Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Providers say supply chain issues are responsible for delays in county and municipal vehicle orders, which have pushed back fleet acquisitions for months and even years.
“The microchip or semiconductor shortage, is the biggest hold back on some of the stuff,” said Jeremy Capper, general manager of Capper Auto in Washington, which frequently fills orders for the county and city of Washington. “It’s just the supply, it’s not there. Shipping and stuff like that from China and Taiwan, where these semiconductors are produced is taking a long time.
“That and sheer demand versus supply. One of the largest chip manufacturers burned up within the last year, so that decreased the supply by a lot. The other thing is with the assembly plants of the actual vehicles, we had one line that was down for four months due to the Coronavirus and parts availability.”
Three media representatives from Stellantis, which owns Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, and several other vehicle brands, declined or did not reply to interview requests. Head of Ram Brand Communications Todd Goyer did give a brief statement on the delays.
“Stellantis has been working closely with our suppliers to mitigate the manufacturing impacts caused by the various supply chain issues facing our industry,” he said in an email. “As a result of those efforts, all Stellantis North American plants have been running production since Nov. 1. As the situation remains very fluid, we are continuing to carefully monitor and make production adjustments as necessary to minimize additional production impact.”
While the supply chain problems effect every level of the car market, government orders seem to be getting the short end of the stick.
“What they’ve done is they focus more on a retail sort of order. If you came in yourself looking for a new vehicle, they’re attempting to build that vehicle more than municipality vehicles,” Capper said. “As a car manufacturer, the municipalities or the fleet side of things is pretty minute compared to the retail side of things. The number of personal buyers or regular retail customers are a lot bigger, and that’s probably their biggest reason for focusing on the retail side.”
Municipal officials tell a similar story. Capper said newsletters from manufacturers warn of an expected 12-34 week delay in retail orders depending on make and model, but Washington City Finance Director Kelsey Brown said the city had been (and would continue to be) waiting far longer on an F-150 for the wastewater treatment plant.
“The order was placed in March/April with a plan to receive in July for our new fiscal year,” Brown said in an email. “We have recently received word that they have canceled all fleet vehicle orders. We have been given the option to order a new (truck) for 2023 but may still have the same issue with that. We are currently evaluating our options. Usually it takes about 6 months to from order to delivery.”
Capper said the issue of vehicle cancellation was increasingly common for pickup trucks.
“I’ve got trucks that they told me they’re not going to build as ‘22s,” he said. “We ordered (one) as a ‘21, it got changed to a ‘22, and they’ve just told me it won’t be built at all. We’ll have to order it as a ‘23 is what they’re saying, and that’s if things are straightened out by then.”
County officials say the problem has hit them as well.
“We were looking for about a month and a half, maybe a little longer, for pickups, but they’re just not out there and I was recently told that you couldn’t even get them on government orders, but I talked with a different dealer (who) said I still can,” Washington County Engineer Jacob Thorius said at a mid-November Board of Supervisors meeting. “It’s been a struggle with COVID and supply chain issues. They’ve been ordered and will arrive hopefully some time in June at the earliest.”
Delivery timelines for more specialized vehicles are generally worse. Thorius said a newly ordered dump truck wasn’t expected until 2023. Board Member Richard Young said a new ambulance would take almost two years, far beyond the nine-month build time of the county’s most recent addition.
“I was told by some manufacturers this week when I was at ISAC that it could be 22 months to get a new ambulance,” he said. “They’re saying a year (to) 18 months just to get a chassis.”
There does seem to be one exception to the rule. Washington Police Chief Jim Lester said a recent order of two patrol cars had been delayed only a few weeks, though part shortages were still delaying their deployment.
“We really have had no issues as far as vehicles,” he said. “The vehicles are at the upfitters waiting on some parts to be completed.”
That may be an isolated account. Washington County Chief Deputy Shawn Ellingson said his department was still struggling with vehicle purchases.
“Ours is the same situation, I have three squad cars that I’ve ordered and I’ll be happy if we get them by June,” he said. “I have a truck that I’ve been waiting on since January, and they actually suspended production of it, so it’ll probably be May of next year, so that’ll be over a year. It’s tough right now.”
Ellingson said the delays meant keeping older cars in service longer, adding maintenance expenses that could have been avoided with newer vehicles.
“It slows down our process for getting those out of our fleet,” he said. “We have to be very careful that we are replacing things that need to be replaced … we haven’t had a situation where we’ve blown a motor or had a situation where a car is unusable. But our insurance company, which is ICAP, also doesn’t like it when we get over 100,000 miles on a patrol car.”
While the county saves some expenses with an in-house maintenance team, Ellingson said they were feeling the resource drain.
“It does make things a little bit tougher for us to stay on top of the maintenance side of things,” he said. “We will manage, we’ll have to.”