The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have historically elected to make a significant investment in “Fleet Product Previews” each year. It’s a combination of objectives that includes education and revealing new-vehicle profiles with design, engineering, and safety advancements.
It also allows a personal, one-on-one opportunity for factory personnel (field sales and corporate management) to meet on an informal basis. Ergo, there’s business done.
For fleet managers, it’s a chance to become closer to their senior fleet execs, network with all kinds of peers, gain first-hand knowledge about current and upcoming products, and enjoy being a guest.
Until a decade ago, the major OEMs were reluctant to discuss these conferences. The reason was that a relatively few, select fleet managers were included. Obviously, there are logistical considerations, budget limits, and venue accommodation boundaries. Simply, not all large buyers could be invited and it isn’t easy to say “no” to any good account.
What happened was that the hosts found it was marketing prudent and they expanded the size with venues that could take care of 500-600 people. That’s when we, in the press, were able to report on these meetings openly. That’s also when the OEMs found that it was good business (although the pressure mounted since even more buyers wanted to be invited).
Now, think of the big picture. As a major fleet OEM, you know that you need and want your own sales, marketing, finance, and other manager/execs to play host — maybe 100-150 of your own people. You know that there are more than 300 commercial accounts operating more than 1,000 vehicles. You know that the daily rental accounts purchase more vehicles than the commercial ones. Plus, you’ve got the public sector (government) fleets, the police fleets (a homogeneous group who likes to be “alone”) and the fleet management companies (FMCs).
When the recession got serious about four years ago, it wasn’t fashionable to corporately “party,” the stretch limo business went to hell, and what was left of budgets was heavily scrutinized. To adjust, the major OEMs made Detroit their venue. It literally saved millions with people/vehicle transportation costs, using Spartan lodging, and provided direct access to design centers and their own test tracks and meeting areas.
As we emerge from this business “bottom,” we are once again seeing the venues change to the sunny resort areas. It may be a few years before we again see such incredible venues as Big Sky, Montana; Beaver Creek, Colorado; or the Jeep ride on the Rubicon Trail in California.
As you would expect, the OEMs have you isolated, so they have a full schedule for your visit. You learn every nuance, advantage, and anything new about every vehicle in the lineup. Corporate execs relate the “big picture” with lavish music and video backup. There are literally dozens and dozens of new vehicles to “ride and drive.” On display are the alternative-fuel choices and all kinds of supplier demos, from special truck bodies to electronic components. It’s really pretty awesome.
There are usually a few break times, but, when they occur, I see most fleet managers open up their iPads and try to catch up on office duties. It’s definitely a working meeting. It’s also a great way to know and compare product and your main suppliers. Networking is priceless with other elite professionals.
It’s NOT a boondoggle! It’s a treat with a fine reception and dinner after a full work day with the best people in the industry. Now, make sure your boss says “okay” in case you get invited.