There is uncertainty about the reliability of new diesel engines required by the 2007 diesel emission standards. The increased cost of the new engines versus those they replaced has caused consternation. “There is also concern about the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) in older heavy-duty vehicles, especially fire apparatus,” said Brochtrup. Another concern is the lubricity additives necessary for older diesel engines still in fleet operation. “This will need to be monitored with precision,” said Kevin Browning, fleet manager for the City of Leesburg, Fla. In addition to lubricity additives, particulate traps must be retrofitted to older diesel engines. However, delivery of particulate traps and installation has not been timely. “Even starting a year before the deadline date to get them installed, we are still waiting months for delivery,” said Robert LaRoche, CAFM, fleet maintenance manager for the City of Glendale Water & Power in California.
Across the board, fleet operating costs have increased. “The price of fuel has increased, as have tire and parts prices, but there have been no budgetary increases,” said Dave Cole, mechanical maintenance & warehouse administrator for the City of Glendale, Calif.
Funding for vehicle replacement is an ongoing struggle. “I am always showing lifecycle costs to new bosses and at budget time fighting the ‘just one more year’ response!” said Collins Downing, manager, transportation & parking for Loyola College of Maryland. Many fleet managers agree with this assessment. “As always, there’s never enough necessary funding for vehicle replacement, and fleet managers always have to fight for what they get,” said Dennis Tucker, fleet operations manager for the Illinois State Police.
If the problem was not so serious, the lack of qualified technicians would elicit a “so what else is new” sigh. But the rate of retirements at many fleet operations makes this shortage a pressing issue. Fleets are finding it difficult to locate replacements for vacant or soon-to-be-vacated positions. “There is an overall lack of qualified technicians entering the mechanical maintenance field that makes it difficult to replace our retiring veteran mechanics,” said Cole of the City of Glendale, Calif. Specific specialties are suffering even more severe shortages. “Good mechanics, especially diesel mechanics, are proving hard to find. I expect this trend to continue. Current demand for this skill set exceeds the supply available in the labor pool, and young people do not seem attracted to this career field in sufficient numbers to meet projected demand,” said Judkins of Hennepin County. The demographics of public sector technicians are skewed toward middle age and older. There has been a variety of initiative to attract younger technicians to work for public sector fleet operations. Some fleets have sought to set up an apprenticeship program, but have found it difficult to do so. “I have attempted to set up internship programs with the local technical programs in area high schools. Given our budget restraints, I cannot compete with the OEMs that have far more perks to offer. So, we are short of technicians, as are most fleets I know,” said David Higgins, director of central fleet maintenance for the City of Boston. One stumbling block is that public sector compensation is often not competitive with the private sector. “Technicians seem to only consider ‘take-home pay’ early in their careers and do not factor in the reduced risk and additional benefits of government employment until they are near retirement. It is difficult to attract and retain exceptional, young, and talented technicians to government jobs,” said members of the fleet management team of San Bernardino County in California. There is strong competition for technicians in the job market. “Although we have recently hired a number of new technicians, the challenge remains to find not only qualified technicians, but ones that have a strong work ethic. In government, we are also competing with private sector shops that typically compensate at a higher rate, so we are left to find those candidates who want job security, benefits, and are qualified — all in the same person,” said John Clements, manager, fleet operations for San Diego County. The shortage of technicians also impacts the amount of time fleets can devote to technician training. “Staffing restrictions don’t allow enough time for specialty training without interrupting workflow,” said Stephen Kibler, fleet manager for the City of Loveland, Colo. Training is becoming more critical as new vehicle technologies are introduced. “Training on newer vehicle technologies, such as hybrid vehicles, 2007 diesel emission controls, and particulate traps, is a challenge,” said Richard Battersby, fleet manager for Contra Costa County, Calif.
Public sector fleets, due to EPACT and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, have been in the forefront of mandated alt-fuel vehicle acquisitions. “We are continuing along the path of alternative fuels and hybrid technology, said Brochtrup of the City of Coppell, Texas. “The trick is that I must move to a greener fleet that can accomplish the multitude of municipal tasks, while maintaining costs as budgeted.” Many fleets are likewise attempting to balance political concerns to create a greener fleet against the realities of cost-effective fleet management. “Our top challenges revolve around alternative-fuel costs. Very few good answers are available, but there are some that can provide advantages. For instance, I am currently pursuing the possibility of bringing E-85 infrastructure to our facility. Part of the advantage would be to make the product available to other local government fleets. There are two specific challenges associated with this initiative. First is to create the logistical and administrative structure that makes it possible to sell fuel to other agencies. Second, to find and take advantage of the funding available,” said Alan Brown, fleet manager for the City of Littleton, Colo. Fleets are also finding it difficult to acquire OEM-produced alt-fuel vehicles to meet EPACT mandates. “EPACT mandates continue to be a challenge as the OEMs scramble to determine what vehicles will sell in the retail market. Ethanol is not an option in California at this time, and it may not become one. Natural gas vehicles, which are my programs fuel of choice, have very limited options beyond the Honda Civic GX and a few others for general-purpose fleet vehicles. In my long-term planning process, it is difficult to know where the industry is going. I read something new every day. Certified conversions exist to re-plumb vehicles to CNG, but at a cost-prohibitive expense,” said Lewis of UCLA. Fleet concerns about alternative fuels vary by the region of the country. “Many Midwestern cities and states are mandating the use of flex-fuel vehicles, but the lack of police vehicles that are E-85-capable are making it difficult to buy ‘police-certified’ vehicles since only one of the four are flex-fuel and that one is the most expensive,” said Tucker of the Illinois State Police. In addition to the difficulties in acquiring OEM alt-fuel vehicles, fuel quality is an issue. “With B-20, the bio-portion seems to have varying quality. We have gone through quite a few fuel filters and have had some algae grow in our diesel tank, but that was easily fixed with an additive. The fuel providers still seem reluctant to provide anything but traditional fuels and are quick to blame any problems on any fuel that does not come from an oil refinery,” said Roberts of the University of Minnesota.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet