Light duty vehicles can play an important role in the fleet makeup of a beverage wholesaler and also present a good opportunity to realize additional fuel savings.
One common trend among operators is going even smaller with their light duty fleet and turning to crossover vehicles and small SUVs to replace vans and larger SUVs.
Silver Eagle Distributors, based in Houston, Texas, uses a variety of light duty vehicles—73 automobiles, 320 vans and 33 pick-up trucks. While Ed Pritchard, senior vice president, says that minivans are still a popular vehicle choice for Silver Eagle because of the cargo space they offer, the distributor has been making some adjustments as that market has moved to smaller vehicles in recent years.
“What we’ve been doing down here is making more of a move to small SUVs, and in our case, what we’ve been using now is the Chevy Equinox and the GMC Terrain,” says Pritchard.
Pritchard says that he prefers American-made vehicles to outfit his fleet. “We are pretty big on supporting American brands and have yet to cross over that line where we are bringing foreign-owned vehicles into our company,” he says.
Major determining factors of which vehicles are selected to join the Silver Eagle fleet family are ergonomics of the vehicle and fuel efficiency as they are primarily used for sales calls, product deliveries and account merchandising.
In addition to that, Pritchard is looking for some buy-in from the operators to show they are motivated and maintenance costs can be maintained. Silver Eagle does its maintenance in-house and vehicles are serviced every 90 days or every 5,000 miles.
However, the variety of vehicles available is shrinking. Pritchard says: “Available models out there have really slimmed down over the last couple of years. There are not as many choices as there used to be.”
Rich Marchant, vice-president of operations for Crescent-Crown Distributing LLC, agrees, saying the trend he’s seen is that manufacturers are converting passenger-type vehicles for commercial use. The problem however, lies in cargo space.
“If you had to carry large POS pieces or pallets in the back [the vehicles] didn’t have much space for that,” he says.
So, the Mesa, Ariz.-based wholesaler has been transitioning its light-duty fleet to the Ford Transit Connect since 2010. The Ford Transit Connect is a four-cylinder, two-liter merchandising van that has sliding doors and a large box space. Currently, Crescent-Crown has about a 75-van fleet in Arizona and half of those are Ford Transit Connect vehicles. The remaining vehicles, Marchant says, will be transitioned over the next two years.
Juan Corcino, director of fleet/ops for Manhattan Beer Distributors, notes that fuel savings is a number-one priority for the beer wholesaler. “It’s all part of the go-green program that Manhattan Beer has implemented,” he says.
The company has made moves to reduce the size of the vehicles it uses for its sales associates who now drive Nissan Versas and Dodge Caravans.
In total, Manhattan Beer has 152 light-duty vehicles, which also include Ford Edge, Ford Escape, Ford Fusion, F150, GMC 2500 and Subaru Forrester.
The company has been making these changes over the past three years, Corcino says, which has increased fuel efficiency from about 10 miles per gallon to nearly 30 miles per gallon.
Weather also is an important factor for the Bronx, N.Y.-based wholesaler as the city sometimes can see a lot of snowfall during the winter months. For that, Corcino says he also looks for vehicles that have all-wheel drive. “Where we are, we get a lot of snow. So we look for all-wheel drive cars. That’s why we are using the Subaru Forrester and the small SUVs like the Ford Escape and the Edge because they are all-wheel drive. That is very important for us,” he says.