Vehicle Research

Effective Communication Enhances Fleet Image

Increasing professionalism is helping drive fleet management out of the “dirty garage” stereotype. Effective communication with public officials, citizens, supervisors, and customers can further improve the image of fleet operations.

June 2011, Government Fleet - Cover Story

by Thi Dao - Also by this author


Some communication methods for improving fleet image include:

  • Engage with the public through the media, fairs, and tours.
  • Keep an open line of communication with user departments and supervisors and provide them with facts.
  • Promote recognition of fleet achievements to public officials.


While the image of fleet management has improved, many still don't know about its importance - or sometimes, its existence. Through effective communication, fleet managers can put their industry on the radar.

How Image Impacts Operations

Fleet maintenance is not "throwing parts" at a vehicle; it's not a simple task everyone can do. Fleet is an integral part of government operations that requires training and knowledge of technology, but some still think of it as a "dirty garage." It's important, then, that fleet managers lead the way in informing citizens and officials about fleet operations and dispel possible myths.

Some fleet managers report that the public is aware of fleet operations. "Vehicle-related issues resonate - for example, the average citizen can relate to the concept of a take-home vehicle and what it is worth because they know what it takes to buy, maintain, and fuel their own vehicle," said Rick Hilmer, CAFM, fleet administrator for Prince George's County in Maryland.

Others haven't had the same experience. "I think the public generally doesn't have much of a view about us because they don't know we exist," said Gary McLean, fleet manager for the City of Lakeland, Fla. "Common misperceptions that I've run into is that we're not really accredited or educated like other management positions, that we're basically just running the maintenance side of things."

And then there are those who are misinformed about fleet. People, mostly males, "tend to consider themselves mechanically inclined, even if the only repair they've ever performed on their personal vehicle is changing a flat [tire] or engine oil and filter," said Stephen Kibler, ACFM, fleet manager for the City of Loveland, Colo. "They witness a government vehicle sitting in a parking lot and assume all city vehicles are underutilized."

It's also seen as a non-professional department. "They think it's still a 'grease monkey' operation," said Ernie Ivy, director of fleet management for the City and County of Denver. "Many people don't realize how highly technical this profession has become."

When others see fleet management as a replaceable or less-than-professional service, it makes it an easier target come time for budget reviews, budget cuts, and talks of outsourcing - making it all the more important to communicate the role fleet plays in government services.

Asserting the Importance of Fleet

How can fleet management assert the importance of fleet? Consider highlighting the following facts:

Expertise: "Like most municipalities, our fleet is made up of 28 different classes of vehicles and equipment," Kibler said. "The misconception is that the local lube shop can service a fire truck for their $29.99 special." Ask any local shop and chances are, they don't service the variety of equipment fleet management does. Make sure people know this - Loveland's local shop doesn't service equipment, and officials didn't know it.

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