Fuel efficiency improvement found behind the steering wheel

A recent fleet study published by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) says the average fleet is carrying a cost of 64 cents per mile over 109,000 miles annually, equating to nearly $70,000 per year in fuel expenses per truck.

The report only uncovered the obvious.

“It’s not exactly news that fuel is a fleets’ number one expense,” Mike Roeth, Executive Director NACFE said during a panel discussion at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo Monday in Long Beach, Calif.

What wasn’t as obvious were the potential targets for fleets, drivers and OEMs who each attack lower MPG costs from various angles.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) says the 64 cents per mile average is pretty good, but NACFE says 58 cents per mile is possible.

Freightliner’s Team RunSmart says 42 cents. Aero-aficionado owner operator Steve Kron says drivers who are areo-aggressive can get down to 38 cents per mile.

With SuperTruck, OEMs think 37 cents per mile is possible.

“There are tens of thousands of dollars in opportunity for the fleets,” Roeth says.

While much of green innovation lies at the feet of OEs, there are plenty of things fleets can do on their own, and those returns can mount quickly. Roeth estimates based on current averages, adding a 1 percent savings would equal $700 per year per truck.

Mike O’Connell, Frito Lay’s director of fleet capability, says his company – a division of Pepsi Co. – has trained more than 14,000 of its 17,000 drivers on how to be more efficient behind the wheel.

“Driver training can have up to a 30 percent impact on miles per gallon,” he says of the company’s plan to improve its fuel efficiency. “It was more to me about a cultural shift.”

O’Connell – who oversees the seventh largest fleet in the U.S., which includes everything from passenger cars to Class 8 trucks – says driver training had several key benefits, only one of which was its impact on MPG. He says the company saw a sustainable 6 percent fuel economy improvement from its over-the-road drivers and a double digit return from its route delivery fleet.

“And in most cases, we got (to the destination) faster, or in the same amount of time,” he adds.

Ryder Systems, Inc. has more than 210,000 vehicles in its commercial vehicle fleet and dispenses nearly 300 million gallons of diesel fuel at its 400-plus commercial fuel service locations.

Goverment mandates have become a thing of regularity as Washington seeks to squeeze more green energy and innovation from commercial trucking; something Ryder Vice President, Supply Chain Management, Fleet Solutions, Scott Perry doesn’t see changing anytime soon.

“I think we’re in the new norm that every three years or so, there is going to be new (emission) requirements,” he says, adding fleets who are slow or resistant to adapt will cause regulatory changes to be thrust upon the rest of the industry.

Perry says fleets face a lot of headwinds with drivers, primarily recruitment and training. In the search for drivers, fuel efficiency can, and does, fall to the wayside.

“Fleets are saying ‘Make it easy on me to recruit drivers.’,” he says. “They’re not focused on fuel economy. They just want safe, dependable drivers.”

But Perry says there are several green truck technologies available to fleets that can have a positive impact on driver retention and fuel efficiency.

“From some of the early feedback (from the use of automated transmissions) on the driver’s well-being, their state of health…it’s having an impact,” he says of decreasing fatigue and mental wear-and-tear. “From a safety standpoint, we’re also getting some positive feedback. Drivers are not as distracted while driving. Not worried about downshifting…”