Driving costs down through impeccable maintenance and precision
When Cass County Electric Cooperative built its Fargo Service Center in 1996, a long-time need was finally realized: CCEC’s own fleet shop. The same year, Steve Cossette was hired as the fleet supervisor, and in 1997 Darren Andersen came on board as a fleet technician. Now, they bring a combined 80 years of experience to the fleet. They are both ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) Certified and Master certified in many areas. Cossette also recently achieved his Life-Time Certified Automotive Fleet Manager status through the NAFA Fleet Management Association. Cossette and Andersen work on everything from chainsaws to hydraulic tool repair to Class 8 trucks.
The fleet consists of 103 total units divided into four classes: power-operated equipment, such as digger derricks, aerials, backhoes, and trenchers; heavy-duty trucks; pickups, service trucks; and cars, vans, and SUVs. Over the years, CCEC has tried to replace old vehicles with more efficient vehicles. This includes investing in electric vehicles (EVs).
CCEC has purchased multiple electric vehicles and a hybrid vehicle to add to its fleet. In 2018, CCEC purchased an all-electric Chevy Bolt and a Mitsubishi Outlander, a hybrid vehicle that runs on both gasoline and an electric charge. These vehicles are utilized by CCEC employees and are used as an educational tool. By owning and regularly using electric and hybrid vehicles, CCEC can give members a first-hand look into the operation and upkeep of an electric vehicle. CCEC’s fleet shop does most of the maintenance in-house, although these vehicles require less maintenance than the other fleet vehicles. For example, the Chevy Bolt was driven 9,200 miles before it needed its first maintenance, which was a tire rotation.
Along with the Bolt and Outlander, CCEC also has placed a pre-order for the new Ford-150 Lighting, the electric version of the popular Ford F-150 pick-up. This pickup truck offers a targeted EPA-estimated range of 320 miles on a full charge with the extended battery life package that CCEC purchased. Along with an impressive battery range, the promises made by Ford about the other capabilities of the truck make for an exciting wait.
The advent of the in-house fleet shop has brought convenience and savings in both time and money. “The fleet department has gained the ability to do everything here. These guys spend the time and know the equipment. They do such a good job of preventative maintenance. CCEC has the specialized equipment, and our fleet shop has experience, knowledge, and talent to fix them up,” said Jodi Bollinger, vice president of engineering and operations.
When a vehicle needs repair, Cossette and Andersen can fix it and get it back to work. There is less downtime compared to the times when everything was outsourced. The vehicles would have to be out for extended periods, and as a result, jobs would be on hold. This way, the cooperative saves money on labor due to the fast turnaround. The fleet shop maintains a minimal parts inventory, saving on overhead. The shop only inventories bulk oil, batteries, filters, and shop supplies. All parts are bought from local vendors.
But there are more than just savings in labor costs. CCEC’s fleet shop maintains a meticulous preventative care routine for the vehicles. “We’re controlling costs by extending our life cycles through excellent maintenance,” said Cossette.
Malfunctions and wear and tear are caught before they cause too much damage and added expense. This impeccable maintenance routine has enabled CCEC to hold on to vehicles longer than before. The schedule for oil changes is every 5,000 miles. Times have changed – it used to be every 3,000 miles, but with newer engines that run cleaner and oils that have come a long way, vehicles can go longer between oil changes. Also involved in this maintenance operation is oil testing for diesel vehicles. An oil sample is taken from the diesel engines and sent to a lab. This step can catch potentially serious problems. Minor problems can be detected and fixed before becoming severe and expensive problems that require significant engine work, saving CCEC time and money.
CCEC carefully tracks and monitors fuel use through a fuel card system. This way, CCEC can keep a 100% accurate record on fuel use with a spreadsheet report on the exact cost per mile. CCEC has placed governors on the big trucks so that they can only go up to a certain speed. This helps with tire wear, fuel consumption, and safety. In 2021, the fleet ran 649,857 miles and used 65,134 gallons of fuel.
The fleet shop has been a part of CCEC for over 25 years, and it’s hard to believe the cooperative survived at one time without it. It is a behind-the-scenes department that is vital to the organization.