Sunbelt Rentals Draws on Data to Improve Decision Making, Increase Uptime and Meet Industry Challenges

March 30, 2022

The past year has created several challenges for the trucking industry, including increased inflation, difficulty finding staff, and the inability to purchase new equipment.

Sunbelt Rentals® is no exception, but the company has used data to drive decision-making, improve costs, and increase uptime.  Sunbelt Rental’s has also experienced several immediate and long-term benefits while meeting its unique challenges and looks beyond simply cutting costs.

“It has been difficult to measure based on cost alone because we’ve had so much inflationary pressure,” said Eric Jahnsen, Director, Transportation Fleet at Sunbelt Rentals.

In 2021, trucking experienced a 14.5 percent inflation rate. However, Sunbelt Rental's inflation rate was less than half of that at 7.1 percent. “In theory, that is roughly about a 7 percent savings,” said James Lovekamp, FleetNet America National Account Executive. “That is significant, and FleetNet America has helped keep it a manageable expense.”

Although the current circumstances make comparisons difficult, Sunbelt Rental has managed costs while also expanding. Since 2020, Sunbelt Rental has added 50 percent more to its fleet, but only experienced a handful more roadside emergencies. “The maintenance we're doing on-site keeps those trucks from breaking down. That is helping the driver satisfaction,” Jahnsen said.

Sunbelt Rental engaged FleetNet America in 2019 as a third-party partner to help manage and report maintenance costs, provide analytics, handle the day-to-day management, and work through maintenance and repair administration with the third-party shops. Today, the rental company tracks cost down to major components, and it monitors the average cost per unit per day. Sunbelt Rental has rolled out FleetNet America fleet’s services to 65 percent of its fleet and continues to grow the program.

Increasing Driver and Customer Satisfaction

Driver satisfaction is critical as fleets struggle to keep drivers behind the wheel. According to American Trucking Association, the driver shortage has risen to eighty thousand, an all-time high for the industry. “Anything that helps employees do their job helps with retention,” Jahnsen said, adding that preventing breakdowns and responding quickly to roadside repairs is critical.

Labor challenges facing the industry go beyond drivers. With FleetNet America, Sunbelt Rental has also been able to reallocate how administrative employees spend their time by minimizing time spent on purchase and work orders and allowing them to spend time on other important work.

“It is helpful for our employees to have one person to go to. This is a soft win,” said Tom Hilmer, Service Manager for Sunbelt Rentals. “They used to have to build all of those relationships. Now the TMcare® representative builds those relationships, and they have just one relationship they build.”

Increasing uptime is particularly important, given that the age of Sunbelt Rental's fleet has increased over the past two years as Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMs, have struggled to fill purchase orders. "Since our costs haven’t significantly gone up compared to inflation and given the fact that our vehicles are getting older, we are improving costs because of this program,” Jahnsen said, adding that Sunbelt Rental has seen improved uptimes. “Based on the vehicles that have been enrolled in the program, we’re seeing trends in a positive.”

As part of its work with FleetNet America, Sunbelt Rentals increased its preventive maintenance intervals, bringing equipment in every 120 days. Sunbelt Rental has also transitioned to on-site maintenance, which has helped improve uptime as technicians come in and take care of the equipment during its scheduled downtime.

“If it goes to a shop, it might take a couple of days. Plus, you have the drive time of taking the truck down to a location and then getting it back. That takes two employees,” Hilmer said. “Because we’re not dragging vehicles to the shop, we can get more on-site repairs done.”

Getting ahead of problems before they worsen or even become an issue also drives customer satisfaction. “As a driver, I would be happy to have a call saying, ‘We see you need a tire replaced before you start your day,’” Hilmer said.

With over-the-road repairs, Sunbelt Rental can direct vehicles to the shops the fleet frequently uses so it can consolidate vendors. “We can improve our downtime and improve our vendor relationships, which could improve our costs,” Jahnsen said.

As part of its initial rollout, Sunbelt Rental saw downtime decrease and the company experienced pricing benefits. “FleetNet America has helped negotiate pricing through a national account, so when a Sunbelt Rental truck comes in, it will get different pricing,” Hilmer said.

During its initial pilot project with FleetNet America, Sunbelt Rental saw its average maintenance cost drop from about $15 per day to about $11 per day per on-road unit.

“As the new geographies roll out, we've seen some areas that have a lower average cost per unit, and we've seen them stay flat over time,” Jahnsen said, adding that the data continues to add clarity.

Jahnsen said one of the most essential costs related to downtime is customer satisfaction. "Most of these vehicles are delivering our product to our customers. If we have unscheduled repairs, we might not make those deliveries on time. I can’t put a dollar amount on how important it is to keep our customers happy,” he said. 

Increasing Uptime

During its initial rollout, Sunbelt Rental saw average downtime decrease from four days to three days per vehicle. Sunbelt Rental is also moving towards predictive analytics as FleetNet America adoption grows throughout the fleet. “I can say that, based on the data, we have already been analyzing costs and downtime at the brand and product level,” Jahnsen said, adding that the company drills down into the total cost of ownership by vehicle make, model, engine type, and fuel type.

Sunbelt Rentals has paid particular attention to cost and downtime trends of three competitive brands. “Because of that, we’ve made some significant changes to our fleet purchasing plan,” Jahnsen said.

Also, data can be used to compare local vendors to ensure the fleet receives the best pricing. “That information is very impactful. It creates a level of trust to where our people feel like they’re partnering together,” Jahnsen said.

As part of its processes, FleetNet America reviews every repair estimate, focusing on items that seem to be priced higher than the market or labor time priced higher than the market.

Sunbelt Rental and FleetNet America plan to work together to continue improving the program and its results. "We’re happy, but we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do next or how can we further benefit Sunbelt Rental going forward?’ We want to find unique forays into that, adapting it to our situation and developing the tools they need,” said James Lovecamp, FleetNet America National Account Executive.