TORONTO, Ont. -- With improved fuel efficiency, so the promise goes, you can reach a better bottom line.
Reducing fuel use is big on the agenda for lawmakers, while reducing its costs is huge for trucking fleets, and drivers, looking for any edge on already- thin margins.
In Canada, the federal government is encouraging the use of fuel-efficient technologies for heavy-duty trucks, under an initiative announced in September, 2009 that will partially fund successful applicants who install SmartWay-certified technologies with up to $100,000. In the US, meanwhile, this January the Obama administration announced US$187 million in available funding to improve the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks.
Under the SmartWay, ecoENERGY for Fleets initiative, programs like SmartDriver for Highway Trucking programs are designed to promote energy efficiency as a "cost-effective and responsible way to reduce costs and the environmental impact of fleet operations."
Natural Resources Canada's (NRCan's) SmartDriver for Highway Trucking covers aspects such as factors affecting fuel efficiency, vehicle care and inspections, vehicle practices and recommendations, and smart driving for fuel efficiencies. NRCan has set targets for this fiscal year to run seven training programs across the country, and seven in 2011.
Stacey MacDonald of Bronson Consulting, which was contracted by NRCan to organize its SmartDriver workshops, said NRCan is seeking a more strategic, focused approach to getting the course material out there.
"We take care of the administration around the training. And we capture the feedback so we can report back to NRCan on who has been trained and what the costs were, and this will go back into curriculum redevelopment. They are definitely trying to demonstrate the impact of all these dollars in terms of reducing greenhouse gases," said MacDonald.
NRCan is also working to develop a formula for greenhouse gas-associated savings for those who have completed the program.
"There's very much an interest in who is being trained. If they are not drivers, (we want to know) whom are they going out to deliver the training to, so we can capture the data," she added.
"SmartDriver for Highway Trucking is an awesome training program. Transcom Fleet Services has worked with FleetSmart to repackage the program under SmartDispatcher for Highway Trucking and it has been included in Transcom's nine-day Dispatcher/ Supervisor Course since 2008," said Roy Craigen, president of Transcom Fleet Services, who has been an advocate of fuel efficiency programs for over 20 years.
"SmartDriver for Highway Trucking provides the science and the practical techniques behind reducing greenhouse gases and reducing fuel consumption. It is a highly-interactive training program involving every attending student, includes excellent 'take-home' materials and is easy to follow along and learn from," he said.
Craigen also provides "Driver Eight in Thirty-Eight" a program modified for individual fleets to inspire professional drivers to hit a fuel efficiency target in 38 days.
"This is a lot of fun, educational and results-driven," said Craigen.
"When I present this course at Humber I am presenting it to people new in the industry. That also means they haven't bought into the popular misconceptions about fuel efficiency," said Michele Joslin, Commercial Driver Trainer, at Humber College's Humber Transportation Training Centre. Joslin has been qualified as a Fleet- Smart trainer since 2005. "We use Modules 3 and 4 of the SmartDriver for Highway as part of our curriculum. We felt that those modules best covered the driving situations that our graduates would be in," she said.
Many fleets are actively training inhouse to reinforce awareness among drivers about fuel-efficient techniques.
"The largest impact on fuel economy is driver behaviour. These include speed, road management and driving style," said Bob Halfyard, director of safety and compliance at Challenger Motor Freight.
First and foremost, spec'ing a unit for the tasks it will be performing is key to avoiding some runaway fuel costs. Looking for ways to improve operational efficiencies to reduce waiting times is also important for fleets to consider, he said.
Fleets must also ensure that drivers are familiar with new technologies on the unit to utilize them to their full potential.
"We promote idle control and work with the drivers to reduce unnecessary idle time through awareness. We do train drivers on progressive shifting. Even with automated manual transmissions they can go easy or 'feather' the fuel pedal to encourage lower RPM shifts. Speed control and road management is critical. Not just top speed but how fast do they accelerate, do they look well ahead and plan their traffic stops so they can be smooth and gradual, or are they charging from one light to another?" noted Halfyard.
Control of the space around the driver's vehicle, and avoiding hard braking or panic stops by looking well ahead, then slowing down just a few miles per hour and running steady instead of jockeying for position in traffic and having to speed up and slow down is also key, he said.
Adding aerodynamic and idle-reduction technologies reduces the wear and tear on engines and can save from 0.5 to 1 mpg, all inclusive, said Halfyard, who uses a modified Freightliner cab driver simulator at Challenger's Cambridge, Ont. facility.
Andy Roberts, president of respected training school Mountain Transport Institute, promotes the use of simulator training in an effort to coach drivers on fuel economy.
He said fleets could see a 5-6 % improvement in fuel efficiency with the applied techniques.
"Drivers can drive through a scenario, the simulator measures fuel economy, and we can then address specific issues we see in their driving style, such as that they're not anticipating red lights and still accelerating."
'Momentum management,' one of the key techniques, especially out on the west coast, teaches using the least fuel and the least brakes, ie. no fuel to go downhill, and no brakes to go uphill.
Beyond drivers' control, obviously, are weather factors, like headwinds, rain, snow and ice, anything creating a need for more power.
"With headwinds you can slow down, and this will keep better fuel efficiency. One of the big ones is to postpone or delay further travel if you're close to break time anyway," said Roberts.
George Smith, manager of traffic safety at the Canada Safety Council, runs a professional driver improvement course covering everything from proper shifting to how the newer engines are built and designed.
"What we like to do is train the trainer, strictly because then they have the option to be able to deliver the course whenever they see a need for it. The techniques of drivers can make a lot of difference. If they're touching the brakes or having to downshift, then pick up again, then reduce speed, that eats into the fuel consumption. It takes almost as much to get a load started as it does for a kilometre of operation. If you can keep the vehicle moving at a constant speed this is much easier on the driver and the vehicle," he said.
At one time, he said, the biggest problem with training was that owner/ operators believed the faster they were getting the load there, the more money they were making, until fuel costs hit them in the wallet.
"The same power unit with two drivers on it can have almost 10-15% difference in fuel consumption by the way they drive," said Smith. "It's better if you can avoid running APUs. The idea right now is to shut the vehicle down if it's not in use. In cold weather though, you need to start the vehicle 10-15 minutes before using it. If you're going to plug the vehicle in, put it on a timer to have it coming on a couple of hours before you need to use the vehicle."
Making it stick
Driver fuel efficiency can result in better fuel economy but only if the techniques stick.
"We found it incredible a few years ago that many drivers didn't know what their fuel mileage was," said Randy Cornell, vice-president of safety and recruiting, at Con-way Truckload. "Now we make sure drivers know what their fuel mileage is. It could be anything from a phone call to getting in the truck with them."
Craigen noted that SmartDriver's 'Card Game' for Fuel Efficiency is a much-appreciated initiative in the program.
"Professional drivers are split into groups and they compete with the other groups to see which group can get the most correct answers in the 'Card Game'," he said.
"One thing many fleets miss is the relationship between dispatchers and supervisors and fuel efficiency. Dispatchers and supervisors own the relationship with professional drivers. If we train our professional drivers on fuel efficiency without training their leaders we have devalued the original training. Imagine an inspired group of professional drivers who just completed their fuel efficiency training talking to a dispatcher who could care less about fuel efficiency. What message does this send to the driver group?" said Craigen.
Halfyard said Challenger employs various on-board devices and monitors fuel purchases, and follows up constantly with drivers after their initial and follow-up training.
"Everything is downloaded on a regular basis and reviewed consistently. We have had incentives in the past and some reward programs, although some of those faded with changes in technology or other factors. We are reviewing all of those programs and looking for new and quicker ways of managing the data to be able to put some meaningful programs in place as we move forward," he said.
Roberts said the techniques will stick especially if the fuel savings go right back into the drivers' pockets.
"One of the biggest things for drivers is 'what's in it for me?' Some carriers have created a competitive environment amongst drivers, which has been really successful. Reward programs can be cash, or as simple as the best parking spot in the yard by the door, with the driver's name on it."
Finding the time in everyday operations to aim at better fuel efficiency is part of the battle, though.
"If you talk to any fleet manager, they'll tell you fuel is one of their biggest expenses. The challenge in our industry is how am I going to provide training so drivers can improve and when am I going to find time to do it?" said Roberts.
"In general, trucking has a non-documented tradition of not wanting to spend much time, effort or money on developing people and as a result we have a lot of senior people who have not had training like SmartDriver. We are working with fleets from across Canada and are finding owners, managers, supervisors and professional drivers who tell us they never knew how many items can dramatically impact fuel efficiency and GHG management," said Craigen.
As for what is realistic in terms of drivers and fuel efficiency, "We just seek an honest effort and an overall improvement. A well-trained, skilled driver can achieve 8 mpg consistently while others will struggle to reach 6 sustained mpg," noted Halfyard.