Preparing Today for the Alternative Fuel Future

For many on-highway fleets, alternative vehicles are a future vision. Vehicle performance, grid infrastructure, and the driver experience have dominated the buzz about their entrance into the medium- and heavy-duty market.

But once alternative fuel vehicles are here, are maintenance and operations teams prepared to meet the challenge?

State of Change in Fleet Management

In recent years, change has been the norm for fleet maintenance. Onboard computers, virtual diagnostics, aftertreatment systems — new vehicle components have been a way of life for technicians, along with the need for continual learning and development. As with the 2007 diesel particulate filter (DPF) mandate of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, technicians have had to be quick studies in new technologies.

As carriers of all sizes look to the future of their operations, they will have to build out the in-house expertise necessary to maintain their future assets at scale, including electric vehicles (EVs) and others. Those vehicles, for their part, have warranties, maintenance concerns, procedures, nomenclature, and specifications that are particular to their original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

Adjusting to the different vehicles in their fleet, maintenance teams will have to become something like mix masters — spinning the right lineup with the flexibility to change on the fly.

Lighter Maintenance Lift in the Long Run

Alternative fuel vehicles promise to save carriers on fleet upkeep and downtime.

For one, the operational and maintenance costs of electric and hybrid vehicles are already lower than traditional internal combustion engines. The declining cost of batteries is also likely to bring purchasing parity to all but the most heavy-duty, long-distance routes in the next five years. Even today, the phasing out of Class 8 diesel trucks, in which fuel costs equal half the total cost of ownership, will free up significant operating expenses for fleets. It will also result in a lower total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the vehicle.

Beyond savings on fuel, maintenance requirements for electric vehicles are also traditionally lighter, less costly lifts than conventional vehicles. There is just less to look after. Electric trucks have about 40% fewer parts for technicians to inspect and maintain. In addition, many of the components of an EV, including the battery, motor, and supporting electronics, do not warrant regular maintenance.

The Future of Alternative Vehicle Maintenance Starts Today

Fleets can take decisive steps today and prepare for the influx of new vehicle types.

With the aid of predictive analytics, fleet operators can accurately evaluate and address concerns around the cost and operational range of their alternative vehicles while leveraging existing investments in technology, vehicles, and data.

Many repair shops today have a partial or imprecise view of how their maintenance activity impacts their bottom line. With unfamiliar vehicle types, maintenance presents new challenges to a fleet-wide understanding of both vehicle uptime and utilization.

The breakdown in a single part of the maintenance supply chain can create a backlog of cases. To run routes with confidence, fleet managers need a comprehensive view of vehicle risk and reliability. A combined predictive and prescriptive view of maintenance — which begins with data integrity and work-order optimization — slows the cycle of unplanned, reactive maintenance and empowers maintenance teams to schedule and prioritize high-impact service.

Preparing Your Fleet for the Alternative Fuel Future

All signs point green, and sooner rather than later. By eliminating low-value repairs, mitigating the risk of roadside breakdown, enhancing vehicle reliability, and planning spare parts inventory, shop managers are able to organize a more cost-effective approach to vehicle health.

Across the entire fleet, optimized maintenance results in maximized driver earnings, more efficient technicians, and a greater ability to meet delivery obligations. Before alternative vehicle adoption picks up in earnest for fleets of all sizes, optimized shop operations can ready maintenance teams for the transition.

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