Don’t be lulled into complacency just because fuel prices have dropped. They will go up again and companies need to be ready.
As fuel prices drop, many fleets are taking their eye off of fuel economy. The result is that they are not as willing to invest in new fuel-saving technologies. But fuel is an expense that has a tendency to get back on the radar only when prices start skyrocketing. And fuel — regardless of the price per gallon — is still the number one fleet operating cost.
According to the most recent report from the American Transportation Research Institute, “An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking: A 2014 Update,” fleets paid 54.5 cents per mile for fuel in 2013.
The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) recently published its 2015 Annual Fleet Study, which is based on real-world use of fuel efficiency technology by 14 major North American fleets.
The study focused on Class 8 day cab and sleeper tractors and trailers. The purpose of the survey was to determine the level at which these fleets were adopting 68 technologies and practices to save fuel. These fleets averaged 7 mpg compared to the average of 5.9 mpg achieved by most fleets. This resulted in a $9,000 fuel cost saving per truck, per year.
While these numbers are impressive, no one technology is right for every fleet, so be cautious about adding technology for technology’s sake. The best way to determine if a specific technology is right for you is to do a side-by-side comparison.
For example, run a trailer without aerodynamic devices down a particular route. Then add a side skirt or boat tail and run the same trailer down the same route to see if there is an improvement in your fuel economy. If there is a measurable difference, do the math to see if adding the product or technology makes economic sense given its purchase price. This is the ROI calculation that all fleets should do prior to investing in new technologies.
An obvious, but often overlooked way to make a difference in your fuel economy numbers is to focus on the driver. Drivers have the biggest impact on the fuel economy. Spending time, money, and effort educating your drivers on how to drive more efficiently will result in big gains. Ninety percent of the fleets in NACFE’s Fleet Fuel Study are focusing on driver behavior as part of their fuel economy efforts.
Additionally, there is still much work to be done concerning the aerodynamics of the entire vehicle. According to a report titled, “The Aerodynamics of Heavy Vehicles: Trucks, Buses and Trains,” as the aerodynamic efficiencies improve on the tractor, the trailer actually becomes less aerodynamically efficient.
To truly improve the fuel efficiency of your fleet, you have to first focus on driver training and then look at the aerodynamics for the combined tractor and trailer. Obviously it’s easier to justify the cost of trailer aerodynamic devices if your tractor is always paired with the same trailer. This is not the case for most fleets, but that does not negate the need to at least start investigating the benefits of trailer aerodynamics.
Another big area where fuel savings can be realized is setting proper engine parameters. We can compare and contrast vehicle specs and help you determine the most efficient engine and drivetrain combination for your application. We recently did that for a fleet and the difference in the specs between the two vehicles studied resulted in a 2 mpg difference in fuel economy. Our numbers show moving from 6 mpg to 6.5 mpg will save a fleet $3,800 a year in fuel at current prices if they travel 100,000 miles.
The cost of fuel goes up and down, but your focus on squeezing every mpg out of your fuel investment should never waiver.