By Mike Antich
Fleet managers need to view work trucks as earning assets. To maximize truck productivity, it is necessary to optimize specifications, operating procedures, and replacement strategies. When spec’ing vehicles, past history is important, but one outcome to using last model-year specs is repeating past inefficiencies. Fleet managers need to adopt a “clean sheet” approach to how they manage their truck fleets. One way to increase truck productivity is to modify specs to increase mpg, thereby reducing fuel spend. For instance, PHH Arval conducted a study that showed fuel costs can be reduced by slightly over-spec’ing a truck. Fuel economy was improved by as much as 0.3 mpg by slightly over-spec’ing an engine to run more consistently in the “sweet spot,” choosing a gear ratio low enough to suit a fleet’s application and location and enabling the correct fuel-efficient, engine-specific parameters.
GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services offers another productivity tip when spec’ing powertrains. It recommends gearing a truck so the engine is running at a slower RPM at a given speed, which results in less fuel burned. However, GE says this must be balanced with meeting “startability and gradeability” requirements. Another GE productivity suggestion is to specify multi-torque or multi-horsepower engines. These engines run at a lower rating when the driver operates the throttle. When the cruise control is engaged, the engine rating increases to its higher rating. This encourages a driver to use cruise control, which can save fuel over a driver-controlled throttle.
In the final analysis, the drivertrain, tires, engine, and aerodynamics of the vehicle should be properly matched to maximize fuel efficiency. Selecting trucks with aerodynamic features can prove cost-effective. The rule of thumb is that for each 10-percent reduction in air resistance, mpg increases by 5 percent. Examples of aerodynamic modifications include specifying aerodynamic mirrors, moving air filters under the hood, and eliminating fender-mounted mirrors. When spec’ing auxiliary equipment, be cognizant of component weights. Extra weight not only increases fuel consumption, but also reduces payload capacity.
Fleet managers should keep an open mind on how vehicles should be spec’ed. You never want to overload a vehicle, but could a smaller truck with heavy-duty options accomplish the task at hand? Likewise, you do not want to underpower a truck, but a smaller engine with a higher numeric axle ratio might increase fuel economy, while maintaining the same payload.
A clean-sheet approach should also be adopted with fleet cycling parameters. Avoid the error of having a single replacement policy for all work trucks. Replacement policies should be guided by lifecycle cost and history, mileage, and engine hours.
Altering tire specifications should also be investigated, such as using low-rolling resistance tires. However, the best way to reduce tire and fuel costs is to establish a process for drivers to regularly monitor tire inflation. This will increase tire wear-and-tear and reduce fuel efficiency. To control replacement tire costs, eliminate driver behaviors that decrease tire tread life, such as speeding, excessive braking, driving over curbs, and load distribution. Another cost reduction strategy adopted by some fleets is the switch to retread tires. Retreading tire casings can add an additional 120,000 miles per retread at about 35 percent of the cost of the new tire.
Modifying Driver Behavior
How employees drive trucks greatly impacts productivity. Driver training, in-truck displays, and telematics can be used to modify driver behaviors. Fleet productivity increases when drivers adopt more efficient driving techniques. One example is unnecessary idling. Drivers should avoid idling whenever possible. If a driver leaves the truck, the employee should be instructed to turn off the engine. It is also important to keep in mind that an engine wears out twice as fast idling as under normal operation. One hour of unnecessary idling a day over the course of a year adds the equivalent of 26,000 road miles to an engine’s wear.
Opportunities to Increase Productivity
Fleet managers must adopt a multiprong approach to increase truck productivity. In addition to modifying truck specs, fleets are also focusing on training drivers to drive for improved fuel economy. A controllable fuel expenditure is the elimination of unnecessary idling. A growing number of fleets are also researching, piloting, and implementing telematics solutions to optimize routes and reduce idling. Increasing productivity while managing and containing fleet costs is the central part of a fleet manager’s job. By taking a hard look at how trucks are spec’ed, along with modifying driver behavior, a fleet manager can find many opportunities to increase productivity and reduce costs.
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