In the first-ever “Fleet Car & Truck of the Year” awards, presented by Business Fleet and Automotive Fleet magazines, the 2004 Chevrolet Malibu and Ford F-150 found themselves as the leaders of their respective packs. Chosen from a field of 19 passenger vehicles, the Malibu was noted by voters for its affordability, dependability, and roominess. “It’s a competitively-priced vehicle,” said Don Walker, a technical services manager for the City of Fort Worth, Texas. “It was offered on a low-bid and as far as dependability goes, we’ve had fairly good luck with it.” “They have a low initial cost and in terms of the cost of operations, it’s not difficult to obtain parts and get repairs done,” agreed Byron Long, a transportation engineering assistant for Memphis Light, Gas and Water. “Malibus [of varying years] are used in our fleet and all have performed well.” Still, although a nicely priced vehicle package can attract the interest of fleet managers, one key aspect of the Malibu that makes business vehicle operators take a second look is its ample space in the interior and trunk. “And compared to some other cars, the interior room is accessible to our drivers,” Long noted. At the AAA offices in St. Louis, Fleet Coordinator Elizabeth Umbach said the generous trunk space was one factor in switching over to the Malibu from a Pontiac Grand Am. “The adjusters use the vehicles and I know the trunk space is good for them,” she told Business Fleet. “That was one of the issues we had [previously]. They don’t necessarily use ladders but they do carry many different things with them.” Ford F-150 Takes Light-Duty Truck Honors On the light-duty truck side of the awards spectrum, the F-150 beat out 13 competitors. The vehicle has been the best-selling truck in the United States for more than 25 years, and fleet managers are not surprised. “They are good trucks and seem to be holding up real good too,” said Fleet Manager Rick Smith of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Police Department. Hired six years ago, Smith says F-150s have been the only trucks they use. “I’m normally a General Motors man myself, but we’ve been getting really good service from Ford. Any kind of problem we have, they’re always there to help us,” Smith said. Besides dependability and service, another added incentive of Ford’s bread-and-butter vehicle is its alternative-fuel capabilities. “We buy the F-150s because we buy alternative-fuel vehicles,” said Kenneth Caddell, shop supervisor at South Carolina’s Berkeley Electric Cooperative. “We buy the trucks that run on a unilateral LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). It’s a business so they’re purchased basically for their function.” In the United States, F-150 models are available that use flexible fuel, propane and natural gas. Walker mentioned that the City of Fort Worth also purchases the Ford trucks because of their ability to run on propane. But trucks aren't sold on fuel alone, and the latest model of the F-150 has had stylistic changes as well -- and fleet managers are not complaining. Explains Fleet Manager Brian Williams of the Austin Powder Company in Cleveland, “Of all the new products that came out, I liked that one. I like the upgrades and the look. It’s different and has a much more aggressive stance to it.” GM, Ford Attend Awards Presentation at Fleet Expo Both GM and Ford told Business Fleet they were proud of the fleet awards. Chris Hoolehan, regional fleet/commercial manager for GM Fleet and Commercial Operations, and Len Dixon, regional sales manager for Ford North American Fleet, Lease & Remarketing Operations, were both on hand to accept the distinctions at this year’s Fleet Expo in Secaucus, N.J. “We are pleased to receive the Automotive Fleet Car of the Year Award for the Chevrolet Malibu,” said Brian McVeigh, general manager of GM Fleet and Commercial Operations. “The all-new 2004 Malibu is building on a strong, quality reputation and going even further with excellent refinement, a dynamic driving experience and thoughtful innovation.” “To give you an idea of the importance of the F-150, it has been the best selling truck in the United States for 26 straight years,” said Jerry Frick, director of commercial and government operations for Ford North American Fleet, Lease & Remarketing Operations. “Since its inception in 1948, more than 28.7 million units have been sold -- something we at Ford are very proud of.” “Ford Motor Company has made a massive commitment to both our retail and fleet customers in bringing out the new F-150,” said Kevin Koswick, executive director for Ford North American Fleet, Lease & Remarketing Operations. “We are absolutely delighted that the readers of Automotive Fleet and Business Fleet have awarded us with the Truck of the Year for the F-150.” As Koswick noted, the fleet awards were given based on votes from professional fleet managers, making them all the more significant and industry-specific. Unlike other industry publications where traditionally, vehicles of the year are chosen by the magazine editors, the Fleet Car & Truck of the Year awards are voted on by the same professional fleet managers who face daily challenges in operating business vehicles. According to Edward J. Bobit, chairman and CEO of Bobit Publishing and editor of Automotive Fleet, the awards were handled this way to make them more meaningful to the industry. In terms of numbers, the commercial fleet audiences of the two magazines represent buyers of more than 3 million vehicles, nearly 20 percent of all domestic car and truck sales. Also, fleet purchase decisions tend to involve more rational thinking rather than emotional considerations, according to Bobit. “Fleet managers make their purchase choices after careful deliberation -- studying specifications, operating costs and projected resale values,” Bobit said. “Their companies demand professional evaluation, as the vehicles bought represent a huge volume of investment dollars.” The first-ever fleet awards were announced in May. Up until the announcement of winners in October, thousands of fleet managers voted through an online poll listed on the two magazines’ Web site,