What Happened at the 2021 Fleet Forward Conference?

Gretchen ReeseNovember 3, 2021

In this last year where many events have been virtual – now that the world seems to be opening back up, we’re finding that any in-person event is being smushed into the latter couple months of this year.

This year at Fleet Forward, I think you could tell that most people were happy to be back at an in-person event rather than virtual. It was amazing to see so many people connecting and re-connecting, catching up with new friends and old colleagues that they haven’t seen in quite some time. 

Tune in to find out what happened and what the key themes and takeaways were from this year’s Fleet Forward conference.



What Happened at the 2021 Fleet Forward Conference? | Fleet FYIs Podcast, Season 2 Episode 36

Gretchen Reese (00:06):

Hey there. Welcome to Fleet FYIs, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that reveals how you can make the most of your data for smarter fleet management. My name is Gretchen. And every week, you’ll hear from me and some of the industry’s finest in candid conversations that will shed some light on not only two decades worth of data insights, but some of the industries’ hottest talking points and key metric analysis, with the aim to help you better understand your fleet from every angle.

Gretchen Reese (00:33):

But before we begin, if this is the first time you’ve heard our show, thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you decide to come along for the ride with us. But I’ve got a quick favor to ask you. Once you finish today’s episode, if you could take a few minutes to leave us a review on your favorite podcasting platform, we would really appreciate it. Give us a rating, five stars I hope, or (laughs) tell us what you liked, or leave us a comment or a question about what you’ve heard in today’s episode. But if we haven’t yet covered a topic that you’re interested in hearing more about, let us know. We would be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. If that sounds good to you, let’s get back to the show.

Gretchen Reese (01:11):

Hello, everyone. And welcome back to a nother episode of the Fleet FYIs Podcast. It’s so nice to be back in my little recording studio today, because if you remember from the last show, most of last week I spent in sunny San Jose, California, at the Hayes Mansion, for the 2021 Fleet Forward Conference. And let me just say, I sure am happy (laughs) that in person events are back, not just for connection and collaboration purposes, but as a complete and total extrovert I was like a kid in a candy store. And the thing is, you know, I think conferences like Fleet Forward allow for new connection points and massive learning opportunities. I mean, that can be said for most conferences, but especially this one. Because as there was a huge focus on not only making connections, there was also a massive understanding that what you’re there to do is learn about what’s happening in the industry going forward.

Gretchen Reese (02:25):

This year, like most of you know, has been an incredibly strange one. And by this year, (laughs) I mean any time passed March of 2020, so more than a year at this point. And I think most people can agree that we’re all excited to be out and about again, especially when it comes to traveling, whether it be for work or for leisure. And like I said a little while ago, I am so excited that conferences are back and roaring back into action. Perhaps it’s my very extroverted nature, or maybe it’s my Midwestern roots, but if you know me or if you’ve even met me before, you’ll know that I love chatting away with people. It doesn’t feel like work to me at all. The only thing that you need to be well equipped of, (laughs) or well equipped with, at the end of the day, you tend to need a throat lozenge to keep your voice from going raspy. But that’s nothing new there.

Gretchen Reese (03:13):

Now, in this last year, where many events have been virtual, now that the world seems to be opening back up, we’re finding that any in person event, especially this year, is being smushed into the latter couple months of the year. It’s felt a bit like a whirlwind, but honestly, I’m kind of loving it. (laughs) And this year at Fleet Forward, I think you could tell that most people were happy to be back in an in person event rather than a virtual conference. You know, not that those aren’t great. I mean, there’s a time and a place, and they are very fantastic, and they were amazing to be able to connect so many people all around the world in a year where, you know, mobility was a little bit lessened.

Gretchen Reese (03:49):

But I will say, back at in person events, it was so amazing to see so many people connecting and reconnecting, catching up with new friends and old colleagues they haven’t seen in quite some time. It was … it was fantastic. I don’t know what more else I can say about that.

Gretchen Reese (04:04):

But if we’re looking at the show itself, and just so you know, and in case you’re unfamiliar with the event itself, Fleet Forward, this year, was from November 10th to the 12th. And it was based in the Sa … in San Jose, in the Hayes Mansion, like I said earlier in this episode. But the interesting thing about this conference compared to other conferences that I’ve been to in the past is instead of having it be more like an expo type setting where, you know, you’re walking around and you see quite a few booths, and that’s really all there is, um, not saying that those aren’t valuable in their own way, because they absolutely are, but instead of just walking around and trying to map out your show based on the equipment you want to see or the booths that you want to visit, Fleet Forward actually had scheduled keynotes and scheduled speakers throughout the entire show. Which is something that I love, because as a lifelong learner, I mean, that’s been my bread and butter pretty much as long as I can remember.

Gretchen Reese (04:59):

Now, this show in itself had a huge focus on electrification. And reason being, it’s something that’s not going away. It’s something that more and more and more, um, OEMs are focusing on. And you’re gonna see a lot more vehicle offerings coming out with electrified options in the future. And honestly, it’s a technology that, once it’s integrated into the mainstream of fleets or even consumers, it’s not gonna go away.

Gretchen Reese (05:26):

Now, is it the only path forward? Probably not. Personally, I think there’s a little bit more of a balance that needs to be struck, whether that’s working in alternative fuels, hydrogen fuel cells, EVs. Uh, even petroleum, there’s still a lot of space for that, but just learning how to be more sustainable with an internal combustion engine fleet, that’s very possible. You just need to look into your data in order to do so.

Gretchen Reese (05:47):

But the thing is, is with a huge focus on EVs, there are so many questions that surrounds that whole movement, right, or just the move to electric. Because, honestly, the last time we’ve had a complete overhaul of technology like this, it was when we went from horse cart and buggy to the Ford Model T or a care of similar standing. You know, it- it was a very big change, and they don’t happen a lot. Because once they happen, then, you know, it seems a little bit more mainstream and it’s not as big and scary.

Gretchen Reese (06:18):

Now, the thought is, is that 40% of vehicle volume will be electric by 2030. And I believe when this was being referenced in the opening keynote, um, given by Ford Pro, I believe that was worldwide, I think. Don’t quote me on that one because I’m not sure if that’s entirely accurate. But I think it was worldwide. Point being, um, when we’re looking at electric, you know, a lot of people will say that you’re looking at a maintenance cost reduction, which is one of the massive benefits, even though you have a higher purchase price. The thought is that, again, that 40% number comes up, 40% cost reduction for total overall maintenance over the lifecycle of the vehicle. That’s awesome.

Gretchen Reese (06:57):

But the thing is, is that when we’re looking at planning for electrification, and this was one of my massive, uh, takeaways and massive learning moments from the conference itself, the planning needs to start now. Because if you’re looking at, um, executives that are making these massive commitments of, hey, let’s go all electric by 2050, let’s go all electric by 2040, you know, whatever the year is, whatever the commitment is, fleets only turn over about 10% to 15% of their vehicles every single year, on average. You know, some fleets may be more, some fleets may be less, depending on the vehicles you’re purchasing, the lifecycle, whatever it is.

Gretchen Reese (07:30):

So (laughs) my point is, before I get too carried away, is that when you’re looking at a commitment like that, you need to start planning now. You need to start looking at, what vehicles am I going to replace? When am I gonna do it? How am I gonna do it? Do budgets allow for that? It’s a very complicated process. But the thing is, is that, at this conference in general, there was a huge discussion around how all of that works. And one of my favorite things to do at conferences like this is actually to ask the questions that people might not want to either hear the answer to, or they might not want to, um … What’s the word I’m looking for? They may not want to be hung up on that particular question. Because sometimes the answer or the opinion may be a little bit unpopular. Here’s an example to kinda show you what I mean.

Gretchen Reese (08:16):

So if we dig into what I’ll say is at its root probably one of the biggest, I don’t know, not necessarily hangups, but concerns about the electric vehicle movement, we’re talking about range with different batteries. Right? So for example, an unpopular opinion in this case, or a question that, you know, you may want to ask but maybe it may not be received well is, what do you tell people … And this I’m talking about for someone that is a little bit, um, critiquing of an electric vehicle. Right? So if they say, “Well, the range of EVs severely diminishes in the wintertime because of battery capacity and thermal management. What then?” Well, in that case, you could actually turn around and say, “Well, when it comes to thermal management, the same thing can be said for an internal combustion engine.” It might not happen on the same scale, but if you take a look at it, pretty much most internal combustion engines will have a lower range in the winter or during a colder part of the year than, um, they would when it’s warmer. And sometimes that can be from fuel makeup. Sometimes that can be from battery thermal management, like we touched on. There’s a lot of factors that fit in there.

Gretchen Reese (09:32):

But the interesting thing is, is at this part of the Fleet Forward conference, because like I said, there was a huge focus on electric vehicles, hence my, uh, I guess you could call it EV spew, um, (laughs) so to say, um, over the last couple minutes, has been there’s a lot of data behind EVs that you have people looking into, but perhaps it’s not as well known in the industry yet. And I think, when it comes to conferences like these, that’s where the major benefit is. Because it’s not just on the, you know, who can connect with the most people, who can, you know, get the most business cards for their Rolodex or whatever it is, but it’s being able to learn from each other, see who’s doing different studies in different facets of the market, like electric vehicles or charging or alternative fuels or internal combustion engine sustainability. Understand who’s doing what, who’s doing the studies to ensure that people know exactly what’s going on with a new technology or how the industry is pivoting, and being able to share that knowledge.

Gretchen Reese (10:33):

And I think that was very, very evident at the Fleet Forward Conference in this last year, this focus on sharing industry knowledge. And that was one thing, personally, I think, um, that I loved the most about it. Because you … And I’ll say this as well, (laughs) and perhaps this is a bit rambly, so excuse me for that, but as an extrovert myself, and as somebody that always loves to learn regardless of the subject or, you know, personal interest, um, professional interest, whatever it is, I always like to learn about whatever it is from people that have been in the industry longer than me, constantly. And it’s kind of like a sponge. Right? You know, you soak up all that information. And it’s really fantastic to be able to do. And, you know, conferences like this really provide a venue to be able to do that, which is pretty fantastic.

Gretchen Reese (11:36):

So to wrap it all up, I’ll share with you some of my personal key takeaways from this year’s Fleet Forward Conference in San Jose. And the first one, like I’ve been touching on quite a bit in this episode is to, firstly, stay curious and ask questions. Like I said, ever since I was young, I’ve been a lifelong learner. My mother encouraged me to be one, probably from the age of, I don’t know, one. (laughs) I mean, it’s been a … it’s been a recurring theme throughout my life for a very long time. And, you know, like I said, whether that’s in your career, your personal life, your education path, whatever it is, understand who the key thought leaders are in, say, for example, if we’re going to the professional circumstances, understand who the key thought leaders are in the attendance, um, or in attendance of the event that you’re at. You can speak to them after a presentation. You can connect with them on LinkedIn, exchange business cards. You never know. You might find yourself a friend in the industry, someone to bounce ideas off of, or perhaps even a mentor.

Gretchen Reese (12:33):

The second one, and this is actually probably my favorite, just because I love being inquisitive, I have for a very long time, and the second this is you should always play devil’s advocate. Ask the questions that people might want to hear, that potentially could lead to the discovery of an unpopular opinion. It’s the best way to familiarize yourself with the good, with the bad, the opportunities, the challenge of new technology, data, mandates, policies, or even technology adoption movements. The list could go on forever.

Gretchen Reese (13:05):

And following up shortly on that is familiarizing yourself with trending technologies. So for example, this is where you can look at what’s going on in the industry. Is there new technology deployment? Is there new data to measure that comes with that? Is there new reporting to understand that builds off of the data that you’re measuring from the new technology? Whatever the case may be, getting to know what’s going on in your industry form every angle will always, always, always serve you well. And I can’t stress that enough. It’ll help you to ask the right questions, meet the right people, and it’ll keep you curious moving forward. Because there’s always more to learn.

Gretchen Reese (13:41):

The fourth is understanding industry pain points. That will always be key regardless of the industry you’re in. For example, do you know what’s rolling eyes? Do you know what’s causing headaches? I, personally, I- I really do think this. Conferences are a great touchpoint to get voice of customer or voice of peer perspective as to what’s going on industry-wide. I mean, it just is. You know, you’ll end up chatting about, “Oh, gosh, this was so annoying this day,” or, “This was so annoying this week. My gosh, I really wish I had a way to solve this.” Right?

Gretchen Reese (14:10):

So if we’re talking fleet here, you know, that could be something involving supply chain, reporting issues, data quality, vehicle availability. A whole breadth of things could be going on in the industry that you should really be on top of. Because as you stay on top of it, or even if you just understand what some of these issues are, you might not know how to solve them, but it can help you stay nimble, adaptable, and it constantly forces you to think about what’s next, which is key to any industry moving forward.

Gretchen Reese (14:38):

Now, last but not least, the fifth one and final one, California November is really, really nice. (laughs) And I should say, as a native Minnesotan, who on Friday flew home to snow right after leaving 75 and sunny, man, California in November was a really nice late in the season treat. And if you’ve never done a warm weather conference in November, especially if you’re from a colder region, like myself, I’d jump on it straight away. I mean, that was … Oh man, that was fantastic. I loved it. And you know what? A little bit of late season sun, you can’t beat it.

Gretchen Reese (15:28):

So I want to know, were you at the Fleet Forward Conference this year? If you were, let me know what you thought, good, bad, intriguing, or otherwise. And if you’re going to any shows or upcoming conferences, um, in the next year, make sure you let us know. Because we are planning to do quite a few in 2022. So hopefully we’ll be able to connect with you guys there in person if you are attending. And if we did get to connect with you at Fleet Forward this year, it was so great to meet everyone that we were able to, chat with everyone we were able to, and connect with everyone we were able to. I think we are an industry that revolves around connection and communication. That has always been the case. And it will continue to be so as the fleet industry modernizes. No matter the facet of fleet that you’re in, you could be in EV, in data, or in new technology, whatever it may be, connection and communication going forward.

Gretchen Reese (16:22):

So in terms of a conference wrap-up, recap, that is all from me for this episode. But stay tuned, because we do have another episode of Fleet FYI shorts coming out this week. And it’ll be a day later than usual. It’ll come out tomorrow, because this episode is live today. And make sure you do tune in for the longer episode that will go live on Thursday, which is all about the largest ultra low emission zone in the world expanding, and what that means for fleets.

Gretchen Reese (16:51):

Now, as always, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or wise cracks, before our next episode, you always know how to reach me. You can send me an email, tag me on LinkedIn, or use the hashtag Utilimarc Fleet FYIs. We always scroll through that on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, to make sure that we’re seeing what you guys are saying. So until tomorrow, surprisingly to say that already so quick, (laughs) that’s all for me. Ciao.

Gretchen Reese (17:17):

Hey there, I think this is the time that I should queue the virtual high five because you’ve just finished listening to another episode of the Fleet FYIs Podcast. If you’re already wanting more content, head over to Utilimarc.com, which is Utilimarc with a C, U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C, dot com, for the show notes and extra insights coming straight from our analyst to you. That’s all for me this week. So until next time, I’ll catch you later.

If you or someone you know is interested in appearing on the Fleet FYIs podcast, please email our content manager for more information.


Gretchen Reese

Content Manager

Gretchen Reese is the content manager at Utilimarc. She has experience in global and strategic marketing, previously working as a copywriter and content specialist for a London marketing agency and freelancing in multiple niches. See more from Gretchen


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