Tag Archives: Automotive

Controlling Fleet Costs Starts with Minimizing Repairs

Controlling fleet costs can be difficult for owners, as keeping so many vehicles in top shape can get very expensive, very quickly.

Whether you manage a fleet of passenger vehicles or commercial trucks, breakdowns are inevitable. While it is difficult to plan for worst case scenario situations and once in a lifetime events, preparing for more common issues can go a long way in reducing repair costs.

Common repairs tend to be seasonal: batteries in cold weather and AC repairs in the warm months, for example,” George Survant, Senior Director of Fleet Relations for the NTEA, said. “Tires can be a common problem, off-road driving and exposure to significant road debris are common contributors to tire issues, along with driving on underinflated tires. The last big category can be brakes. An extreme example is waste trucks. With so many short start-and-stop trips, the brake systems have short lives.”

Read More: Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming, but Won’t be Taking Over Anytime Soon

It might be easy to dismiss these common issues as insignificant, but the cost of fixing them can add up. Preventative maintenance is critical in keeping cost down. It is also important to consider long tern costs when designing new vehicles.

“The best way to manage cost for common repairs is through thoughtful truck design and preventive and predictive maintenance,” Survant said. “Changes in routine maintenance performed won’t prevent part failure, but they will reduce fleet operators’ costs in making the replacement. Making systems more robust in the design phase by building strength into the truck components will also reduce repair frequency. For example, specify ‘run-flat’ tires on trucks exposed to high amounts of road debris.”

Improving vehicle support systems can also help reduce the frequency of repairs, leading to reduced costs.

“Another way to reduce repair frequency is to improve support systems and ancillary features,” Survant said. “Engine block heaters and battery plug-in features on trucks reduce the strain on starting systems in extremely cold operating conditions. Beyond the support aids, a robust process of root cause analysis and pattern detection in your maintenance will often identify vehicle sub-systems that need improvement.”

Technology is more prevalent in vehicles than ever and it has led to a substantial increase in repair costs for fleet owners.

“Much of the new technology comes with built-in diagnostics but if built-in sensor features fail, it compounds challenges to effective diagnostic processes,” Survant said. “These new systems also have expensive components to replace upon failure, which drives up repair costs.”

Many of these new systems are so complex that they aren’t properly fixed the first time, leading to increased repair frequency.

“Many of the new generation features are delivered through electronic devices with multiple cards, or electronic components attached to a plug-in substrate, in the system,” Survant said. “Common repair techniques often involve ‘card swapping’ until the problem goes away. The flawed assumption here is that the problem is isolated to one card in the file when it can be a combination of two marginally operating cards in the file interacting with each other. This is compounded when you realize the technician swapping the cards continues the process until the problem goes away, which can result in returning marginally operating cards to the spares supply.”

Top Automakers Team Up on Self-Driving Safety Standard

A group of top automakers are teaming up to create safety standards and regulations for self-driving vehicles.

Ford, Toyota and General Motors released a joint statement announcing their partnership in drawing up standards for autonomous vehicle rules and regulations. According to reports, the trio of automakers will also partner with SAE international. The group will be called the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium. The group aims to “work to safely advance testing, pre-competitive development and deployment.”

Related: Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming, but Won’t be Taking Over Anytime Soon

As automakers pour more time and resources into autonomous vehicles, officials still struggle with how to regulate the new technology. Current NHTSA rules prohibit vehicles without any human controls like steering wheels or brake pedals.

Unfixed Recalls an Ongoing Issue

Fixing CarRecalls are an unfortunate part of the automotive industry and a significant portion of them are ignored by consumers, leading to as many as 70 million vehicles with unfixed recalls on the road.

Whether they are initiated by manufacturers or by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), it is likely that several recalls impacting millions of vehicles will occur each year.  Some are for small fixes and draw little fanfare while others, like the ongoing situation with Takata airbags, become national news.  Regardless of where the recalls come from, many experts have expressed concern over the high rate of unfixed issues.

“It is very difficult, as ownership of vehicles trades hands,” Indiana University Professor and Supply Chain Faculty Fellow George Ball, said. “Manufacturers do their best on this through mailings, but the fix rate is lower than it should be. This is something that has significant opportunities for improvement.”

Related: Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming, but Won’t be Taking Over Anytime Soon

According to a study by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), as many as 280 million vehicles have been recalled in the past 10 years.  With recall completion rates around 70%, that means as many as 70 million vehicles in need of fixes could still be on the road.

“The fix rates are low because the consumer has very little incentive to bring their car in,” Ball said.  “Unless they perceive a personal safety risk, they are unlikely to bring it in.”

According to the NHTSA website, manufacturers must notify owners of recalled vehicles by mail within 60 days of deciding to do so.  They must also provide a remedy for that recall, whether it be self-imposed or at the behest of the government.  Ball said dealerships can go a long way in helping get more vehicles fixed, but don’t always have the opportunity to do so.

“Dealers can help here by fixing the problem when the car comes in for something scheduled, like an oil change,” Ball said. “But many people don’t go to dealers for oil changes, opting instead for cheaper options like (quick lubes).”

The costs of these recalls can add up quickly, particularly larger ones.  While they can certainly cut into the bottom line, the cost of a recall isn’t always financial.

“Costs range widely because the units affected ranges so widely,” Ball said.  “It can range from a few hundred thousand to hundreds of millions. Costs can also be indirect, such as lost future sales or stock price, as well as the direct costs of repair or replacement costs.”

Volvo Introduces Cameras to Curb Drinking and Driving

Volvo has announced it will introduce a series of cameras and sensors the automaker says will curb drinking and driving.

According to reports, the cameras will monitor drivers for signs of drinking and driving and will limit speed, or in some cases park automatically, if the drivers eyes close or stray from the road for extended periods. Sensors will measure other factors, including driver’s reaction speed, weaving and steering. The automaker has not announced where the cameras or sensors would be located or how many of them there would be. They plan to introduce the system in the early 2020’s.

Read More: Proper Storage, Handling of Heat Transfer Oils Critical for Facility Success

The Swedish automaker has a reputation for creating safe vehicles and a history of safety innovations. They are credited with introducing the three point seatbelt in 1959 and developed the first rear facing child seat in 1964.

Volvo has not yet commented on whether police would be contacted if the system determined a driver has been drinking. It is also unclear whether the system will be available only on certain models or included in all new Volvos.

Takeaways from the 2019 NTEA Work Truck Show

The National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) hosted its annual Work Truck Show last week, March 5-8, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

While most tradeshows focus on innovation and new tech in passenger cars, the Work Truck Show caters exclusively to heavy duty vehicles used in a wide range of jobs. While the focus is a little different, this year’s Work Truck Show focused on some of the same issues that have also been hot topics for passenger car enthusiasts. Here are the top takeaways from the 2019 NTEA Work Truck Show:

Electricity and Green Trucks – Several manufacturers displayed new electric models at the show, while the NTEA hosted a green truck panel focused on the long-term goal of zero emission work vehicles. Freightliner brought its eM2 Class 7, a medium duty electric truck, a vehicle set for production in 2021. Fuso also brought the latest version of its eCanter truck, an electric vehicle designed for short term hauling in urban environments, while Spartan Motors introduced two electric vehicles of their own. While many believe we ar a long way from fully electrified fleets, it’s clear that heavy duty vehicle manufacturers have taken interest in the technology.

Diesel Still Rules – Electric trucks may be the future, but its clear diesel trucks aren’t going away any time soon. A majority of the trucks at this year’s show were diesel powered, including Navistar’s new International CV Class 4 and Class 5. Fuso, Isuzu, Ford, Nissan and several other manufacturers presented one or several new diesel vehicles.

Ford Fills Out its Lineup – Ford introduced a new F-600, a smaller, scaled down version of its F-650 chassis. The American automaker is the only company that produces a full line of trucks, from its F-150 all the way up through its F-750. Other American automakers also announced changes to their lineups, as Chrysler debuted commercial versions of its heavy-duty Ram pickup trucks and chassis cabs.

Inside the Cabin – Many of the automakers that presented showed off improved interior trims, onboard computers and other safety tech. The aforementioned Ram Heavy Duty trucks will include new and improved informational displays at all trim levels. Preco Electronics also announced updates to it’s blind spot platform Side Defender, adding new audio and visual alerts and improving its lane change assist feature.

Supplier Strikes Problematic for the Automotive Industry

A series of auto supplier strikes in northern Mexico could lead to significant issues for the entire North American automotive industry.

According to reports, workers from as many as 48 companies in the town of Matamoros have walked off the job, demanding a 20 percent pay increase and a bonus. This is resulting in losses of as much as $500,000 for some companies. Penalties for failing to deliver parts on time are adding to the losses. Industry experts believe continued work stoppages could catastrophically impact supply for the entire North American automotive industry.

While labor stoppages in Mexico are usually ended fairly quickly, industry insiders are concerned that strikes could spread to other towns. According to reports, suppliers have lost an estimated $50 million over the last 30 days.

BMW Introduces Interactive Tech at 2019 Mobile World Conference

Automakers have made their presence felt at the 2019 Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, introducing new tech and concepts for their vehicles.

BMW introduced its natural interaction system, which will allow drivers to use voice commands, gestures and eye contact to interact with their car.  The system uses sensors and speech recognition in combination with a variety of algorithms to perform tasks like opening windows, adjusting air vents or performing tasks on the onboard computer.  Drivers will also be able to ask questions about exterior objects.

The German automaker said the first phase of these functions will be available on the 2021 BMW iNext.

Autonomous Vehicles Are Coming, but Won’t be Taking Over Anytime Soon

While autonomous vehicles are drawing news coverage and wowing trade show attendees everywhere, a future of driverless cars and robotic busses is much farther off than the headlines would have you believe.

While many vehicle manufacturers are looking towards the future with intriguing concept vehicles and self-driving cars have hit the road in a few cities, numerous challenges still stand in the way of large scale automation that would drastically impact consumers or fleet owners.

“If fleet operators are concerned about the next five years, they shouldn’t be,” Bern Grush, founder of Grush Niles Strategic and author of “The End of Driving: Transportation Systems and Public Policy Planning for Autonomous Vehicles,” said.  “Nothing is going to happen in the next five years.  There are going to be tests and announcements and discussions in the news or demonstrations at tradeshows, but none of that is going to affect the actual work of fleets for the next several years.  Automation is coming, but it’s much more difficult than we are letting on.”

Related: Automotive Industry Showcases New Tech at 2019 Consumer Electronics Show

While autonomous vehicle technology has improved by leaps and bounds, little has been done in terms of urban planning to accommodate an influx of these vehicles.  Regulatory challenges will also have to be worked out.

“The actual automation is the easier part,” Grush said.  “The hard part will be the regulatory challenges, the deployment and the preparation of urban spaces.  All those issues are unsolved.  Most city streets are intended for a car to move through at the posted speed and for cars to park on the side.  When a taxi or a delivery vehicle stops in front of you to pick someone up or drop something off it disrupts traffic.  When automated vehicles come, the volume of people and goods being dropped off or picked is going to increase dramatically.”

Another concern surrounding autonomous vehicles is the potential for job loss.  While jobs may change, most autonomous vehicles will still require human intervention even if it isn’t directly behind the wheel.

“There are still going to have to be people, we have to watch these systems, we have to go out and help them if something happens, we have to make sure they are secure,” Grush said.  “It doesn’t take job count away, it changes the nature of operating a fleet.  It’s no longer a driving job, it’s now a customer care job.  It changes the training.”

In addition, Grush believes some vehicles, like service, repair and emergency vehicles, won’t gain much at all from being automated.

“The opportunity to run that vehicle without a human driver is pretty small,” Grush said. “Even if your truck drove itself to your jobsite, you would still have to do the job.  There wouldn’t be any job loss, there wouldn’t be a point in automating that vehicle other than to make it a little bit safer.”

While he primarily focuses his attention on urban environments, Grush said automation of highway vehicles like will likely come first, as it is a lot less complex.  However, even that is a long way off.

“I think we are going to see some automation on the highway, where one driver will be able to operate two trucks,” Grush said.  “I don’t think it’s going to happen for a while.  We might put two drivers in two trucks and have one operate the lead truck while the other sleeps in the second.  By law, truck drivers have to rest after a set number of hours, and this could allow a pair of trucks to not stop.”

While automating busses, taxis and delivery vehicles in an urban environment is possible, it is going to be much more challenging.

“It would not be impossible to automate, but it would be difficult,” Grush said.  “You would have to make sure the road was extremely well mapped and everything is well coordinated.  Snow has to be cleaned away.  There are a whole series of regulations that haven’t been sorted out that make things complicated not just for driving but for running the business.”

Still, it is apparent that automated vehicles will start becoming more common.  It is unclear exactly how these vehicles will change the business model for fleet owners, but steps can be taken to prepare.

“A fleet owner or operator is going to want to know how to transform their business from hiring drivers to managing automated vehicles,” Grush said.  “Say you have 300 vehicles.  You might want to start looking at trying to operate 10 of them as automatic vehicles five years from now.  There are cases of automated shuttles operating in small locations, like parking lots.  You want to watch that and when that technology is ready, you want to try to make a business out of something like that.”

 

 

 

More Automakers Announce Recalls Over Deadly Takata Airbags

Several automakers have announced recalls related to potentially deadly Takata airbags, with about 1.7 million vehicles expected to be impacted.

According to reports, vehicles from Subaru, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari and Daimler Vans are the latest in a long line of recalls.  Recalls are managed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  To date, 23 people have been killed and hundreds injured by the airbags, which can throw shrapnel at drivers when they deploy.  By the time the final phases of the recall are completed in 2020, as many as 70 million vehicles will have been recalled.

Some of the current rounds of recalls are limited to certain geographical regions of the United States.  Areas with high humidity and differentiating temperatures are the most likely to see problems with the airbags.  To see if your vehicle is being recalled, visit www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and enter your VIN number.

Ford to make $1 Billion Improvements at Chicago Facilities

Ford has announced it will spend $1 billion to update its assembly and stamping plants in Chicago while adding 500 new jobs.

According to reports, the automaker will begin updates March and be completed by the end of spring.  They will be building new body and paint shops at the facility and modifying the assembly area.  The improvements will include 3D printed tools and new robots to inspect electrical connections during the manufacturing process.  The improvements have become necessary as Ford prepares to launch three new SUVS, a redesigned Explorer, a redesigned Lincoln Aviator and a new police interceptor.

Ford has claimed it is the top producer and leading exporter of vehicles in the United States.  The automaker built almost 2.4 million vehicles in 2018.