I had the opportunity recently to visit with Adriano Melluzzo, vice president of industry sales for Ryder Systems Fleet Management Solutions, Miami, to gain some understanding of the company’s strategies for getting the best reliability, dependability, performance and lowest cost of operation out of its vehicles used in beverage transportation.

Melluzzo echoed what has been discussed in previous columns: that good truck spec’ing begins with deciding upon expectations and requirements for your vehicles; and that total cost of ownership is more important than initial acquisition cost.

Melluzzo recommended that fleets make an evaluation to determine how their current vehicles have performed, both operationally and cost- wise. “This is all the more reason for owners to have a formal maintenance program in place so as to be able to identify reoccurring problems and measure life-cycle cost,” he explained.

Fleets also need to consider how their business may change in the years ahead, and make sure that new equipment has additional capacity for growth. He further advised looking for new technology that will lower overall running cost and fuel efficiency.

“The trend in the beverage business has been to go with a tractor trailer combination (bulk delivery) in lieu of traditional side-loader trucks or trailers,” Melluzzo said. “This enables distributors to consolidate the delivery to pallets and carry more products without the expense of additional drivers and vehicles.

“In addition, if the trailer unit is down for maintenance, it is much easier to replace it with another van trailer instead of replacing the entire truck or carrying the expense of a specialized unit (side loader) as a spare.”

As for cab configuration, Melluzzo said the choice of a conventional cab design or a cab-over-engine model is typically decided by a fleet’s radius of operation. “If deliveries are in metro cities like New York City, Boston, Los Angeles or Chicago, a cabover design is preferred due to the maneuverability and visibility,” he said. “Conventional style cabs are favored for deliveries in suburbs or rural areas for their comfort, as turning radius is not an important factor.”

Vehicles in the beverage industry are almost exclusively spec’d with automatic transmissions, Melluzzo said, because they require less training to operate, are easier to use, allow improved productivity and safety, and are often preferred by drivers.

Asked if on-board electronics and diagnostics can help fleets develop better fuel economy and preventive maintenance practices, Melluzzo answered “Yes.” He cited Ryder’s Web-based fleet management tool, FleetCare, as an example of some of the benefits and advantages of these technologies. It offers immediate Internet access to a variety of performance metrics, such as vehicle maintenance schedules, service calls, vehicle specifications and fuel purchases.

“Reports can be customized and sorted in a variety of ways to analyze information by location or vehicle,” Melluzzo explained. “Our customers have told us that they find the tool to be extremely valuable in helping manage and track their fleet performance by location. Scorecard reports are automatically delivered to sales and operations people monthly, giving them the ability to analyze fleet performance and make better business decisions.

While all fleets want to spend as little money as possible when acquiring a new truck, Melluzzo said it makes sense to look at the life-to-date (LTD) ownership cost, rather than initial acquisition cost.

Vehicle maintenance also needs to be considered when acquiring new vehicles, and Melluzzo suggested contract maintenance as an option. Some maintenance agreements have a guaranteed maintenance cost, which “enables companies to better budget their fleet operating cost with no surprises,” he said.

Contract maintenance

Considering outsourcing your vehicle maintenance? Ryder Systems recommends asking these key questions of a contract maintenance provider:

• Is the network of locations that will service your needs within your radius of operation?

• Do their service personnel carry truck technician certifications?

• What is the tenure of their service technicians?

• What percentage of the maintenance work is done in house?

• Does the maintenance provider measure customer satisfaction, vehicle downtime, reoccurring repairs and overdue PMs?

• Can the maintenance provider give you access to their maintenance management tool to help you better manage your fleet?