Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

Nobody Asked Me, But...

The More Things Change, The More They Actually Change

April 7, 2015, by - Also by this author

As we approach another NAFA Fleet Management Association Institute & Expo (I&E) — my 20th — it seems like a good time to pause and reflect a bit on how the event and the industry have changed over the years.

My first NAFA event was in 1994. The buildup to the week was incredible. Back then, it was a week-long adventure with the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA) conference taking place Wednesday through Saturday morning and NAFA I&E taking over Saturday afternoon, going through to the following Wednesday. You needed to pack a lot of clothes and some good walking shoes to get through the week. And, it goes without saying, you needed your golf clubs.

It was a long week, but it was the event in the fleet industry. There were literally thousands of fleet managers in attendance. Not press-release thousands, but really thousands. The aisles were packed for several days in a row. It didn’t matter if you were managing a public sector fleet, a commercial fleet, a truck fleet, a fleet of police vehicles, or even a Canadian or U.S.-domiciled fleet. These fleet managers were all there because of their shared interest in managing fleets of vehicles as efficiently and effectively as possible. And, of course, because we all enjoyed free golf, free food, and an open bar around every corner.

Fleet managers from the many and varied parts of the industry enjoyed swapping best practices and sharing war stories from the front lines of fleet management. But, even then there were cracks in the armor that should have given everyone pause to rethink the nature of the event in general.

The first group of attendees that lost enthusiasm for the event was the law enforcement membership. They rightly pointed out that 90 percent of the exhibitors and a similar-sized portion of the educational tracts did not apply to the police market. They longed for the days when they had their own, more intimate and more focused event that featured only law-enforcement issues.

Next, the divide between commercial and public sector fleets started to grow. Both groups felt like they were being overlooked in terms of awards, education, and vendor focus. And, both groups had legitimate concerns. Then, the utility guys over in the corner felt like everyone was ignoring them, which was particularly galling since they all had fleets of 5,000-10,000 vehicles.

Trying to be all things to all fleets in this case led the event to become a “jack of all trades and master of none.” You could pick any single group and they would give you chapter and verse about how they felt disenfranchised by the event and by the industry. But, this opened doors and opportunities for a lot of groups who were willing to rise to the challenge and create events that maybe weren’t as grand in scale as a NAFA event, but were more specialized, more focused, and more targeted to the needs of a specific group.
AFLA has picked up the mantle quite admirably for some of the commercial fleet crowd.

Bobit’s Government Fleet Conference has done quite well servicing the needs of the public sector and has now become the largest gathering of public sector fleet managers. And, a host of smaller, more focused events have grown over the years to serve the police market, truck fleet market, or those who are focused and specialized in safety, technology, and alternative fuels. This is truly the golden age of focused fleet education. It’s not all located in one place anymore, but it is better than ever.

Here we are, 20 years later and the fleet market is more vibrant and healthy than it has ever been. Our AF readership studies tell us that there are still thousands of fleet managers attending conferences and events each year. They are out there sharing stories, sharing best practices, and walking the exhibit halls of the events that were designed to meet their specific needs.

So, things have changed a lot over the years. And, so far that has been a good thing for everyone.


  1. 1. Barry Steel [ April 08, 2015 @ 11:49AM ]

    Sherb, a great look back as only a trur old-timer could share! I think that it is interesting to track the impact that technology and the decentralization of fleet information has both contributed to and created the opportunities for specialization. The “one-stop-shop” of fleet management via the traditional fleet management companies has been around for a long time. New entrants, with fewer barriers of entry, are creating niche businesses catering to the different segments that you mention in your article. Just as fleet management companies “specialized” in the old days, new competitors are creating their own value by diving deep into new segments.

Comment On This Story

Email: (Email will not be displayed.)  
Comment: (Maximum 10000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that comments may be moderated.

Fleet Incentives

Determine the actual cost of owning and running a vehicle in your fleet. Compare vehicles by class and model.


Fuel Management

Bernie Kanavagh from WEX will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Fleet Tracking And Telematics

Todd Ewing from Verizon Connect will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Fleet Management And Leasing

Jack Firriolo from Merchants will answer your questions and challenges

View All


Sponsored by

Cloud Computing is typically a synonym for Software as a Service (SaaS), where computing power, and an application, exist outside the client’s network, hosted somewhere on the Internet, behind the service provider’s firewalls.

Read more

Author Bio

Sherb Brown

sponsored by

Vice President and Group Publisher

Sherb Brown is the vice president and group publisher for BBM's AutoGroup. Sherb has covered the auto industry for more than 12 years in various positions with Bobit Business Media.

» More

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher