The neighborhood pharmacy soda fountain was replaced a long time ago by automated vending and fountain machines. And, increasingly, these are getting even more high tech. For example, there’s Coke’s Freestyle soda fountain that allows customers to create hundreds of their own drink combinations. And just last month, it was joined by PepsiCo’s own high tech fountain, the Spire. Suddenly, vending has become a major new “front in the soda wars” (as one publication recently described it)—a new way to ignite interest amongst high tech-loving millennials.
So, it probably comes as no surprise that soda companies are positioning themselves for this new high-tech future, and a critical part of that is the ability to service quickly and affordably all of these complex new pieces of advanced machinery. Part of that effort for PepsiCo has been an upgrading of its support vehicle fleet over the past few years, the trucks used to send out technicians and other personnel to service evertyhing from fountains to coolers to vending machines. The company has been replacing the traditional delivery vans it has been using for decades with sleek, new Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans, 300 of them at last count, or about 15 percent of its support vehicle fleet (and adding them at a rate of about five percent a year). And, for those environments where the cost benefit is there, namely urban centers, it also has been upgrading some of its existing delivery vans to hybrid technology via the vendor XL Hybrids, with 30 such vehicles deployed so far, with the goal of having 100 of them in the PepsiCo system by the end of the year.
All of these new trucks were featured at the Ride and Drive at this past April’s BevOps Fleet Summit Conference in Las Vegas. Attendees had a chance to see the vehicles up close and learn more about them.
The change, according to Shelby Green, senior director Fleet for PepsiCo North America Beverages (PNAB), is being made mostly to boost fuel economy. And so far, the Sprinter vans have paid off with a general 40 to 60 percent fuel economy improvement, while the XL Hybrid-equipped vehicles have seen about a 20 percent improvement in the metropolitan markets. And an additional benefit is the increased cargo room that the new Sprinters provide, allowing for more equipment for PepsiCo’s army of service technicians. “As we look at all of our categories of equipment, we try to assess what is a sustainable footprint for us, meaning reduce emissions, improve mpg, reduce total life cycle costs and add safety/ergonomic features,” Green says.
PepsiCo divides the duty cycles for its service vehicles into three different specific environments, each of which needs it own type of truck. There’s the rural environment, which is high mileage, with a lot of territory to be covered. This is broken down into two sub-groups: the need to send service technicians out to do repairs, and another group to not only repair but also deliver new fountains, coolers or vending machines. Then, there is also the metro urban, or semi-urban environment where there are fewer miles to be covered, but more stop-and-go trips. “So we really have three footprints that we’re working on,” Green explains.
For the metro, inner-city environment, the company has begun rolling out XL Hybrids upgraded service vans. Traditional cargo vans are upfitted to the XL Hybrids systems, essentially turning them into hybrid electric vehicles in an effort to boost fuel economies. “It really has a good application for inner-city, semi-urban,” Green says. Typically, the technology boosts gas mileage the most in urban stop-and-go environments, but Green says improvements also can be seen in near-urban environments as well. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a stop-and-go environment in terms of the mileage threshold that you can actually extend to and still see some of the mpg improvements,” he says.
In the more rural areas, Green says the new Sprinter platform allows for much better mpg than the conventional van or pickup service bodies the company has traditionally used for support vehicles. And, an important additional benefit is the extra space in the van. “We’re getting more space, whether it be to add racking, tool bins, part bins, whichever; we can add some more flexibility to how we wanted to set up that specification inside the van,” he says. “It also has a higher ceiling because of the Sprinter design. So it made it more ergonomic for the service technician because now, in the traditional cargo van, you can’t stand up in those.”
Also for the rural areas, for repairs and deliveries, the company is just starting to pilot vehicles with Sprinter body chassis with fiberglass service boxes on them. “It has cargo space and enough gross vehicle weight for us to haul vendors, fountain equipment, coolers. And it has a lift gate to aid with that,” Green explains.
In the metro or semi-urban environments, Green says the XL Hybrids technology has been “plug and play,” meaning it is virtually unnoticeable to operators of the vehicles, delivering its fuel economy benefits in the background. “There’s very little driver interaction with the way they’ve engineered it,” he says.
Green calls the new Spire soda fountain introduced in late May “a great example” of the types of new equipment PepsiCo will be having to service in the coming years as technology continues to advance. But the rollout of the new Sprinters is a gradual process, he points out, and there is a place for the more traditional support vans as well. “We have a lot of older vehicles that are in our fleet that we’ll have for a while,” he says. “You can’t replace everything. But there’s room to grow in these [new Sprinter] vans where with the other ones that might not be the case.”