NAFA hits the golden state

There was a full week of education and networking opportunities at the 2018 NAFA Institute & Expo

June 18, 2018
by Michael Power

From the June 2018 print edition

The North American Fleet Association’s (NAFA) 2018 Institute & Expo, the continent’s largest show for fleet professionals, took place in Anaheim, California last April, drawing over 1,000 professionals from around the world. Each year, the event provides an all-star lineup of speakers that features some of the top names in fleet. The I&E features more than 45 education sessions, including many addressing subjects straight out of the news headlines, plus timely concerns facing procurement, fleet and mobility managers.

As always, this year’s event featured no shortage of Canadian content. Among the topics was the Canadian Legislative Overview, an education session led by Michael Hatch, senior vice-president at Impact Public Affairs, Canadian NAFA legislative council. And this year, Hatch noted, there are plenty of issues that potentially affect the country’s fleet professionals. Among those topics are the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, EPA’s fuel economy rules, developments in autonomous vehicles, and more.

Hatch touched on new car sales, noting that the last five years have been record years in terms of sales. The year 2017 saw high sales, with consumers moving away en masse from cars towards trucks, crossovers and SUVs. At the same time, vehicles have become more fuel-efficient. One reason for this trend is government regulations, Hatch said. The “low-hanging fruit” has been picked with regards to fuel efficiency, with OEMs getting more creative in squeezing out more from their vehicles. Canada doesn’t have a single, national economy, Hatch noted. Therefore, provincial vehicle sales vary. The four Western provinces accounted for most of the growth in new car sales in 2017. There has been strong growth in fleet sales over the past eight years, with the fleet market share increasing since 2010.

Regarding EPA rules for fuel economy, Hatch said that some pundits believe the auto industry won’t be able to meet the organization’s goals. Meanwhile, the industry is saying that it can’t afford to have different rules across provinces and states. The Trudeau government wants to appear strong on the environment but is in a tough spot because the US might relax fuel economy rules beyond 2025, Hatch said. The main technical spec that consumers look for today is fuel economy and no matter what regulations say investments will continue to be made in that area.

Autonomous vehicles also represent a huge issue at the moment, Hatch said. Earlier this year, the Senate published a report called Driving Change, which lays the groundwork for what AV legislation might look like. It’s a high priority for the Transport Minister and the government, which is generally in favour of AVs. However, much is unknown regarding the issue and governments fear the negative headlines that may accompany a hard push towards autonomous vehicles. The federal government has also announced that its zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) strategy will arrive this year. Quebec wants to hasten the move towards a strategy while the industry insists the process can’t be rushed.

Meanwhile, the NAFTA negotiations roller coaster continues and the US has relented somewhat on the automotive section of the deal, Hatch noted. Still, it’s tough to say whether a revamped deal will be struck by the time the Mexican federal election and US mid-term election are done. Canada is a huge trading partner with the US and many individual states. “There is a major tug-of-war between Congress and the White House on this,” he said.

Electric future
With range increasing, costs dropping and more vehicle choices than ever, EVs are becoming viable for many fleets. One session focused on the issues and solutions associated with providing the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles. EV sales are growing steadily, said the session’s moderator Tom Brotherton, regional director at CALSTART. Each year there are more chargeable vehicles, with electric trucks now also coming to market. Where should fleets start in sorting out the issues?

When thinking about how EVs could become a solution for fleets, it’s necessary to consider how that vehicle will be used holistically, said panelist David Peterson, director of fleet solutions at ChargePoint. For example, if an employee takes a fleet EV home, the company must think about how to track the fuel. As well, organizations must consider what type of fast charging they will need. “You’re dealing with other stakeholders,” Peterson said. “This requires many fleet managers to get our of their comfort zone.”

Organizations looking at charging solutions must consider what level of capability they’ll need, added fellow panelist Joseph Cannon, director, EV solutions, AeroVironment Inc. Smarts stations usually come with a higher cost and organizations often need to consider connectivity for this option. A company can often reduce electricity costs by delaying charging, and those companies will want to weight the potential savings against the cost of the networks. Also, it helps organizations to consider whether they plan to collect revenue from non-fleet EV users charging at their stations or not. Also, look at the restrictions involved and whether the network is flexible, Cannon said. Are you able to switch network providers so you’re not locked in? Can you buy other hardware solutions down the road? “You want to make sure you have that network flexibility, especially in the early stages,” Cannon said.

The tech world
The continual advancing of technology begs the question of what these advances offer fleet managers in risk and safety. Drivers can now be trained using virtual reality goggles or safety driving apps, for example. But how to evaluate whether a specific technology is right for a certain company? A panel session entitled The Latest and Greatest Technology for a Safer Fleet looked at these and other related issues.

Video is a technology that’s proven to help drivers to learn to do their jobs more safely, said panelist Eliot Feldstein, senior vice-president, strategy and corporate development, Lytx, Inc. For example, certain technologies can show a harsh breaking incident but little other information, Feldstein said. But an video camera mounted on the outside of a vehicle can show the reason for the harsh breaking, such as a obstacle suddenly on the road. A camera mounted in the cab can potentially show dangerous behaviour on the driver’s part, such as texting while driving. “It’s a unique teaching moment,” he said. Another trend, multi-camera views, offer views from areas including the side, front and back of the vehicle.

Other technology trends included “purpose-driven analytics,” Feldstein said. Rather than overwhelming fleet managers with too much information, purpose-driven analytics involves providing only certain data, such as risky, prevalent behaviours.

Feldstein stressed the importance of helping drivers understand that such technology didn’t represent babysitting them on the job. Rather, using such technology helped boost safety and at times, protect drivers from blame for incidents that weren’t their faults.

Whether it was ARI’s Jay Leno Garage Party, the FLEXY Awards, comedian Jody Urquhart’s keynote, NAFA’s Block Party or simply exploring the show floor, the 2018 NAFA Institute & Expo offered education, networking and no shortage of fun.

Virtual reality (VR) as a tool for safety training was also a recent trend, said fellow panelist Ashlee Biggs, director, technology products, Element Fleet Management. VR represented an immersive experience for the trainee—creating better knowledge retention—and less tech savvy was needed.
It pays first to consider the problem you want solved before choosing a technology to use, Biggs advised. Many companies are looking to invest in or to test a technology, but if fleet managers understand the problem up front they increase their chances of choosing the right technology.

Fleet savings
Fleet is a big spend in an organization. But some key areas for potential cost reductions can be overlooked. Areas like policy implementation, driver management, fleet structure and data management can be under the cost reduction radar but can be significant savings sources. One panel session, called Fleet Savings Initiatives to Start Today, looked at these and other issues.
Jeff Cole, director of strategic services at ARI, gave the audience three points to bear in mind when looking at potential fleet savings: have less, spend less and get more out of what you have. Policy is the foundation of both strategy and savings initiatives, Cole said, and it’s important to that policy with business strategy. So-called “grey fleet”—vehicles that don’t belong to a company but are still used for business travel—represent a “huge opportunity” for savings, Cole said. Organizations often look at company owned or leased assets but miss that grey area. It can also pay to look at who qualifies to use company-owned vehicles.

Fellow panelist Sherry Calkins, associate vice-president, strategic partners, Geotab, also stressed the importance of policy in managing fleets. She suggested regularly reviewing policy as circumstances change. Data is also important, and organizations that don’t use telematics should review other data sources. Calkins also recommended working with an open platform since it allows fleet managers to integrate other systems into one data source and bring together all the data. A closed platform can make it more difficult to share data or run reports from it.

Privacy and security is also important, Calkins noted. Organizations should understand how vendors use their data and what happens to that information. “Make sure your partners are using good practices,” she said. “No one wants to be in the news for cyber security breach.”

Ultimately, NAFA’s Institute & Expo offered attendees and an excellent and diverse source of insights and best practices on how to deal with issues they face each day, along with challenges that may arise in the future.