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Airing ideas

WINDSOR, Ont. - The hunt for fuel efficiency is one shared by any fleet still in business today thanks to the high price of diesel.As the number of environmental issues, such as Kyoto and tightening U...


WINDSOR, Ont. – The hunt for fuel efficiency is one shared by any fleet still in business today thanks to the high price of diesel.

As the number of environmental issues, such as Kyoto and tightening U.S. emissions standards, have increased so too have the number of ways to approach the dilemma: How do you burn less without simply parking your truck?

As Truck News went to press, the Canadian government was rumored to be preparing to unveil its incentive program to encourage fuel efficiency. While little is known at this point, some industry experts have speculated carriers may see some sort of tax breaks for getting greener.

After the 2001 Windsor Workshop, which for the first time ever expanded to include a separate fleet program, it is clear lower fuel bills and taxes would appeal to anyone in the industry, but how they go after these perks varies wildly even among the success stories.

A two-pronged attack

Air Liquide, which operates 75 tractors and more than 250 tanker-trailers, says it generally hauls loads of 120,000-139,000lb. – so fuel is always a major concern.

“We tried a number of systems (to get better mileage),” says Brian Hussey, the fleet’s Ontario distribution manager. “We eventually decided to go with fuel monitoring.”

The company identified its biggest area to target would be killing idling time.

“For every hour you idle it’s a gallon right up the stack,” he adds. The company eventually ended up selecting the Victor system from Tetra Technologies, one of the so-called black box technologies beginning to flourish as a trucking component. The basic system beams all of the engine information back to a central database in the office, which is then accessible to as few or as many staff as are desired: Maintenance, operations, administration, dispatch, you name it.

“The day the drivers realized the black boxes were in the truck, I mean they weren’t even working yet, we instantly saw a drop in diesel usage,” says Normand Bourque, the fleet’s national transportation manager. Not wanting to appear heavy-handed, Air Liquide also rolled out a small rewards program at the same time.

“We give the most fuel-efficient driver $200 every month,” says Hussey. “If someone stays consistently down, we give them an extra meal on their expenses.”

At the start of the year, 3.5 per cent of the time the company’s engines were running they weren’t making miles. In May, this number hit 1.5 per cent.

Pay a higher rate

Jeff Pence, vice-president of 40-truck Appalachian Freight Carriers out of Edinburg, Va., uses a similar approach although he opts for Qualcomm’s SensorTrack system for monitoring, and one other change. Rather than building a competitive feeling in the fleet, he developed a rewards program that everyone shares in to reduce idling.

“I pay drivers an extra three cents-per-mile bonus if they achieve our targets,” he says. “We end up saving at least that much just on maintenance alone.”

He estimates reducing idling time saves his medium-sized company more than $121,000 a year in fuel, oil and filters.

Tools and training

When St-Germain, Que.-based SGT2000 decided it wanted to become more fuel-efficient back in 1994 the idea wasn’t exactly in vogue at the time. Several modifications and additions later, the fleet has earned the titles of both ‘innovator’ and ‘role model.’

Jean-Pierre Rabbath, the company’s energy efficiency administrator, explains consumption rates have been tracked for years and cost management programs have been in place since ’95.

“There are really two levers of fuel efficiency,” he says. “Equipment and people.”

Having done a great deal on the equipment side – investing in electronic engines ahead of the curve, tracking and monitoring engine functions, flipping trucks only slightly after 2.5 years, using speed governors, heating with auxiliary heaters and insisting on proper tire inflation – the focus is shifting to SGT2000’s 650 employees. Even though all staff members are required to take a certain amount of fuel efficiency training – the drivers are fed a steady diet of the stuff.

Overall the company is still improving its efficiency by about six per cent every year, which translates into roughly 1.5 million litres of diesel. But, Rabbath says there are still mindsets he can’t understand.

“If you stop at the store to get a pack of gum you wouldn’t leave your car running, but for some reason you do with a truck,” he says.

Monitored means managed

No matter how you plan to attack your fuel expenses, the battle starts with benchmarking your fleet. Without a fleet audit plan you have no way of measuring success, insists Suanne Dorion, of Bronson Consulting Group who helped FleetSmart create a guide to show carriers, no matter how big or small, where to begin. To obtain a copy of the soon-to-be-completed workbook, watch for information on the group’s Web site, n

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