Trends & Takeaways from 2024 NAFA I&E

Strong associations are the glue for the industries they serve. They are the touchpoints to connect members to members, the repositories for historical information, the policy advocates in...

Strong associations are the glue for the industries they serve. They are the touchpoints to connect members to members, the repositories for historical information, the policy advocates in government halls, the promoters of continuous improvement, and the assesors of excellence.


What follows is not a cohesive retelling of NAFA-the Fleet Management Association’s annual Institute & Expo but more of a scattershot of observations and takeaways. One person can’t shoulder all that. Call this Missives from Coach Class somewhere between San Antonio and Los Angeles. Does your head work the same way, as you sort through the week’s business cards, conversations with old friends, and new connections made?

The 2024 event in Alamo City drew 2,100 attendees, the highest since 2018. The association now claims 3,300 members, the highest in 24 years. How is NAFA delivering such strong numbers? We’ll attempt to answer at the end of the blog.

I’ll See You at NAFA

First, a personal observation: The phrase, “I’ll see you at NAFA” could more directly be interpreted as “I’ll see you at the fleet association’s corporate offices.” The association is so much more than the annual event — but “I’ll see you at the Institute & Expo” might not have the same ring to it.

This year’s event started on Sunday with preconference workshops, NAFA Regions meetups, and a happy hour. The bulk of the educational sessions kicked off on Monday.

In the afternoon, we media types listened to all the new stuff coming from the vendor community, from new aluminimum ramps and EV truck bodies to AI-powered apps and platforms to manage vehicle inventory, home charging reimbursement, and fuel expense management.  

Acknowledging Fleet Electrification Realities

Ford Pro head Ted Cannis took the stage to start Tuesday morning. He touched on the challenges and opportunities facing fleets today with a focus on connectivity and the transition to electric vehicles. To the latter, the messaging felt a little different than it did only two years ago.

Back then, the tone from the stage — not specific to Ford but almost all manufacturers — was more Pollyannaish on the path to electrification and the ROI potential. But that was when electrification was still theoretical and hadn’t yet considered the challenges in the trenches.  

The message from Cannis at NAFA 2024 was “Electrification is not easy, and we recognize it isn’t right for every situation right now.” The tone was more sober in light of today’s realities, along with the message that “It takes an ecosystem to electrify, and we have new tools and providers to help.”

After the opening keynote, I was honored to moderate a panel of fleet executives from Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, and Toyota. Two years ago, the message in these types of conversations leaned harder into the coming onslaught of new EV models. It’s evolved into “We continue to have ICE, hybrid, and EV models that will serve fleets of all types,” and the panelists reflected that.

Addressing the A Word

The panelists also addressed the “A-word” — Allocation — what happened over the past two-plus years when manufacturers were forced to limit client orders based on available inventory. Thankfully the supply chain issues have faded, for the most part. 

The industry is reverting back to open ordering, particularly for passenger cars, yet production capacity will continue to be strained for certain commercial vehicle types.

Breakdown of I&E Exhibitors by Type 

One way to understand the dynamics of an industry is to identify trade shows’ exhibitors by type. It’s a snapshot of the solutions fleets need and how the supplier community serves them. Here’s this year’s I&E breakdown: 

  • Technology & telematics 72
  • Fleet management services 70
  • Parts & equipment 60
  • Other 45
  • Electric vehicles & sustainability 43
  • Vehicle upfitting 41
  • Maintenance 30
  • OEM/vehicle manufacturer 23
  • Safety management 22
  • Risk management 18
  • Management services 17
  • Education and training 16
  • Alt fuel 9
  • Fuels & lubricants 5
  • Personnel products & services 5
  • Insurance 2

Regulations, ESG Are EV Catalysts

We may be in an era that could be characterized as a “reset” on the path to fleet electrification. Yet the market serving the EV ecosystem market is still growing, and, as the breakdown attests, those vendors populated the show floor.  

Right now, the regulatory environment is driving penetration on the government fleet side, while private fleets are just beginning to feel regulatory pressures. Organizations with internally mandated ESG goals are still pushing forward with their decarbonization efforts, despite the headwinds.

Of any state, California has been the outlier-slash-leader when it comes to pushing carbon emissions regulations. However, Section 177 of the Clean Air Act authorizes other states to adopt California’s standards in lieu of federal requirements. There are 12 Section 177 States.

The Advanced Clean Fleets rule set forth by the California Air Resources Board is taking effect. The initial requirements for organizations to fleet zero-emission vehicles are more stringent for government fleets than private ones, though starting on Jan. 1, 2025, private fleets in California will be required to run an increasing percentage of ZEVs.

Don’t Bury Your Head in the Regulatory Sand

I spoke with one fleet manager of a national fleet that is not headquartered in California but has a large number of vehicles in California. This fleet manager had a vague knowledge of ACF, but he didn’t seem worried about its implementation. “Electric cargo vans don’t have the range,” he said, “and they’ll scuttle the rule anyway. What is CARB going to do, come after me?”

Get educated now to make an informed decision. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Those 12 Section 177 states may decide to follow ACF, and together, they make up more than one-third of the vehicles in the U.S.

There is still an information gap between the knowledge holders and the fleets needing guidance. Lean on those vendors — there were 43 of them on the show floor this year. 

It’s their job to help fleets navigate this new EV ecosystem, whether it comes to the build-out of charging infrastructure, understanding home charging, managing creative lease structures, educating drivers, and accessing grants and incentives.  

(BTW, check out, it’s a great repository for every federal, state, and local grant and incentive out there.)

Finding the Right EV Use Cases

In a sit down with Jay Collins of WEX, he’s seeing WEX clients move to hybrid and battery-electric vehicles over plug-in hybrids. While PHEVs can be a good bridge technology to all-electric, it is imperative for fleet managers to ensure their drivers are charging every day to take advantage of their 25 to 35 mils of electric-only propulsion. Otherwise, the extra battery becomes dead weight in the fuel economy equation.

Collins said that fleets need to find the right use case to electrify to avoid failure. That seems obvious, but it all depends on accessing the data to make the best decisions.

Policy Change Needed

Delays in setting up charging infrastructure at the depot level continue to hold back EV fleet penetration. When possible, home charging provides a quicker path. But in the government space, issues around offsite equipment liability and employee privacy have been barriers.

Some cities and counties are figuring out solutions to those issues and are going through policy changes to allow home charging, especially as ZEV mandates kick into high gear.

Find Ways to Include Peers

It’s great to see the growth of the Black Fleet Network. They were involved in three sessions at I&E.

One takeaway that hit home for me: Exclusion is not always identified by color, gender, or orientation. Often, our default way of relating to work peers could be exclusionary to others on your team. Conversations around sports are a prime example. Pay attention to those who might be on the outside and find ways to connect the whole group.

Promoting AI, Trust & Transparency

The topic of AI is increasingly part of the seminars, exhibitors, and conversations at I&E and the industry overall. While the benefits of AI to drive efficiency and speed products to market are increasingly being realized, Sherry Calkins of Geotab is also looking to educate the industry around the mantra of trust, transparency, and transformation.

As the industry grapples with how to harness the power of AI, standardizations, best practices, and regulations won’t keep pace. The fleet and transportation industries need to understand the legal and ethical frameworks in conjunction with the rollout of new AI-based systems, Calkins said.

One powerful, eminent application of AI: Geotab is working on predictive modeling of drivers to demonstrate the ones most likely to compromise safety behind the wheel, so organizations can act before a crash occurs.

OEMs, Embedded Modems & Big Data

Following its Detroit competitors, Stellantis is rolling out connected vehicle data services through its new business unit, Mobilisights. Eddie Nath, head of sales, was in the expo hall to explain the program.

Mobilisights is part of the greater movement of automakers to own the connected vehicle universe by providing data insights from their factory-embedded modems for their fleet customers.

Mobilisight’s services are coming online through a subscription model that will leverage the rich, near real-time connected vehicle data sets coming from the Stellantis brands’ vehicles. 

Association Collaboration

Another association called TRSA, the association for the linen, uniform, and facility services industry, partnered with NAFA this year on a fleet safety summit. It’s a symbiosis of aligning interests — TRSA has a mandate to represent the linen industry’s concerns in general, while NAFA can provide the forum and best practices on the fleet side.

Here are some takeaways from the fleet safety summit:

  • A driver’s license can be suspended for missing child payments.
  • If you’re not already aware, check out license event notification (LENS) programs that are set up at the state level. They automatically deliver notifications when drivers incur violations.
  • Alex Greenman of Image FIRST Healthcare Laundry Specialists said digital rearview mirrors (used when visibility is blocked by the truck body) are well worth the ROI to deliver greater driver safety.  
  • Based on the constant stops, too many delivery drivers still don’t wear their seatbelts. More education is needed.
  • No one will ever complain about receiving the message, “I’m driving with my phone turned off. I’ll respond after I get to where I’m going.”
  • One survey revealed that 38% of drivers in 2023 reported feeling tired or sleepy while driving.
  • Said Greenman: “I’ll tell you the safest drivers without even seeing them drive — they have the cleanest cabs.”

Celebrating Excellence Face-to-Face

NAFA I&E is the forum to celebrate the winners of 100 Best Fleets program, which celebrates excellence in public and commercial fleets and their fleet managers and fleet technicians.

Being able to rub elbows with the runners up and winners is like instilling best practices in real time. In particular, the nominated fleet technicians are unsung heroes — not prone to pontification on stage, they lead quietly through their work. 

Bobit & NAFA’s Partnership

To cap off this year’s I&E, Bobit partnered with NAFA to bring back a ride and drive to I&E after a long hiatus. Though the ride and drive took place on the final day, the turnout was great and fleet managers got a firsthand education on many new models all at once.

Automotive Fleet and other Bobit fleet publications have been covering NAFA I&E since the inception of both organizations. If you’re up for a trip down memory lane, check out conference coverage through the years. (The 1963 convention saw record turnout.)

At Bobit, we’re grateful to strengthen our partnership with NAFA and look for even more ways for mutually beneficial outcomes that provide value to our fleet professional constituents.  

A Strong Association

Returning to the initial question — why the strong numbers for NAFA2024? For one, it’s clear we’ve fully exited the pandemic and can travel without fear. The economy is doing well too.

Overall, strong associations are the glue for the industries they serve. They are the touchpoints to connect members to members, the repositories for historical information, the policy advocates in government halls, the promoters of continuous improvement, and the assesors of excellence. Providing value drives membership. Kudos to NAFA for continuing to provide that value. 

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