January 11, 2021 • by Lauren Fletcher
Fleets have no control over national fuel prices, and while there are many ways to work on controlling costs at the pump, looking beyond the fuel pump is where a fleet manager can make actionable difference. From driver coaching to telematics and fuel cards, there are several ways to reduce costs. We dig into eight of the top ways to continue to reduce fuel costs — beyond the pump.
1 Driver Coaching & Comfort
The first place to start is with one of the most impactful challenges when it comes to fuel management beyond fuel costs — the driver. GPS fleet tracking is a solution that proves itself time and again as a technology that helps businesses solve challenges. Start the process of finding the right provider for your needs.
“Real-time in-cab audible driver coaching has been proven to be an impactful way of improving fuel efficiency without distraction. These systems allow the driver to keep their eyes on the road. It’s like rumble-strips for fuel-efficiency,” said Ethan Sweeney, director of Customer Success for Vnomics. Additionally, today’s vocational truck manufacturers are designing cockpits with the driver in mind. “New features allow drivers to customize their dashboard and leverage that information to make strategic adjustments to their driving habits in real-time. However, fleets must update their driver training programs to take advantage of these new truck technologies,” said Homer Hogg, director of Technician Service for TravelCenters of America. 2 Preventive Maintenance
2 Preventative Maintenance
Preventive maintenance programs can help keep vehicles operating at optimal efficiency and offer national discounts for services. “Shell Fleet Maintenance Hub users can conveniently schedule service, approve, or decline work and pay for maintenance — ultimately improving gas mileage and allowing the average 250-vehicle fleet to save as much as $56,100 annually,” said Tim Murray, director of sales for Shell Fleet Solutions.
Telematics systems play an essential role in giving fleet drivers greater insights into their operations by identifying and correcting costly driver practices.
“By implementing programs, fleet managers can help detect and improve driver behaviors such as speed control, idle reduction, harsh braking, and route optimization — all of which impact fuel usage,” said Murray of Shell Fleet Solutions. On-board telematics allows fleet managers to receive information in real-time, identifying where and when service is needed.“Not only do telematics help decrease downtime by identifying mechanical or electrical defects before they worsen and put a vehicle out of service, but it also helps prevent the vehicle from accumulating inefficient miles,” said Hogg of TravelCenters of America.
The goal of an effective fuel management program is to help build efficiencies and reduce fuel costs.“Some programs that offer visibility into your truck behaviors can also alert you to maintenance issues, by showing you which vehicles are losing their mpg edge,” said Jim Pederson, VP, North America National Sales for World Kinect Energy Services.
As we look to 2021, Hogg of TravelCenters of America noted that the EPA’s greenhouse gas (GHG) Phase 2 regulation is expected to impact fuel costs positively.
“We anticipate around a 14% fuel consumption improvement with Class 8 vehicles compared to 2017 emission levels. While there will be some increase in the acquisition costs of these newer vehicles, the fuel savings cannot be ignored,” he shared. Further fuel savings will remain a reality as manufacturers continue to use technology to improve vehicle aerodynamics, increase powertrain efficiency, push for automatic transmission, and reduce the vehicle’s rolling resistance. “Predictive cruise control and idle reduction technologies will have a positive impact as well,” Hogg added.
5 Tire Pressure
Another way fleets can reduce their fuel costs is by matching truck tire air pressure with the load.
“Matching tire air pressure with load is certainly not a new practice but has been made easier and more cost-effective with tire pressure monitoring system technologies. Regardless of the method used, most fleets have some sort of inflation monitoring system. Some assign employees to inspect the tires during fueling or a safety check. In contrast, others use tire manufacturers, dealers, distributors, and service providers to ensure their air pressure is in the correct range,” Hogg said.
6 Idle Reduction
Idling gets zero mpg, and idle reduction efforts are one huge place beyond the fuel pump where savings can be found.
“The fastest way to fuel savings is using what you have and making it smarter. Many fleets attempt this with training for drivers, while others use technology to improve vehicle intelligence. I gave an overview of idle fuel and sustainability for NC State Cleantech Simple reduction on idle. By reducing idle itself, an organization can curb 1-3 gallons of fuel per vehicle,” said Charlie Mahoney, business development for Derive Systems.
Fuel additives are another tool that fleet managers may not think of when it comes to reducing fuel costs.
“Increasing regulations from both ends of the fuel supply chain have resulted in diesel fuels that require more attention. Today’s diesel engines with high-pressure common rail injection systems (HPCR) operate at higher temperatures, putting added stress on ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD). Left untreated, the added pressure on ULSD may result in poor engine performance, increased maintenance costs, and additional downtime for diesel fleets,” said Pederson of World Kinect Energy Services. “Maintenance routines and fuel treatments vary by location, season, and OEM specifications, but using the right additives, at the right time, in the right climate mitigates most issues.”
8 Fuel Cards
You can’t overstate the value that fleet cards can bring to a business. These benefits, according to Pederson of World Kinect Energy Services, include simplified reporting and enhanced control.
“We regularly hear from customers that having a centralized view of fuel spending can really help simplify their businesses. It creates time savings by eliminating the need to gather paper receipts and do manual reconciliations. You also can capture odometer readings at the point of fueling,” he said.
Additionally, with fuel such a large, variable expense, Pederson shared a few simple steps you can take to help reduce fraud, theft, or error:
- Fuel only: Card controls you set limit the types of purchases that are authorized.
- Fuel type: Curbs you set indicate the type of fuel to be purchased from the dispenser, controlling access to premium products – or perhaps the wrong fuel type for a given piece of equipment.
- Volume: With knowledge of your fleet, you can place restrictions per vehicle based on tank size.
A universally accepted fuel card offers fleets the flexibility to purchase fuel at many more fuel stations, especially beneficial for fleets operating in larger regional areas or remote locations.
“The Shell Fleet Navigator card also provides valuable controls for driver spending —including when and where drivers fuel up — as well as insightful consolidated reporting for all fleet fuel purchases, allowing managers to identify abnormal transactions and maximize cost savings,” said Murray of Shell Fleet Solutions.
Getting Drivers on Board with Fuel Management
If your driver aren’t on board with fuel management and fuel savings, efforts will only go so far. One of the critical elements to achieving driver buy-in includes management buy-in.
“The program must be clearly important to the entire organization. The goals must be actionable and achievable by drivers, and the KPIs must be fair and clearly understood. There should be a positive impact, as well. Actions needed by the drivers cannot negatively impact their ability to deliver freight and provide great customer service. And, if the resulting savings can directly improve the driver’s life, whether it be investments in new equipment or direct investment into the driver (for example increased pay, incentives or improved benefits), that’s a win-win,” said Sweeney of Vnomics.
Consider trying offering driver incentives.
“By offering driver incentive programs tailored to the fleet, fleet managers can reward positive driver behavior, effectively encouraging them to follow efficient fuel practices,” said Murray of Shell Fleet Solutions. “Also, frequent training on the importance of fuel efficiencies and the broader benefits of a sustainable approach can also help drivers keep savings top of mind.”
Mahoney of Derive Systems also touted the benefits of gamification.
“Gamify the process by keeping score and rewarding those making improvements. Keep it visible to keep the savings going. Rewards and awards work great to retain ongoing efforts,” Mahoney said.
Fuel cards can also help here.
“Having fleet cards available to drivers as an emergency back-up fueling solution can help make sure your business maintains continuity whatever situation may arise. In the event of having onsite fuel pumps go-out, a natural disaster, or should a truck need to make an unplanned change in route, fleet cards provide a ready-made fueling solution without requiring a call back to the main office for approval,” said Pederson of World Kinect Energy Services.
The Bottom Line
As truck technology advances, driver training must evolve as well.
“Today’s truck systems are built to be more integrated, meaning the major systems that keep the truck in operation are designed to be interactive and complementary of one another. Transmissions, for example, are already mostly automatic or manual automatic, and this trend will continue. Today, transmission and engine controllers are better programmed to talk to one another to help reach fuel efficiency requirements that were virtually impossible before. Predictive cruise technology helps improve driving efficiency and save as much fuel as possible,” Hogg of TravelCenters of America added.
Don’t forget the basics, from tire pressure to driver training.
“Focusing on the basics like tire pressure monitoring, improving driver training, and taking advantage of today’s truck technologies will help fleets save fuel costs beyond the pump,” Hogg said.
And make sure that you get to know your fuel supplier.
“Most fleets have varying classes and sizes in operation and trying to keep each operating at peak efficiency is a fleet manager’s job. A good fuel supplier should help determine which fueling methods and which fuel management solutions are the best fit for your operation. Ask them; it’s their job. If they are not willing or able to sit down and review your existing situation and provide better solutions, it may be time to find a new supplier,” concluded Pederson of World Kinect Energy Services.