November 2011, Business Fleet - Feature
Creative Fuel-Saving Strategies
Learn how four fleets use driver input — and driver accountability — along with rightsizing, route optimization and new technology to achieve fuel savings of 10-20 percent.
Metro Mobile Electronics has undertaken considerable measures to rightsize its fleet, but after moving from camper shells to tonneau covers — among other changes, such as cab and engine size — the company has been able to save 3-4 miles to the gallon per truck.
Rightsizing, Batching Jobs and ‘Idle Jars’
Devin Warner, Metro Mobile Electronics’ national installation and service manager, says the Grapevine, Texas company started building its fleet of 20 half-ton Chevrolet crew cab pickups, but workers found the cab space went underutilized. Working closely with the company’s dealership and with driver input, Warner embarked on a rightsizing initiative that eventually increased each vehicle’s fuel efficiency by 3-4 miles per gallon.
Warner began by testing body configurations. While the standard cabs were too small, “We found that the extended cabs were a happy medium; it reduced the price and the overall weight of the vehicle and also kept the operator happy,” he says. “It also allowed us to carry all the equipment we need inside the vehicle and out of the weather.”
When Warner swapped his old V-8s for V-6s, drivers complained that the new engines were underpowered. Worse yet, the V-6 engines didn’t really help on fuel economy, especially when loaded on uphill runs. “The engines are screaming. It maxes them out and takes them almost to the red line if you’re climbing hills on cruise control,” he says.
So, Warner went back to a V-8 on subsequent models. The new V-8s are more efficient, and they feature cylinder deactivation for fuel savings. “We didn’t have the engines racing on cruise control when they encountered a hill, and the drivers didn’t complain of lack of power — and we’ve also got reduced fuel consumption,” he says.
The next big initiative involved the camper shells. Warner says the company liked having campers with no windows so onlookers wouldn’t be encouraged to break in for tools. He says the campers “worked pretty well until drivers started getting sloppy and not watching behind them as they were backing up, so we found a tonneau cover with heavy-duty, thick metal-gauge construction — very secure — and we experimented with it.”
The tonneau covers offer good rear visibility and lessen the weight of the vehicle, and pullout drawer systems were installed to aid organization. And while the cost “is essentially the same,” Warner says Metro Mobile noticed most of the trucks picked up fuel savings of at least a mile or two per gallon.
As an installation company, batching jobs whenever possible naturally decreased fuel consumption, but it also increased technician productivity by 20-30 percent, Warner says. Though batching doesn’t always work as some customers insist on particular dates, when it is possible, “It reduces our costs by sending a technician up to the area to complete more than just the one job, and then it also reduces costs for our customers and their customers — and it just trickles down the line,” he says.
At the end of the day, the best solutions sometimes come from employees. As a GPS tracking system installer, the company uses its own system to measure fleet performance. Originally, the system flagged excessive idling — as well as speeding — and sent email alerts only to field supervisors, until Warner decided to extend the notifications to all employees.
“What evolved in that process is the techs will actually call each other and say, ‘Dude, you need to shut off your truck, I’m tired of getting emails,’” Warner says. In response, an employee came up with the “Idle Jar,” which has everyone putting in their dues each time they idle for too long — money that is eventually pooled to buy fajitas.