• Gray Nissan SUVSport-utility vehicles and crossovers in November hit their highest share of new vehicle sales in eight years compared with sales of cars and pickups, according a USA TODAY analysis of Edmunds data.

    The analysis for November sales since 2002 shows an uptick for SUVs and crossovers (SUV-style vehicles on a car chassis) to 32.4% of new vehicle sales last month, up from 29% a year ago and 25.9% in 2008.

    With gas prices rising — now more than $3 a gallon for regular nationally — the comeback is a sign that family haulers are beginning to shake their image as gas guzzlers.

    "SUVs are getting slowly but surely more fuel-efficient," says Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Edmunds.com. "It's just becoming easier and easier to justify buying them."

    Regular gas averaged $3.06 a gallon Wednesday in AAA's daily survey, up 20 cents from a month ago and 45 cents from a year ago. But it remains far from the $3.50-a-gallon level that Alec Gutierrez, Kelley Blue Book's lead valuation analyst, says it would take to start dramatically crimping SUV demand.

    In addition, many new SUVs no longer have heavy truck frames, but are car-based, with unibodies that integrate that frame and body. That cuts weight and raises gas mileage.

    Do newer, more efficient SUVs and crossovers have any place in your fleet operations?  Let us know in the comments.

    [via USA Today]

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  • United States Marshal MetalSometimes employees take your fuel into their own hands…as happened with a U.S. government agent recently in Washington, D.C.  Perhaps he could have been stopped sooner if his agency had used a fuel management solution! Here’s the story, courtesy of Business Fleet:

    An investigator with the U.S. Marshals Service has been accused of using his government fleet charge card to fill his personal vehicle with gas, according to the Washington Post.

    A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court alleges that Peter F. Rouse charged more than $1,000 between August 2009 and December. The charges were unauthorized.

    A special agent with the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General wrote in an affidavit that Rouse's supervisors first became suspicious of the charges in 2009, when Rouse's charges were higher than those of other employees in the Washington area. Authorities found charges from Rouse on weekends and holidays when he wasn't working. Also, quantities of gas pumped exceeded the capacity of the Crown Victoria assigned to Rouse.

    Also, a surveillance video corresponded with one $67.58 June 12 charge at a gas station that showed someone resembling Rouse pumping gas into a pickup trick, court papers say. And a Nov. 16 video from a College Park service station where a $51.01 charge was made on the fleet card shows Rouse pulling his Ford F-150 up to the pump.

    Rouse, who has been with the U.S. Marshals Service since 1999, was placed on administrative leave on Dec. 21.

    Photo courtesy of Bill Tracey and re-used under the Creative Commons license.


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  • 5 Dollar BillWe’ve spent a lot of time talking about the rise in gas prices lately, so here’s an even more chilling prediction from a former oil industry insider on just how extreme the problem could become soon:

    Americans could be paying $5 for a gallon of gasoline by 2012, thanks to growing global demand for oil, tighter supplies, and inadequate responses by the U.S. government, according to former President of Shell Oil John Hofmeister in a recent interview with Platts Energy Week television.

    "If we stay on our current course, within a decade we're into energy shortages in this country big time," said Hofmeister, who retired from Shell in 2008 and now heads a grass-roots group called Citizens for Affordable Energy.

    Hofmeister projected "blackouts, brownouts, gas lines, rationing," and lack of sufficient energy for American consumers, causing oil companies to increasingly look outside the U.S. for drilling options.

    Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst with Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), said Americans will see gasoline prices hit the $5 a gallon mark in the next decade, but not by 2012, reported by CNNMoney.com.

    A recent OPIS study indicated fuel prices are up 13.6 percent from last December and 76 percent higher than December 2008.

     

    With gas on the rise, it’s more important than ever to save money on fuel.  Stay with FleetCards USA for the latest on saving and fueling wisely.

    [via Automotive Fleet]

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  • On December 15, the City of Torrance, Calif. became the first city to participate in Honda's new electric vehicle demonstration program.

    Honda launched the program with Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto and American Honda Motor Co., Inc. President and CEO Tetsuo Iwamura conducting the first public test drive of a Fit EV prototype and an Accord Sedan test vehicle outfitted with a new two-motor plug-in hybrid system.

    The City of Torrance, along with Stanford University and Google Inc., will each receive a Fit EV for testing starting in 2011. In addition, the city of Torrance will test a plug-in hybrid as a part of the program in 2012. Each of the three demonstration program participants will conduct general testing as well as evaluating specific and distinct issues related to the introduction of electric vehicles.

    The Fit EV Concept made its world debut Nov. 17 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The production Fit EV will be introduced to customers in the U.S. and Japan in 2012.

    When the City receives its Fit EV and plug-in hybrid, it will be evaluating the technologies with a focus on charging infrastructure development, promotion of sustainable community initiatives, and to building public awareness about electric vehicles.

    The Fit EV will have a top speed of 90 mph and can be recharged in less than 12 hours when using a conventional 120v outlet, and less than six hours when using a 240v outlet, according to Honda.

    Achieving an estimated 100-mile driving range per charge, driving range can be maximized by use of an innovative 3-mode electric drive system, adapted from the 2011 Honda CR-Z sport hybrid. The system allows the driver to select between Econ, Normal, and Sport to maximize efficiency or improve acceleration.

    [via Automotive Fleet]

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  • Gasoline prices have hit a two-year high heading into the holiday season, according to the New York Times.

    Retail gas prices have been rising briskly over the last month, tracking crude oil prices, which rose on surging imports by China and a weakening of the dollar, reported the Times.

    The average national price of gas rose over the last week to $2.98 a gallon, up from $2.90, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Although specialists say prices have probably peaked for the month, the price at the pump is now 35 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.

    The Oil Price Information Service has estimated that consumers will pay $34 billion this month for gasoline, up from about $27.6 billion in December 2009.

    A 10-percent rise in crude oil prices in the last three weeks, to as much as $90, has been particularly onerous to a few regions of the country, such as parts of Long Island and New England, which still depend on heating oil. On Dec.10, oil prices fell by 58 cents, ending the day at $87.79.

    The Energy Department has estimated that oil demand in 2010 rose 1.7 percent, or 320,000 barrels a day, from last year. The department expects that demand will increase an additional 0.9 percent, or 170,000 barrels a day, in 2011. The nation now consumes 19.1 million barrels a day.

    In its Dec. 10th report, the energy agency raised its global forecast for crude oil demand for 2011, but it still projects only a modest increase of 1.4 million barrels a day from 2010 levels, to 88.8 million barrels a day. That compares to an increase of 2.4 million barrels a day in 2010 over 2009, reported the Times.

    [via Automotive Fleet]

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  • Commercial vehicles will become cleaner, more fuel-efficient — and more expensive — when fuel economy and carbon emission standards that the federal government proposed in October begin to take effect.

    The standards, mandated by President Obama last May and proposed jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, present the first-ever attempt to institute industry-wide regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel use at the same time.

    The regulations will become final in July 2011 and are scheduled to become effective with 2014 model year trucks.

    The government is putting forward “a strong and comprehensive national program that will oversee fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, whether pickups, vans, buses or semi-trucks,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Oct. 25 when he announced the proposed standards.

    “A clear national standard will lead to more fuel-efficient vehicles and help lower fuel costs for drivers,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said during a conference call with the news media.

    All on-road vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 8,500 pounds and more are included. Exceptions are those cars and light trucks above that weight covered under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for model years 2012-2016.

    The proposed standards group commercial trucks into three broad groups with several sub-categories in an effort to account for commercial trucks’ many sizes, types and duty cycles.

    The standards strike what some industry executives and fleet managers have said is an equitable balance between the government’s drive to reduce pollution and fossil fuel use by the truck transportation sector, and that sector’s need to see a return on investment.

     “This is probably the only regulation, at least from EPA, that I’ve seen in doing this line of work over the last 20 years, that is actually going to be getting us something back in return,” said Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations.

    [via Light and Medium Truck]

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  • Ford Motor Co. expects commercial plug-in vans and trucks to be as important to the emerging electric vehicle market as sales to consumers in dealer showrooms.

    That's why the automaker is getting in early.

    Ford began shipping its all-electric Transit Connect Tuesday, becoming the first large automaker to produce a commercial, plug-in van for the U.S. market in larger volumes.

    The Dearborn automaker estimates that electric fleet vehicles will constitute about 50 percent of the total electric market over the next 10 years, compared to just a sliver of that market going to pure electric cars. Gas-electric hybrids, like those on the roads today, will account for a larger share of the pie, Ford believes, followed by plug-in hybrids.

    Analysts, too, say electric vehicles are well-suited for fleet operators and they could make up a sizeable share of early adopters for plug-in cars and trucks. But some automakers, such as General Motors Co., plan to stick with consumer sales for now. GM believes it can make a bigger dent in the marketplace this way.

    The $57,400 electric Transit Connect will have a range of 80 miles and come with a 10-year, 120,000 mile warranty, which reflects typical commercial use.

    The automaker will ramp up full production of the electric Connect in April, making 600 to 700 vehicles in the first year, and start production in Europe next summer. Comparatively, Ford has sold about 30,000 gas-powered Connects. The vehicle was launched last year.

    Ford is targeting small businesses and fleet operators who travel defined routes, tend to park in the same location and know how far they'll go each day. A typical commercial vehicle travels an average of 41 miles a day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Until then, the market is wide open for Ford, and it could be a fast-growing one in the early stages of electric vehicles sales, said Oliver Hazimeh, head of management consultant PRTM's global e-Mobility Practice. Fleet sales could also be good for this fledging technology, helping to drive higher production volumes and reduce costs. It could also help speed up consumer acceptance of electric cars and trucks.

    "It gives them the peace of mind that this is a viable technology," Hazimeh said. "It gives people a level of comfort to try it out or at least consider it."

    [via The Detroit News]

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  • In March 2009, AT&T committed to replacing approximately 15,000 of its nearly 76,000 fleet vehicles with alternative fuel models by 2019. Although AT&T is less than two years into this endeavor, the company is already celebrating the deployment of the 2,000th compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle. This is the second major green fleet milestone for AT&T this year, in February the company deployed its 1,000th CNG vehicle.

    AT&T will be investing more than half of a billion dollars into the multi-year project. By the end of 2013, the company plans to spend approximately $350 million replacing 8,000 existing fleet vehicles with CNG models. Another $215 million will go towards replacing 7,100 passenger vehicles with alternative fuel models.

    “The deployment of our 2,000th compressed natural gas vehicle is an important marker in our long-term strategy to reduce both costs and greenhouse gas emissions within our corporate fleet,” said Jerome Webber, vice president, AT&T Global Fleet Operations. “We’re becoming less dependent on foreign oil while signaling that a viable alternative-fuel choice exists today, right here in the U.S.”

    One of the 2,000 CNG vehicles already in use is a first-of-its-kind Ford F-450 with a hybrid-electric system that powers the medium-duty truck’s aerial device. In addition to the company’s 2,000 strong CNG fleet, AT&T also uses hybrid electric and all-electric vehicles, including an all-electric cargo truck.

    The environmental impact of AT&T’s green fleet project is significant. AT&T will save approximately 49 million gallons of gasoline during the deployment period and reduce its carbon emissions by 211,000 metric tons.

    The AT&T green fleet project is also stimulating the economy. A report from the Center for Automotive Research (PDF) estimates that the project will create or save 1,000 jobs for each five-year period during the deployment. These jobs including positions in van production, CNG van conversions and CNG refueling station construction. The 1,000 jobs come with an average annual compensation of $55 million and will generate about $8.9 million in annual tax revenues.

    For more information about the project, visit the AT&T Transportation Initiatives website.

    [via Forbes]

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  • Rearview cameras could become more common in future cars and trucks under new rules the government was proposing this week to address concerns about backover accidents.

    The Department of Transportation offered new requirements to improve rear visibility in cars by the 2014 model year, which most carmakers would meet by installing rear-mounted video cameras and in-vehicle displays.

    Targeting so-called blind zones in large sport utility vehicles and pickups, Congress required the safety upgrades in 2008 in response to dozens of cases of children getting backed over by cars. Nearly 300 people are killed and 18,000 injured each year because of backovers, according to data kept by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly half of the deaths involve children under age 5.

    Automakers have been adding video cameras and object detection sensors to vehicles to help drivers when backing up or parking. But the backup cameras are still optional equipment on most vehicles and only about 20 percent of 2010 vehicles have the cameras onboard.

    Under the plan, 10 percent of the vehicle fleet will need to meet the standards by the 2012 model year, followed by 40 percent in 2013 and all new vehicles by 2014.

    The rules will apply to all passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans and other vehicles weighing up to 10,000 pounds.

    [via The Detroit News]

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  • Happy Friday!  It’s time for another Fleet Safety Tip of the Week from Automotive Fleet.  This week is all about tire blowouts, which is important for any fleet that does a lot of highway or long-haul driving:

    This week's advice, taken from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Motorists' Handbook, concerns what actions a driver should take right after a tire blowout. You may want to pass this along to your fleet drivers as a friendly reminder. 

    If a tire suddenly goes flat: 

    -Tightly hold the steering wheel and keep the vehicle going straight.

    -Gradually slow down. Take your foot off the gas pedal but don't apply the brakes until the vehicle has almost stopped.

    -Do not stop on the road if at all possible. Pull off the road in a safe place.

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