New Industry Market Trends Prove to Be Game Changers for Fleet
Change is often as unpredictable as it is inevitable. Business models either adapt to emerging market
trends and consumer demand or become crippled by stagnant business practices. Leaders across the
professional fleet market segment have found successful ways to navigate the challenges of an ever-
evolving commercial industry that is heavily influenced by a variety of dynamic factors, from pioneering
vehicle platforms, remarkable technological advancements and innovative aftermarket potential to more
intangible variables, such as fluctuating fuel costs, uncertain economic stability and broadening
Yet commercial industry innovators, such as OEM and aftermarket manufacturers, continue to advance the
automotive sector. Why? Because they embrace change, evolve and grow with the market, continuously
reinventing themselves, thus achieving sustainable growth through effective R&D, strategic planning,
proper forecasting and appropriate diversification.
Eric Fairchild, Director of Northeast Sales and US Customer Support, is a veteran Keystone employee for
nearly two decades. He’s seen the professional fleet market segment evolve masterfully throughout the
years, always finding innovative ways to remain relevant even during challenging economic times. New
commercial vehicle models have given the industry a facelift, making both form and function important
factors in the decision-making process for end users. “The industry continues to be resilient while
diversifying. The ability of our customer base and the manufacturers to react to trends efficiently is
somewhat remarkable and really is the core of why they stay relevant,” said Fairchild. Aftermarket
manufacturers and distributors like Keystone have a significant role to play in the growth of the
As the leading and largest wholesale distributor of specialty automotive parts in North America,
Keystone is well versed in the opportunities that change provides. Its business strategy has flexed over
the years to embrace change where change brought growth, including logistics expansion, brand and
inventory diversification, as well as market segment specialization.
Keystone category management and sales leadership recently teamed up with WEATHER GUARD® and some
valued customers to educate retailers and restylers about the current state of commercial business,
emerging market trends in the industry, new and improved vehicle platforms and the significant aftermarket
potential for professional upfitters. The takeaway? It’s a growing and changing segment, so don’t leave
any money on the table!
State of the Business
Business continues to grow, as US auto sales remain strong in 2016 with a forecast of 17.6-17.8 million
vehicles sold by year end, an increase over a record-breaking 2015. “We now have greater confidence that
record sales in 2015 will lead to yet another volume record in 2016,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice
president of forecasting at LMC Automotive, a leading provider of automotive production, sales and
powertrain forecasts and automotive industry market intelligence.
Commercial vehicle sales are part of the upward trend. According to the February 2016 edition of the
NTEA OEM Monthly Chassis Report, “Commercial truck chassis sales rose 19.5 percent in the U.S./Mexico
market in November 2015 as compared to the same month the previous year, with cumulative sales up about 9
percent. Canadian sales rose 25.5 percent in November and were up almost 15 percent for the year.”
The “Looking Ahead” section of the report paints a positive global growth outlook with projections at
3.4 percent in 2016 and 3.6 percent in 2017, corresponding with forecasts of 7.5 percent for India, 2.6
percent for the United States and about 1.8 percent for the European Union.
Scott Percival, Category Manager at Keystone, echoes that sentiment and adds there are a number of
factors contributing to the growth potential of fleet business in 2016, including a rebounding US economy
that finished strong at the end of 2015, as well as a decrease in fuel costs and low financing rates,
which have supported the increase of new truck sales.
Mike Antich, Contributor, Editor and Associate Publisher of Automotive Fleet, reminds us that “fuel
represents approximately 60 percent of a fleet’s total operating costs. Consequently, the stability of
fuel pricing over the past 36 months has been the No. 1 factor contributing to keeping fleet operating
costs flat.” Low fuel costs certainly enable businesses to further invest in their fleet and more vehicles
on the road create additional professional upfitting opportunities for you!
Impressive year-over-year commercial growth last year will prove challenging to surpass in 2016.
Antich, who authored 2016 Buying Forecast for Commercial Fleet, states fleet ordering for the 2016 model-
year is forecast to be flat compared to the prior model-year, but “as the economy has improved in some
economic sectors, these companies will in, crease their fleet buy due to growth in their businesses.”
But projections of a “flat” year still yield an impressive number of bid opportunities for professional
John Brassfield is the owner of two Trucksmart retail locations, one in Rocklin, CA, and the other in
Aurburn, CA. Truck accessory sales have been the driving force of Brassfield’s business model the past 29
years and there’s no slowing down in sight. Sales are booming and the professional upfitting contracts
keep rolling in. “We have reliable and consistent professional bids with the municipality and railroad,
fire protection, security and pest control companies, landscapers and builders and electrical
contractors,” said Brassfield. “We (retailers and restylers) thought that when the economy collapsed, this
was going to be the new state of normal. But it’s come back even better, at least regionally. I see a lot
of contractors investing in brand new vehicles and equipment.” Commercial professionals + New Vehicles + A
Need for New Equipment = $ for Retailers and Restylers
Market Trends and Products
Jeff Kotz, Senior Product Manager for commercial vehicles at WEATHER GUARD®, says there has been a
shift to lighter weight, more fuel efficient models that deliver what a user needs in a more economical
way. But, he notes, “While many businesses are investing in upgraded vehicles with enhanced features, the
average life of a commercial vehicle remains 10-11 years in comparison to the historic 7-8 years, so we
still see a lot of replacement product sales.” WEATHER GUARD® top sellers continue to be the 127 series
toolboxes, the 184 series side boxes and the 300 series headache racks. There remains a huge and positive
response to matte, textured black finishes on aftermarket products, added Kotz.
What’s selling BIG at Keystone? “Brands like WEATHER GUARD®, Kargo Master, Cross Tread, Dee Zee,
Bedslide and Fill-Rite continue to drive the trend with their toolboxes, tanks, van packages, racking
systems, window screens, cargo slides and bulkheads. Jotto or RAM Mounting System laptop mounts and
various track systems, hitches, wiring and tie downs are asked for frequently as well,” said Thomas
Sabetta, a sales associate in the Exeter, PA, Keystone call center. WEATHER GUARD®, BackRack, Rigid LED
Lighting, Samlex, Air Lift, Firestone, Bedslide and the Cequent family are some of the most popular brands
Brassfield purchases from Keystone to service his professional customers.
While many new trends are impacting the professional market segment, three are revolutionizing the
• The increase of light-duty trucks as vehicles of choice: The Wall Street Journal reported a 6.5
percent increase versus prior year in light duty truck sales during January 2016 and based on February
2016 sales data, the Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado, RAM and GMC Sierra all land in the Top 20
of overall vehicle sales, sending a very strong message that these pickup trucks are not only desirable
everyday drivers, but also strong contenders in the professional space. “The ½-ton market has made so many
strides in horsepower, fuel efficiency, towing capacity and overall price tag that these vehicles have
become serious contenders for fleet bids. The Ford F-150, Chevy and RAM are some of the top vehicles being
upfitted,” said Kelli Kenyon, a sales associate at the Greensboro, NC, Keystone call center. Brassfield
agrees, “I’m used to seeing bids for ¾-ton trucks, but the ½-ton vehicles have improved in every single
area.” Practicality is dominating the decision making of end users, added Brassfield.
Strong light-duty sales provide a positive outlook for truck accessory shops and professional upfitters
alike, especially since the light-duty market has made enormous strides in quality performance, features
• The form, function and rise in sales of commercial vans: According to the February 2016 edition of
the NTEA OEM Monthly Chassis Report, “Through November (2015), total (US/Mexico commercial van) sales were
up 21.8 percent, and shipments were just behind with a 21.4-percent growth rate.”
Kotz communicated a possible trend in work truck versus van, as data supports commercial work truck
registrations have declined, while van registrations continue to increase. Could it be the start of a
shift? Time will tell.
Kenyon says aftermarket product sales for commercial van models continue to do very well at Keystone,
stating the company has gone even deeper and broader on application coverage to accommodate the growing
business. Form, function and an array of innovative aftermarket upgrades to choose from, such as the new
WEATHER GUARD® EZGLIDE2 ladder rack system, continue to make commercial vans an attractive, affordable
• The groundbreaking Ford aluminum-alloy body: Simply put, “It’s a game changer. No doubt about it,”
said Kenyon. The introduction of Ford’s groundbreaking aluminum-alloy body is not merely a phase, rather a
new standard in the automotive industry. Ford encourages its brand loyalists to Go Further, and the
aluminum-alloy body allows just that. “Class-exclusive* military-grade, aluminum alloy body— this is the
same 5,000/6,000-series high-strength grade of aluminum that’s used in industries such as aerospace,
commercial transportation and energy. Our objective: reduce weight while increasing strength. What’s more,
aluminum-alloy is resistant to dents and corrosion.”
Kotz believes, “Making the decision to venture into aluminum has completely changed the industry and
its impact is just starting. Other makers are following suit and the truck equipment industry must be
ready for it, all the way down to the aluminum and steel plants.”
Erich Ross, Regional Sales Manager at Keystone, adds, “As the truck market continues to evolve, fuel
economy will always be a major factor. Engine design technology has always played a huge role in that,
but Ford has taken it a step further with its aluminum body. This has allowed it to reduce the F-150 by
700 pounds. That directly affects fuel economy and puts money back into the pocket of the business owner
who relies on a fleet of trucks out on the road daily.”
Popular Vehicle Platforms
Impressive horsepower, torque and towing capabilities in combination with upgraded features, improved
fuel economy and top rated safety features are now standard at a value price… allowing some extra wiggle
room in the budget for upgraded LED lighting, towing accessories, cargo securement, toolboxes and racking
systems. There is no shortage of quality choices in the work truck area, all of which have prime upfitting
potential. Here are a few of the top models recognized as contenders in the professional fleet market
• 2016 Ford F-150 named Kelley Blue Book’s Truck Best Buy
• 2016 Chevy Colorado was named Motor Trend’s 2016 Truck of the Year
• 2016 GMC Sierra 1500 Named the Texas Truck Showdown Towing Champion
• RAM 1500 named 2015 Fleet Truck of the Year
• 2015 Vincentric Best Fleet Value in America™ awards went to Toyota Tacoma Base Dbl Cab 2WD for mid-size
pickup; the RAM 1500 Tradesman Reg Cab 2WD for full-size ½-ton pickup; the RAM 2500 Tradesman Reg Cab 2WD
for Full-Size 3/4-ton heavy duty pickup; and the RAM 3500 Tradesman 6.4L V8 Reg Cab 2Wd for full-size 1-
ton heavy duty pickup.
• Ford named Best Overall Truck Brand in 2015 Kelley Blue Book Brand Image Awards
• Ford F-150 named 2016 Green Truck of the Year Award
How Can You Get a BIGGER Piece of the Action?
As a retailer, if you’re interested in exploring the professional fleet market segment then strive to
foster productive connections with local municipalities, reach out to vocational businesses and partner
with a trusted name like Keystone to get you started with effective display programs, merchandising,
stocking and spec’ing guidance, as well as product education.
Keystone offers its customers product from more than 800 suppliers and access to 165,000 unique SKUs.
The sophisticated logistics system operates through a highly reliable and route-based fulfillment network.
The eight warehouses and 47 non-inventory stocking cross dock locations are strategically positioned
throughout the country to best meet the delivery demands of customers in North America.
Steve Hesson, owner of Steve’s Vans and Accessories in Marietta, Ohio, says, “Ninety-nine percent of
the product we’re selling or upfitting comes from Keystone. The large offering of brands and products
makes it possible for me to diversify and grow.” Brassfield adds, “A KAO truck is in both my stores every
single day. I can order right now at 7 pm and have it here in the morning. It’s impressive.” That kind of
service gives you a significant competitive advantage during any bidding process.
What’s Kenyon’s advice to professional upfitters? “Let us work with you to tap into the bidding
potential for local municipalities. I encourage my customers to diversify the right way, through proper
product education, so their business can become a viable option in the fleet bid process,” she said.
Enter 2016 with a fresh perspective—the professional fleet market segment continues to embrace change
as a springboard for opportunity and so should you! Get a bigger piece of the action by optimizing the
many resources available to you through your Keystone salesperson.