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Putting Your Trucking Company into a Fuel Saving Frame of Mind

If there is one aspect of running a trucking company that every fleet manager or executive spends countless hours on, it’s fuel. As time has gone on, we have seen fuel averages slowly climb. Technology gets better, we burn or buy less fuel, and some see that as a natural progression. Yet, there are many fuel-saving technologies and tactics that work, and still too few fleets are making the necessary investments.

Far too often fleet managers are overwhelmed with information. What are the best ways to tackle fuel savings? Which technologies are worth it? It is critical that fleet managers, technicians, and truck drivers all get into a proper fuel frame of mind. The question is, how to do it? Fleets need to take a logical and methodical approach to implementing a fuel savings program.

First, you need to research the technologies and tactics available to you, depending on the size and composition of your fleet. What are your fleet fuel pain points? Do you pay attention to where you buy fuel from or are you operating on outdated and less fuel-efficient equipment? Or perhaps the truck drivers operating the equipment aren’t exhibiting the behaviors necessary to ensure increased fuel savings.

Whatever the reason, it is up to you to conduct a deep-seated research analysis of your operation to figure out what the fuel spend needs to be. Where is your bottom line hit hardest by fuel expenses? It might be prudent to try and get educated about what other trucking companies are doing to decrease their overall fuel spend. Consider sources like:

  • Media outlets such as this blog!
  • Industry associations such as the ATA Technology & Maintenance Council.
  • Government resources such as the EPA’s SmartWay Program.

It does no harm to reach out to component suppliers, technology providers, vendors, and just about anyone else within the supply chain to get their opinions on technologies and tactics to help you save fuel use across your fleet. The point is getting the information you need to make an informed decision.

Creating New Opportunities

Once a critical analysis is complete, you want to target specific goals. Whether it be adding low-rolling-resistance tires or adding skirting to some of your trailers – meet one goal at a time. You could even tie in motivational techniques like rewarding truck drivers who meet the most mpg-boosting goals.

Whatever you do, you must create a benchmark to measure performance against. What is your baseline MPG? Solutions must also be carefully measured against the baseline. Also ensure you are doing a lot more than just figuring out how much money you are saving. There are additional costs that factor into the fuel equation. Look closely at maintenance costs, as one such example.

Yet, you cannot just go on a spending spree in a vacuum. If you are making fuel-saving investments, you have got to be continually monitoring their impact on the fleet. Do not hesitate to give your technicians the authority to make decisions that have a positive impact on your bottom line. Have you provided a method by which they can provide feedback? There are few better places to get the take on what is working and what isn’t than from those working on and driving big rigs.

Above all, never stop learning. You always want to repeat what works, but also see if there are ways you can further increase performance and positive outcomes. As you go through the monitoring and reworking process, you will reject some things and adopt others. Whatever the method, the end goal should always be more increases in fuel efficiency and a reduction in costs.

One thing you can be certain of is that the chase for better fuel efficiency and overall cost reduction will never end. It is the prime driver of any business, whether for-profit or not. Everyone within the organization plays a critical role in fuel saving outcomes. UPS is one example of a major transportation player working to reduce their overall carbon footprint.

UPS is partnering with Kenworth and the Department of Energy to develop a super truck designed to potentially reach 15 mpg. Cutting edge technologies are becoming more commonplace within the trucking industry. Whether it be enhanced powertrains or aerodynamic factor, fleets of all sizes have been making big purchases in mpg-saving equipment and technology.

The list is long:

  • ATM powertrains
  • Low-rolling-resistance tires
  • Wide-base single tires
  • Tire pressure monitoring and inflation systems
  • Aerodynamic skirts
  • Adaptive loading axles
  • Synthetic lubricants
  • … and more!

Many fleets consider preventative maintenance a key cog in the wheel of their fuel savings and cost reduction strategy. Others look to sustainability as a fuel saving solution. Newer is greener and greener means less overall fuel cost and consumption. Still more get very specific about how they intend to save fuel.

One example comes from a small trucking company that specs 400 Freightliner Cascadias running a 15L Detroit engine on a 12-speed AMT with a 6×2 axle setup. The tractors pull trailers outfitted with trailer skirting and boat-tail deflectors. When on the road, truck drivers use a tight tractor-to-trailer configuration, which minimizes air turbulence. Zero offset wheels and rain-gutters on the trailer roof all provide a smooth level of airflow from the fore to the aft of the vehicle. These details combine to offer a formidable level of fuel savings.

While you may want to retrofit existing tractors with fuel-saving technologies, sometimes the best way to go is to simply invest in brand-new equipment. If the money is there, you could see bigger long-term savings. In fact, according to Fleet Advantage fata, a simple jump from model-year 2015 to 2020 could yield first-year savings of nearly $17,000. For fleets with even 50 trucks, that equation means big savings.

It Isn’t One-and-Done

Still, it is important to consider that you can’t just buy a new truck and expect the magic to happen. We must go back to the beginning of this article when we talked about repetition and identification. Both truck drivers and technicians need to be constantly looking at ways that specific behaviors will yield better fuel economy.

Whether it be through better speed management, load capacity, or idle time – everyone plays a part in keeping fuel costs low. Use metrics to address which vehicles are underperforming and waste no time in addressing those performance issues. Rather than focusing on dollars specifically, focus on gallons consumed by your vehicles on the road.

Fleets also must take a comprehensive approach to fuel savings. Certainly, there are many proven technologies to draw from and not all of them will make sense for your fleet. Some specs will significantly contribute to overall fuel economy. Over time, a lot of small changes make a big difference. Whether it be using aerodynamic mud flaps or a rear axle ratio, fleets must look to all corners in finding fuel-saving solutions.

Managers also need to ensure they pay close attention to the bottom group, say the bottom 5% to 10% of trucks, when performance is rated. Is it an equipment or truck driver training issue? MPG constitutes a moving target. Rarely is it ever static. You make the biggest gains by focusing on the lowest performers, which is true in almost any situation.

When motor carriers replicate what works throughout the fleet, fuel savings gains multiply. Try creating a habits-based scoring system that you can distribute to everyone operating a commercial motor vehicle within the fleet. There are numerous ways to impact truck driver behavior, with this being just one.

The Available Technology

Ever heard of the term, there’s an app for that? Well, as we have explained before, in trucking there are a lot of apps for a lot of things. What better way to get your truck drivers to squeeze the most out of available fuel economy then by using technology. We talked about doing what other fleets do and doing it well. Why not use in-cab coaching apps to realize that?

Some motor carriers are tying fuel bonuses to improvements tracked through smartphone apps. Whether it be through visual queues given to the truck driver or tracking mechanisms embedded within the vehicle, tracking and impacting fuel performance is simply an easier job with technology.

There are even applications and testing methods that take the actual fuel mileage a truck driver incurs completely out of the equation. Instead, it looks at specific truck drivers’ behaviors relayed through the system and transmitted back to the home office. An audio-based system provides alerts if the truck driver is going over the speed limit or operating the vehicle in a way that would impact fuel performance or safety.

The point is rewarding truck drivers who focus on fuel savings. No matter what type of fleet you run, the best way to get buy-in from those on the front line is to create a comprehensive way to address their concerns and train them. From the top down, your entire fleet needs to be in a fuel saving frame of mind.

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