Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

In Memoriam: Coach's Insights

Managing a Car vs. Work Truck Fleet

The Feds may call a pickup, some crossovers, and even vans "cars," but no matter the label, these vehicles take special knowledge to manage.

June 13, 2014, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

Do you know what a power winch is? Have you ever heard the expression "rear duals"? Whether these are familiar phrases or foreign terms, if you ever get a chance to visit an upfitter, do so. These companies are constantly pushing product lines, including telematics, for dozens of work trucks and vans toward a second finish line, with more sophisticated systems than the ones used on cars.

Just talk to a fleet manager who has many of both vehicle types in his or her fleet. Specifically, talk about how to get a particular tire that doesn't cost a fortune, which will last beyond 25,000 miles, and will keep your off-road driver from calling you names.

There are literally dozens of differences between cars and work trucks. How challenging can it get after you have a management-approved selector? (Presumably this covers your engine for best mpg). Eligibility, exterior and interior colors, and how many "portholes" are needed are also concerns.

I know I'm simplifying the role of the car fleet manager vs. the work truck boss. I know the "car guys" spend a lot of time working on safety, new products, and fuel economy. I know your rapport with your lessor, relationship with major vehicle suppliers, and building up your competence and trust with corporate execs is critical to you. Just don't tell a fleet manager there's little difference between a full-size truck and a compact car, because there is.

Now we come to the hard part. Work truck fleets run fewer miles than the typical car fleet, but companies hold these vehicles longer until they get into the costly area of maintenance, including preventive maintenance intervals. Every part of a work truck is driven harder.

Additionally, work truck fleet managers with upfit vehicles are under pressure to order the units that fit best to not only the work, but the budget and, yes, even the "green" needs of the business. To that end, they need to work with the upfitter on build-out and then ensure the vehicles are delivered on time to the necessary location.

And, that's just the beginning of the hard work. Because they're more specialized and driven longer and harder, work trucks have more unique maintenance needs (the aforementioned tires for one) than a traditional sedan fleet. 

While you may not be under so much pressure, time-wise, in vehicle selection you have to bear the bad news that goes with it. Much of your work truck fleet won't turnover until five to seven years have passed. But, don't worry about the division of time, because now you can count on maintenance to fill your timecard, since these hard-worn trucks are in service longer than a typical sedan. Uptime is critical for trucks, as fleet managers with these highly specialized fleets cannot do a replacement rental for a service truck with $5,000 worth of parts on board and specialty upfits for carrying products and materials.

One vote for the car fleet being more difficult to manage than the specialized, upfit work truck fleet may come from the fleet manager. The truck fleets are either out in the field or on the road, so you've got a limited group to monitor. The poor car fleet manager may have 1,500 sales reps, techs, and executives behind the wheel. And, you can bet everyone knows the fleet manager's name and phone number.

Now, whichever group you fall into, you can bet that the other fleet manager is green with envy about your situation. But, remember, the old saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence."


  1. 1. J Beiler [ June 26, 2014 @ 06:28AM ]

    There is a big difference, however I prefer the work truck and heavy equipment field, the complexity keeps things from getting boring!

  2. 2. Steve [ April 08, 2015 @ 01:58PM ]

    There are big differences between "cars" and "trucks" in the world of fleet management, but there are many similarities shared. For instance, both cars and trucks need keys to operate- meaning some sort of a key control solution will be necessary.

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Author Bio

Ed Bobit

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Former Editor & Publisher

With more than 50 years in the fleet industry, Ed Bobit, former Automotive Fleet editor and publisher, reflected on issues affecting today’s fleets in his blog. He drew insight from his own experiences in the field and offered a perspective similar to that of a sports coach guiding his players.

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