When it comes to understanding mobility and the changes going on in transportation, don’t be this guy. Photo: Shena Tschofen/Flickr

When it comes to understanding mobility and the changes going on in transportation, don’t be this guy. Photo: Shena Tschofen/Flickr

It’s not easy being in the fleet business these days. Back when you started, there wasn’t this flood of new information to process. The signal-to-noise ratio is so high today, all of a sudden you feel like you know nothing at all. It’s this “mobility” thing. We’ve all gotten a little crazy over it.

These days, there’s a lot of messaging going on regarding how transportation is changing. It’s coming from the big, established companies — your vendors — but there’s not a lot of action yet in terms of solutions. These companies are all jockeying for position to come off as the provider of the future. Everyone knows they need to be out in front of something, but nobody is quite sure what exactly that something is. How do you make sense of it?

So you make the rounds at the fleet conferences, and you see the same slides from the same companies. “The world is coming up ACES: autonomous, connected, electrified, and shared,” they all say. But at the end of the seminar, when the messaging is over, you ask your favorite vendor, “What are you actually doing about it?” You’re met by a deer in the headlights.  

Nonetheless, you do notice a change. Those favorite vendors are organizing divisions under the new title of Chief Transformational Officer. To be on the bleeding edge they’re hiring outside tech gurus, SMJs (subject matter ninjas — I’m coining the phrase today), and C-suite “disruptors” who walk through the door knowing nothing about fleet. But that’s kind of the point.

On the other side of the fence, there is the “get a horse” crowd. Arms crossed, they dismiss any disruption whatsoever. “Driverless cars? You know their cameras can’t even see through snow!” you hear; or, “My drivers? They’ll never share their Toyota Camrys. No way.”

Chatting about the future around a table, no one is going to confront the get-a-horse mentality. It’s easier to agree, to be the naysayer. (“I’ll be dead before driverless cars, anyway.”) It’s much easier to poke holes at something you don’t understand than to take a stand on something that is sure to upset the naysayer’s apple cart, not to mention your own.

Heck, you’ve always been open to change. “Change before you have to,” said Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE. Okay, so you take a meeting with that new VC-funded company and decide to test the waters with a breakthrough product or service. But when that company is vacuumed up by a larger entity and the service is shut down, who will be stuck holding the bag? Not the young visionary who got his golden exit parachute. You will. Yeah, it’s hard to be in fleet these days.

Proctor & Gamble is having a hard time. What’s going on? P&G makes mundane things people need, right? But P&G doesn’t touch its customers — its retailers do — so it doesn’t know them anymore. P&G is losing its pants to the likes of millennial b-direct-to-c companies that are getting people excited about socks, underwear, and razors. What does that have to do with fleet? I’m not sure. But I do know I can’t go down the street anymore to pick up a birthday present for my kid at Toys R Us. The world is changing.

We look for the clues that may portend the future: Volkswagen is in talks with Didi Chuxing, the Uber of China, to manage a portion of its owned ride-share fleet — a staggering 100,000 vehicles. But wait, the OEMs make cars; they don’t manage them, right? In the autonomous future, fleet management is supposed to be the domain of auto rental and fleet management companies. The automakers are making a play, and this is the biggest indicator yet.

So where does that leave you? Where do you jump in, when it’s like the Wild West of potential and failure?

The choices are not easy. Of course, you could do nothing at all, and maybe something magical will happen on your behalf. Or you could take your head out of the sand and be the subject matter ninja on all of these new topics. You could understand the capital outlay and management talent needed to spearhead a new initiative. You could make sure that when folks come asking, you can confidently say yes or no and back up either argument. You could make the partnerships— internally and externally — before you need them. You could have a plan.

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10,” said Bill Gates. “Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

Except that 10 years will be here in three. Buckle up.

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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