vehicles, workers, spend/payments, or equipment/assets.

This need for a “single view” could likely be attributed to fleet personnel using multiple tools to manage their operations. Survey results indicated that 46% of fleet leaders admit to using more than 10 different individual tools to help them manage their fleet. Another 30% said the tools used to manage their fleet are “too many to count.” One in five are still using pen and paper to manage their fleet. Using this amount of tools without a proper management system can lead to inefficiencies in time, reduce profitability, and increase safety risks. 

See also: Four ways fleet managers can avoid data overload

What’s more, a lack of proper fleet management systems and processes can lead to lost assets. Of C-suite respondents, 63% admitted to losing track of vehicles monthly, and 34% of respondents in management/director roles admitted to losing vehicles monthly.

When properly tracked and analyzed, data has been proven to increase operational efficiency. More than 80% of respondents agreed that although industry challenges persist, data capture has helped them make better decisions.

Fraud, both intentional and unintentional

Another interesting finding from the survey was that less than one-third of respondents (27%) listed theft or fraud as a top industry concern, but the mood changed when asked questions concerning fraud. Almost half of fleet managers and directors (44%) believe their business has been negatively affected by fraud, and even more respondents from the C-suite (57%) feel fraud has a "big financial impact" on their business.

Fraud and theft can take many forms, making it difficult to track and prove. Cargo theft is becoming more prominent, with incidents increasing by 59% year-over-year in Q3 of 2023. Additionally, employees can commit fuel fraud by filling up the tanks of their personal vehicles using company fuel cards.

See also: Experts warn fleets to prepare for record-breaking cargo theft in 2024

"Fraud was an interesting (finding) for me," Plutnicki told FleetOwner. "When I dug into that a little bit, I kept getting this interesting theme, which is fraud that is intentional is a concern, but so is fraud that's unintentional."

An example of unintentional fraud Plutnicki offered is when an employee uses a fuel card, intended only for a fleet vehicle, in their personal vehicle when traveling from one job site to the next instead of using a company's standard personal mileage reimbursement.

"They have no idea that they're going against policy, but they just filled up a tank at $65 as opposed to the $12 they should have gotten in the mileage getting to the second site," Plutnicki said.

Enterprise fleets estimate an annual loss of 19% due to theft and fraud, whereas smaller fleets estimate an average annual loss of 16%, according to the survey. Technology, fuel cards, and asset tracking can help decrease those numbers.

Embracing technology

Fleets that have already integrated technology into their operations have an advantage over fleets that still use pen and paper to manage their systems, as stated previously. But that doesn’t mean technology comes without its challenges.

Many leaders (40%) find their current technology solutions unreliable and inaccurate, according to the survey. One of the top reasons these leaders aren’t pleased with their technology solutions is that, as with their operations, they “lack a single view” of the operations of their workers, vehicles, assets, and spend/payment (42%). Another aspect that fleet leaders find just as concerning is data security and privacy concerns with their technology solutions (42%). Additionally, 41% of respondents find technology solutions lacking because of their “data silos” or “lack of integration” within other fleet management systems.

But as technology evolves, Plutnicki thinks fleet management systems and data analytics will become more integrated and offer that “single pane of glass” visibility that fleet managers are looking for.

More than 50% of survey respondents indicated that they liked their jobs better this year than they did this time last year, and Plutnicki thinks that’s a “nod toward the optimism of where this technology is going.”

“It’s not 100% solved; this is a journey,” Plutnicki told FleetOwner. “Bit by bit, we’re bringing (these systems) all together. … Our goal is certainly to continue to put as much of it as possible into the ‘single pane of glass’ where it makes sense for us to be best in breed and then also integrate very deeply with the top partners that we have.”

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