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Insights from New England – Bob Belanger, RSM at Union Leasing

Posted by Bob Belanger, Regional Sales Manager on August 9, 2018

Untitled design (26)I’ve been in the fleet management business since 1994. My territory includes all the New England states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. I started out in auto rentals in 1992 and then transitioned into automotive fleet leasing in 1994. Since that time, we’ve seen many changes in the fleet industry. Most notable was the introduction of technology and how it has evolved over the years. For instance, when I started out as an Account Manager, we had very little technology in place and business was done via land lines and fax. There were no such things as laptop computers, cell phones, the internet, or GPS! In regards to driver safety, in some ways, this was a good thing because today, easily accessing technology is one of the areas that challenges our customers.

Some challenges that our customers are concerned with today

One challenge that some of our customers face right now is driver liability and the safety of their drivers—or the lack thereof because of smart phone use while driving. Examples are making calls, reading and sending text messages, and scrolling through social media while driving. I think this is a common concern for all our customers who want to reduce liability claims and increase safety for their drivers. Because of these distractions, our customers are interested in training their drivers to be more focused on the road and not their phones.

Tapping into information about driving habits

Driving habits are another big area our customers are interested in – specifically how telematics can play a role here. For example, telematics will track the speed you drive at versus the posted speed limit, sudden braking, and sharp turns. It will also detail if drivers are driving out of their work area or after hours and on weekends. Our customers would like the ability to review vehicle driving patterns for the purpose of driver instruction and training. Telematics would provide them with insights about driving habits, including the ability to recreate events in the case of an accident.

Toll systems and fleet management

Here in the Northeast, there are several toll roads. Recently, several states including Massachusetts and New Hampshire have started to remove the toll booths and instead install large electronic structures that span over the highways and capture vehicle information without slowing down traffic. Drivers then receive a bill from the local toll authority with the associated fees in the mail, which is convenient for drivers with one or two personal vehicles—but for large fleets, it’s a nightmare. We have introduced a new Toll Management Program that will pay these tolls before they turn into Toll Violations. Once we are billed for these tolls, we bill back the customer.

Self-driving cars and ride sharing

When it comes to the idea of self-driving cars, this developing technology is not top of mind for our customers currently but we know the technology is coming. Several safety options are now available to assist drivers, including Forward Collision Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Lane Change Alerts, to name a few. So while self-driving car technology will have an impact down the road, realistically, I don’t think this will happen in the near future. However, ride sharing is a service that we are actively exploring presently, and we plan to have programs in place for this in early 2019. Some segments of the fleet industry are focused on climate change and the environment. The idea that this technology will become prominent some day and change the industry landscape strikes interest—especially for reasons like safety and fuel reduction.

Vehicle selection in New England’s climate

I’ve lived here my entire life, and I love the New England climate –the fact that we have all four seasons. We are just a short ride to the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains of NH, VT, and ME, which is great because I like to hike and mountain climb! And, while I don’t like to live in a frozen tundra, I love the fact that we do get some snow, too.

So, what does this mean for my customers who operate vehicles in cold-weather climates like New England? There is a great interest in SUVs with AWD. In fact, the whole industry has been leaning towards choosing SUVs over sedans. Today, some manufacturers have plans to do away with sedans because of the popularity of SUVs. I think that’s the trend moving forward – we even see this right now in the consumer and commercial marketplaces.  When our customers’ selectors include sedans and SUVs, the drivers almost always choose an SUV over a sedan. One thing to keep in mind is if the cost of gas returns to its past heights, we may see an increase in hybrid SUV sales, helping our customers save on fuel costs!