Just when you think you have the perfect fleet configuration, the unthinkable happens: your OEM discontinues a model your fleet has come to rely on. If your fleet faces this situation, here’s what to do.
Be (Mentally) Prepared
Finding out a vehicle will be discontinued can come as a shock. Your fleet selected this vehicle for a reason — what are you going to do now?
The City of El Paso, Texas, has seen a few police models go the way of the dinosaur. First, it was the Chevrolet Caprice in the ’90s and Chevrolet Camaro in the early 2000s, then the Ford Crown Victoria in 2011. Even though Ford gave customers a heads up about the model a year in advance, it still felt like a blow.
“There is a sense of disbelief at first; the customer base starts to ask questions concerning what the replacement vehicles will be, and we at the fleet division start to deal with vehicle part reductions,” said Milton Roberts, fleet maintenance manager. “When Chevrolet did the same thing [with the Camaro], our reaction was, ‘here we go again.’ ”
For Michael Brennan, CEM, fleet division manager, Manatee County, Fla., the impact was immediate: Early one morning, his fleet learned a specialty truck/rescue apparatus would be discontinued, and all pending orders canceled.
“Our reaction was simply, ‘Unbelievable!’ and we contacted our local dealer for more information as we had several units in the order stream,” he said.
When a vehicle will be discontinued, the sudden shift may take an emotional toll on the team, and users may be skeptical about the upcoming changes. Be prepared to listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and explain your plans to move forward.
Start Asking Questions
When you are making a plan for moving forward, Roberts suggested starting with questions like these:
- Will parts be available if the discontinued vehicles remain part of the fleet?
- Will this vehicle type continue to be serviced?
- What alternative models are available on the market?
- Do these alternatives meet user needs as well as the current vehicles? What are the benefits/drawbacks/trade-offs?
Based on the answers to these questions, fleets generally take one of two paths: stock up on vehicles or find a suitable replacement.
Pick a Path: Stock Up or Replace
The City of Spring Hill, Tenn., Police Department has traveled both paths: When GM discontinued the Chevrolet Impala PPV after model-year 2016, the department replaced them with the Chevrolet Caprice PPV.
This came with some trade-offs, said Don Brite, chief of police.
“The Caprice was an upgrade. It has more power and other components the Impala does not,” Brite said. “The one difference, however, was not having front-wheel drive as we did with the Impala, which benefited us during snow and ice storms.”
When the city learned the Caprice would also be discontined after model-year 2017, this time around it stocked up, purchasing 10 Caprices in the 2016/2017 budget year. This year Spring Hill will have to decide what to do when adding units without the Caprice as an option.
“The department will start to evaluate vehicles based on our needs and will make recommendations to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen [BOMA],” he said. “BOMA will consider the options based on our budget and the performance evaluations of other vehicles.”
At the City of El Paso, the chosen path was replacement, based on a number of factors such as maintainability, acquisition cost, and operating cost. The city chose the Dodge Charger.
“In this case, we also considered employee morale, since the vehicles were being used for public safety,” Roberts said.
Plan for Parts
If you plan to hang on to discontinued vehicles — and especially if you choose to stockpile them — you’ll want to make a plan for sourcing replacement parts and ensure resources are available to service the vehicles throughout their life cycles.
Chevrolet parts are available for many years after vehicles go out of production to help ensure smooth maintenance and replacement service throughout the life cycle of a police vehicle, said Dana Hammer, GM’s government sales manager.
However, fleets still experience problems.
Roberts said it’s been difficult finding replacement parts, but the fleet has found a workaround.
“The greatest challenge is the discontinuation of parts and services on the vehicle type. We are experiencing a shortage of electrical components and differential parts on the Chevrolet Camaro model-year 2002 and Crown Victoria model-years 2000 to 2008,” he said. “However, we are able to search cooperatives and buy-boards for alternative parts solutions.”
The Spring Hill Police Department experienced both scenarios. The first time the fleet faced a discontinuation, finding replacement parts wasn’t a problem.
“Finding aftermarket parts could be an issue, depending on the part [usually accessory parts]. But, for us, we did not have challenges with the Impala,” Brite said.
It was a different story with the Caprice. Dealerships ran out of stock for certain Caprice parts, and that has left vehicles undriveable. To avoid this situation, Brite recommended anticipating what parts may be needed and having a network of resources from which to buy them.
For Manatee County, the need for parts materialized over time.
“Initially parts were not an issue,” Brennan said. “After time went on, we began having to custom fabricate repair parts until we simply began decommissioning these units, using them for spare parts.”
Focus on the Positive
It may feel like a blow when vehicles are discontinued, but the news doesn’t have to be all bad. Roberts said fleets can see a number of improvements as a result.
“Better vehicle availability [when you need them], reduced environmental impact, and improved safety and public perception are all positives,” he said.
“A discontinued police vehicle provides an opportunity to evaluate the alternatives and find the best vehicle for their current needs,” Hammer from GM added. “Today, there are new alternatives like the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe PPV available in 4WD, which was not available just a few short years ago.”
Brennan agreed discontinuations can yield a positive result.
“We look at these challenges as opportunities to take an in-depth review of our mission requirements, and redesign specifications for vehicles and equipment that will not only meet current requirements, but incorporate the advancing technologies to better support operations well into the future,” he said