In-cab coaching systems help drivers improve fuel economy

by James Menzies

Real-time coaching using telematics can significantly improve fleet fuel economy. That was the message from Jean-Sebastien Bouchard, vice-president of sales for Isaac Instruments, who discussed the topic during a Truck World Knowledge Stop session April 19. The company got into the truck telematics industry when approached by Groupe Robert.

“They said ‘Let’s put together a training program, evaluate driving behaviors and see how that impacts fuel economy,’” recalled Bouchard.

Isaac Instruments took the fleet’s 15 best drivers and monitored their driving for two weeks. It then asked each of those drivers how they optimized their fuel economy.

“Each guy had a technique,” said Bouchard, citing examples such as keeping rpm low, minimizing turbo boost, and coasting as much as 500 meters leading to a highway exit. “We identified 25 different behaviors that would generate fuel efficiency.”

Working with Isaac Instruments, Robert would print out reports every day showing the fuel economy achieved by this group of 15 drivers.

“Over the course of four weeks, drivers improved their fuel efficiency by 7%,” Bouchard explained. “And they were already the best drivers.”

This collaboration led to Isaacs developing a tablet in 2014, which is integrated into the truck. Its real-time monitoring and coaching system is now being used by more than 35% of truck fleets in Quebec that have more than 20 trucks. It has since been expanding across Canada.

The secret to its success, said Bouchard, is that it continuously coaches drivers in real-time. He cited a PIT Group study in 2014 that found drivers give back the improvements they’ve made to their fuel efficiency when the training ends.

“If you maintain the feedback, you are going to maintain the improvement,” Bouchard explained.

The Isaac Instruments system measures 40 parameters from the electronic control module (ECM) to determine how the truck is being operated. It then assigns the driver a real-time Isaacs Score. It also gives live advice on how much throttle should be applied to maximize fuel efficiency, when to shift, and when to and not to use cruise control. The results to date have been impressive.

In one fleet, the driver of a 2017 International ProStar with Cummins ISX15 425-hp engine and UltraShift Plus 13-speed transmission saw his fuel economy improve from 6 mpg to 7.6 mpg for a 21% improvement. In another fleet, the driver of a 2017 Freightliner Cascadia with a 470-hp DD15 engine and a manual transmission went from 5 mpg to 5.4 mpg.

Vnomics offers a True Fuel platform that provides in-cab driver coaching in real-time. Bob Magnant, vice-president of product management and strategy, said that while trucks and technology – such as automated transmissions – have improved, “the driver still has a very significant role in fuel economy.”

“Generally speaking, the drivetrain technologies have helped the worst drivers become somewhat better, but they have by no means eliminated the driver’s impact on fuel economy through proper driving behavior,” he said.

It’s often said that the driver is responsible for an up to 35% variance in fuel economy within a fleet.

“The often-quoted impact rate of 35% is being reduced by technology, but the overall impact is still very significant,” said Magnant. “There is still plenty of room for improvement, even with the most modern tractors, through proper driver coaching.”

He noted technologies such as automated manual transmissions (AMTs) and predictive cruise only provide a benefit when properly used.

“Many drivers don’t engage cruise control and they often manually shift AMT tractors,” he said.

Magnant said real-time coaching through technology is more valuable than “after-the-fact analysis,” especially when it comes to fuel consumption and safety.

“Technology can greatly impact fuel economy with real-time, in-cab driver coaching, assuming it is tailored to the specific tractor, so that it’s fair to the driver,” he said, “and the feedback is simple and non-distractive.”

Drivers, naturally, may initially resent the idea of having their performance monitored in real-time by a computer. But Magnant said that is changing.

“Drivers are pretty well accustomed to activity monitoring,” he said, citing the prevalence of GPS, camera systems, and electronic logging devices. “They will embrace activity monitoring that is fair and respectful of them as driving professionals. When it comes to fuel performance, it usually comes from the unfair scrutiny drivers feel from fleets that have relied on metrics like mpg to judge fuel efficiency. They know that many of the factors impacting mpg are out of their daily control.”

Rewarding top-performing drivers is also a sure-fire way to earn their support.

“It’s critical,” Magnant said of incentivizing drivers. “Truck driving is hard work. Conditions are constantly changing on the road and drivers’ routes and loads are constantly changing. It’s demotivating to drivers to not be respected or rewarded when the excel.”

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