When you think of how a trucking company fuels up their vehicles, it likely seems a boring thought. The truck pulls up, the truck driver gets out and puts the fuel card into the slot on the fueling terminal or goes to pay the attendant, then fuels up.
And yet, like so much else nowadays, technology is changing the game. The latest development lies in that of how your fleet fuels up using fuel cards. It’s also important to keep in mind that there is a lot more to saving fuel than just not burning as much as you normally do.
There’s also a buying less or buying for less component that should be considered. How do you do that? By investing in technology that takes the guessing out of where to buy fuel and at what price is best.
We have entered a time where technology provides us with the tools to find these types of places while we are out on the road. Today, we’ll look at the various ways your fleet can shift their fuel savings frame of mind from just what’s under the hood, but also the electronic components within the cab, and even in your truck driver’s hand.
The Fuel Card?
Ironically, fuel cards have been around for decades, yet their full potential – the capabilities that can now be included in small bits of plastic, in the digital “cloud” – is only now being fully realized. Today, it’s generally smaller fleets who use less fuel cards. Larger fleets almost to a carrier is on some sort of fuel card program, but is it the right one? No matter what, they offer great benefits.
A great positive about running with fuel cards is their scalability. Generally, as your fleet grows, depending on the technology you use, the fleet fuel card program can grow with you. It’s one less thing that your back-office has to worry about: Mounds of paperwork or receipts cascading down from desktops.
Whether you run one, two or two-hundred trucks, automating your fuel card payment, purchasing, invoicing, tracking and collecting functions save both time and money.
There are several fuel card options available on the road today. Software and analytical tools provide greater insight than ever before. As the smartphone revolution continues unabated, expect more fuel-tracking apps to make their way onto the scene.
But what are some actual real-world examples of how the fuel-payment technology we’ve referred to might save a motor carrier on some serious cash. Well, that’s exactly what we need to move fully beyond: Cash.
One New Jersey-based fleet partnered with a third-party company who could provide a comprehensive data-management and fuel card solution big data and real-time information gathering and analysis. With a fleet of over 2,100 trucks spread across the country the company wanted a partner who they could rely on to manage a fuel card program that allowed them to track truck driver data, digitize receipts and more.
The cards can also be specially coded so that they only function for fuel-specific purposes. Not that there’s any reason for a fleet manager to mistrust his or her truck drivers, no, it’s about enabling a function that only allows for fuel purchases for an added extra layer of protection. Stolen card will be unusable for anything but fuel, for instance.
It’s more about protecting the card – from anything.
Beyond security and ease-of-use, new fuel card partnership, and even in-house software options, some third-party providers offer:
- Fuel tax solutions
- Fuel management solutions
- Purchasing control
- Fuel terminal location and information
With all these capabilities built into the back end, many are asking, what’s on the card?
Fuel Card-Specific Capabilities
Many of the fuel card solutions used by fleets – and offered by others – are built for trucking in mind. Purchases should revolve around trucking-related purchases, I.E. fuel.
Still, others would rather see their cards opened wide up, for truck driver-friendliness and morale boosting measures. Technology has come such a way that now you can rely on specific requirements. You can set it up for fuel at this location or all purchases at another location. Of course, the truck driver also knows that you know exactly what they are spending.
Many vendors, ready to accept truckers stopping at their fuel station – with attached convenience store, perhaps – accept fuel cards and even offer discount pricing specifically for truckers who come in using them.
However you look at it, fuel is either the largest or second-largest cost that every fleet must deal with, so pricing ability should be built into any fuel card/software solution.
Working within a proprietary network that have controls built-in, whether specified by the vendor or the partner, allows you to ensure a level of merchant and motor carrier volume discount transparency that couldn’t have been possible before this kind of technology existed.
Actionable Data through Web-Based Applications
What makes modern fuel cards special is the actionable data that you can get from them. Every time a card is swiped, data is kept on everything from location and fuel amount needed to overall load weight. All of this can help fleet operations make more efficient forward-looking fuel and route planning.
When combined with web-based applications, fleets can manage fuel expenses through an easy-to-use control panel or dashboard interface installed onto their desktop or downloaded to a smartphone or tablet via an app.
Fuel card providers that offer such services set themselves apart from the competition because they allow motor carriers to do things like:
- Track individual truck driver key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Mobile fuel price discovery or fuel price discovery on-the-go
- Fleetwide fuel price optimization
- Fleetwide route planning based on location fuel price trend
- Instant access to nearest in-network fueling station
As everything else, these capabilities could be built into an app that a trucker can utilize while they are on the road – well, pulled over because we don’t want anyone distracted trying to deal with this blog while behind the wheel.
Computing Power to the Rescue
The nearly-constant drumbeat of computing power reshaping industries continues. This time, well, almost every time, it’s trucking. And yes, this does have something to do with a fuel card.
As we hope you are seeing – and we have been saying – all of this is connected. After all, time is money, and computing power offers fleets and individual truckers the ability to save lots and lots of time.
Another fascinating example of technology to the rescue comes from a fuel card that lets you optimize an irregular route truckload and is fully capable for fleets of up to 50 trucks or more; in fact, that’s what the vendor prefers.
The company contends that through using predictive software, fleets can optimize their over-the-road (OTR) fuel consumption. By using GPS and traffic-reporting technology, a company can now figure out a pre-trip route based on the least-possible-fuel-usage option.
This way, whether fuel prices are going up or down, you can rely on the power of collective software analyzing thousands – if not, tens of thousands – of fueling stations and providing route planning based on that sort of optimization.
Or No Card At All
If you haven’t already left your head spinning on the changing fuel card technology available to modern-day fleets, get ready for an even deeper trip down the rabbit hole.
The new development in fuel card program innovation is in cardless technology. Imagine the latest toll road technology where a vehicle can head straight on through a toll via an express lane and a card with an RFID chip installed.
While this is nothing new for tolls, this is as groundbreaking a development as the fuel islands that truckers use today to fuel up. The only difference is now they no longer should get out of the cab and swipe their card.
With an account filled up with funds provided by the motor carrier, a trucker merely needs to show up, connect with an RFID reader and quickly get the pump going. Once full, the pump is disconnected and the truck driver pulls off. There’s no need for a physical receipt since everything is recorded electronically via the software attached to the RFID-enabled card.
Not only are you saving a receipt – trees, ink, resources, pay, etc. – but you are enabling a much more efficient process, thus saving time, and you know what time is: Money.
The drawback to not having a physical card and relying on solely an RFID chip are for those carriers who want to use the card for more than just fueling. The number of fleets opening their credit cards for their truck drivers to use – perhaps to a limit, or with incentives attached – could be a problem for widespread adoption.
Another potential limitation would be the number of service stations that might participate in such a program and implement or install cardless fueling systems. Certainly, it wasn’t overnight that Apple or Android Pay were adopted, especially in America, so it won’t be the same for these cardless systems.
Things like discounts based on volumes purchased and more all need to be worked out before this becomes a widely-used system, but overall, this is where the signs are pointed.
As discussion swirling around electronic and semi-autonomous trucks continues unabated, things like cardless fuel card systems attached to advanced web-based software solutions will become even more commonplace. The future is now for the trucking industry, and it looks like this is where it’s headed.
Will your fleet be ready for the big change when the time comes?