In Memoriam: Coach's Insights

Why You Should Attend an OEM Product Preview (If Lucky Enough to be Invited)

The annual spring ritual by many of the manufacturers who sell fleet vehicles in numbers presents a variety of rewarding experiences; if you are chosen.

July 9, 2012

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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.


  1. 1. Steve Kibler [ July 10, 2012 @ 02:09PM ]

    Ed, Thanks to Bobit Publishing, evolving Fleet Management complexity AND credibility is beginning to "come out of the closet." You mention "police fleets wanting to be alone" - oh how true. I still network with police fleet managers who believe they were assigned the fleet duty as punishment for pissing off (you said "hell" I can say pissing) the chief or a captain. It is sad that some of the most important cost decisions made in law enforcement agencies are executed by uneducated fleet managers. Whatever our reasons for attending Green Fleet Conference, we will get a positive ROI.

  2. 2. Ricky Beggs [ July 24, 2012 @ 12:14PM ]

    Ed, How eloquently said and presenting the importance to the fleet managers/buyers to get this detailed and valuable insight into the coming models.From Black Book's perspective this information, whether part of the fleet meetings, the press writers or just as a guide book working with the brand manager and residual value teams from the manufacturers to get the information to accurately project residual values for the fleet and lending segments of our great industry, we value this time. The boondoggle days are over but how much we appreciate the efforts the manufacturers to get this information to us is immeasurable. Thanks for pointing this out! Keep spreading the word "Coach".

  3. 3. Jeff C [ July 27, 2012 @ 05:26PM ]

    Ed: Thanks for the excellent article. Recently my management has become more open to my attendance at these meetings, understanding their value and seeing that I have become "well connected" with folks at the OEMs that are willing to listen and actively seek our feedback. Recently I had a visit from one of the VP's of Fleet at one of the Big 3. That meeting happened directly as a result of my attendance at their Fleet Preview. It demonstrated to me that they are truly interested in feedback and in winning our business, which has in turn encouraged me to seriously consider their offerings. And I will attest to having just enough "spare time" during the meeting to keep up with email! Thanks again.


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Author Bio

Ed Bobit

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Former Editor & Publisher

With more than 50 years in the fleet industry, Ed Bobit, former Automotive Fleet editor and publisher, reflected on issues affecting today’s fleets in his blog. He drew insight from his own experiences in the field and offered a perspective similar to that of a sports coach guiding his players.


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