You can’t take a step in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco without dodging a jackhammer or bulldozer. Five years ago, Dogpatch consisted of dilapidated waterfront warehouses; today it’s transforming into a community of galleries, communal workspaces, and urban lofts.
The Auto Group at Bobit Business Media doesn’t usually choose this type of area for its events, but we felt The Pearl, a converted warehouse in Dogpatch, offered a mix of artsy, gritty chic that worked for the Fleet Forward Conference, which convened last week. It’s not ideal to have construction cranes hovering near your rooftop party, but the neighborhood’s rapid conversion mirrors the transformation in the automotive and transportation industries.
Fleet Forward Conference drew attendees from the incumbents of these industries, including the major fleet management and car rental companies, auto manufacturers, and dealers. These groups produce, manage, and sell millions of vehicles globally, and they’re all on new paths to figure out the future.
As a reflection, they’re reorganizing management with new positions and teams under the heading of mobility. Smaller companies are pivoting and rebranding with the name mobility in the title. Global brands from long-established industries are setting up tech incubators in San Francisco and populating them with Stanford grads. “I never thought I’d be working in tires,” was overheard at the show.
And then there were the fleets themselves, the managers from commercial, government, corporate, and rental fleets, who traveled from all areas of North America as well as Europe and South America to attend. They were joined by new types of fleets and providers, from carsharing and peer-to-peer networks to transportation network companies (TNCs) and last-mile delivery fleets.
These diverse business and fleet types seemingly make strange seat fellows at an industry conference. But these worlds are converging on the path to autonomous vehicles, when the great majority of vehicles will be owned fleets. We discussed the roles fleets will play in a world of autonomous vehicles and outlined strategies to deploy Fleet Management as a Service (FMaaS), the enabler for autonomous fleets.
That’s exciting for the future — but what about today? The conference presented solutions that addressed more immediate concerns:
Peer-to-peer consumer rental companies such as Turo or HyreCar, which rent to Uber and Lyft drivers, in addition to individual owners are now also supplied by “commercial hosts” — fleet owners managing five to 2,000 cars. These new fleets have all the traditional issues of fleet management. They networked with fleet vendors at the conference for the first time.
Parking is driving change. The trend is to build fewer spaces in the advent of autonomy, which is driving parking prices even higher. One fleet manager from San Francisco is considering carsharing because “the cost of parking is higher than the depreciation on some of my vehicles.”
The rising costs to build parking garages are driving developers to talk to Envoy, an electric vehicle carsharing company, to set up carsharing programs serving new residential buildings and corporate campuses, allowing developers to build fewer parking spaces. As a result of deploying carsharing, the developer saved $8 million, the cost of a second underground parking level.
Setting up a sharing program for fleets isn’t easy — the research, senior management buy-in, and user education shouldn’t be underestimated. But if you run a paper-based pool fleet that is admin heavy and lacking vehicle accountability, the need for efficiencies are urgent.
Such was the case for the County of San Joaquin, Calif., which demonstrated at the conference how it evolved its pool program to a carsharing system. The county fleet size has been reduced by 56 vehicles to date, saving $1.7 million in replacement costs.
The safety seminar addressed a growing issue: Drivers may develop a false sense of complacency at the wheel when relying on newly available autonomous safety technology. With new models moving beyond Level II autonomy, this problem will only grow until full autonomy is reached.
As gridlock grows, municipalities are reaching out to various stakeholders to alleviate congestion and reduce vehicle emissions. For this reason, telematics provider Geotab collected aggregated fleet data that was shared with city planners.
In Detroit, this data was used to time traffic lights to allow better flow of commercial vehicles at certain times of day, which resulted in a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in that corridor while improving fleet fuel economy by 22%.
These are instances of real savings realized today based on partnerships and strategies with new tech companies, fleet vendors, and fleets of all stripes in the room. Like the Dogpatch neighborhood, the fact that many of these companies didn’t exist five years ago is a testament to disruption, but more importantly to new opportunities.
The goal of Fleet Forward Conference, simply, is to make fleets more efficient — just with a new set of tools on the path that lies ahead. Another refrain overheard at the event: “I didn’t know anyone, which was great.” That’s exactly the point.