Fuel represents about a third of the cost of running a truck from Point A to Point B, so it’s only natural to take a close look at fuel economy when looking for ways to drive down operating costs.
Private fleets attending the recent Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) convention were more than happy to share some tips on how they’ve tackled fuel costs in their own operations.
Danny Vettoretti of Frito-Lay Canada said for his fleet of 84 Class 8 tractors, it begins with slowing down. The Frito-Lay fleet is limited to 90 km/h in Quebec, 100 km/h in Ontario and 105 km/h in Alberta. The fleet consists of aerodynamic International ProStar tractors with Cummins ISX engines and fuel economy is tracked using Qualcomm’s Fleet Advisor.
Vettoretti said drivers are given a quarterly fuel mileage scorecard and driver rankings are posted weekly to ignite some healthy competition. Auxiliary power units (APUs) have helped the fleet lower its idle-time to less than 5% in the winter and under 1% in the summer, Vettoretti claimed. The company also uses long combination vehicles (LCVs) where possible. About a third of Frito-Lay’s shipments in Alberta and Quebec are done via LCV, which use 30% more fuel per trip but double cargo capacity for lightweight items such as potato chips.
“That’s a pretty compelling argument on why we need to use LCVs wherever we can,” he said.
According to Wayne Scott of Loblaw Companies, there are four controllable factors that affect fuel costs: maintenance, spec’s, aftermarket fuel-saving devices, and driver behaviour.
Don’t wait around for your drivers to inform you a vehicle needs maintenance, Scott pointed out.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the drivers out there will not tell you,” he said. Instead, fleets should have processes in place to ensure vehicles are properly maintained at all times.
Drivers do have a role to play, however, most notably via the pre-trip inspection.
“If you turn around at a fleet and watch guys doing their pre-trip, they walk around, check the lights, thump one or two tires, hook up and leave. That’s reality,” Scott said.
Loblaw’s has come up with a clever way to ensure drivers are doing a thorough pretrip before their tractors leave the yard. Between two and five brass tags are attached to key items (maybe on a valve stem cap or perhaps near the oil dipstick) and the guard at the gatehouse is provided with a list of tractor-trailer numbers and the number of brass tags attached to that particular unit.
If the driver doesn’t turn in the corresponding number of tags, he’s turned around and told to report to safety.
Tire maintenance is especially important, explained John Overing, heavy truck tire segment manager with Michelin. He said there are six factors that can cause tires to negatively impact fuel mileage: low air pressure, high air pressure, missing valve caps, dual mismatch air pressure, dual mismatch height, and irregular wear. A set of duals with a 6/32nds height mismatch (picture three stacked pennies) will result in one tire wanting to rotate more than the other. Over the course of 100,000 km, the shorter tire will have tried to travel 800 km more than the other, which can be a real drag on fuel economy, Overing pointed out.
Engines should be geared for optimum performance at the speed at which they’ll be running, Scott pointed out. He recalled taking over responsibility for a fleet only to find drivers had discovered a way to change the engine parameters.
“If you give somebody an opportunity to screw the system over, they will do it,” he said. Trucks in Quebec, for instance, were geared to be running 90 km/h yet they were running 110, so they were cruising at 1,750-1,800 RPM.
“Our fuel economy was not good,” he said. “These are legacy issues we as fleet managers sometimes inherit.”
Scott said other spec’ing decisions to consider should include: aerodynamic fairings; APUs and bunk heaters; overdrive versus direct drive transmissions; engine horsepower; and truck and trailer model.
Michelin’s Overing added low rolling resistant tires are “the least expensive technology available to reduce fuel consumption.”
Every 3% reduction in rolling resistance translates to a 1% fuel economy improvement, he pointed out.
Of all the fuel-saving devices that have emerged in recent years, there are two tried and true technologies that will save a line-haul fleet money, according to Scott: trailer side skirts and wide-base single tires. He cited Energotest ’07 test results which were conducted to SAE/TMC standards.
“These two (technologies) have made it mainstream,” he said of Michelin’s X One wide-base tire and trailer skirts which are available from several manufacturers. “These are the ones out there that have been certified, have actually had government testing and actually went out there and made their mark.”
Now, when a vendor calls Scott and claims he has just the device to save the company fuel, he tells them to call back when they’ve had an SAE/TMC Type II fuel test completed and certified by an engineer. If you do decide to test a fuel-saving device on your own, Scott warned fleet managers not to get too excited over the results. He recalled buying into the hype surrounding the hydrogen units that hit the market a few years ago. He installed a unit on a truck, told the driver and then watched the truck’s fuel economy improve. Weeks later, the system ran out of the distilled water that was necessary to its operation. But rather than top it up, Scott decided to wait and see what happened. Fuel mileage remained unchanged for several weeks, leading him to conclude that the hydrogen unit itself didn’t improve fuel mileage at all – rather the driver improved his driving habits because he knew his fuel economy was being tracked.
When looking at an aftermarket device, Scott suggested asking whether the benefits match the application. Aerodynamic devices, for instance, will reap little reward for a fleet that averages 30-35 mph in and out of downtown Toronto. Loblaw’s has selectively spec’d trailer skirts and wide-base tires on tractor-trailers that are running line-haul at higher speeds.
Scott is a big believer in wide-base singles and especially trailer skirts, and expressed amazement that they haven’t caught on with more long-haul fleets.
“You see (trailer skirts) out of the US, you see them out of Quebec, you see them now and again but if everyone wants to reduce their fuel costs, why aren’t they on more trucks?” he implored.
Scott speculated it may be because it’s hard to get CFOs to see the long-term value in such investments rather than the up-front costs.
“How can I justify going into my board of directors and say ‘I can put recaps on for $200 or I can buy brand new X Ones for $1,000, plus new rims and drop a lot of money’?”
Fleet managers must also weigh the costs of fuel-saving technologies over the life-cycle of the vehicle. As a case in point, Scott spoke of his company’s experience with tractor side fairings.
“We found even with the 1-2% they might save you, the life-cycle costs of the driver smashing them and damaging them represented about $500-$800 per unit per year,” he recalled. “We opted out of putting them on our trucks in the future.”
The biggest factor influencing tractor-trailer fuel efficiency is the driver, who has the ability to swing fuel economy 30% for better or for worse.
Even veteran drivers need training, Scott pointed out, since they often learned how to shift and drive on older engines and have received little training as technology evolved.
“We brought out our best guys and asked them ‘What’s progressive shifting?’ and they had no clue. They were taught so many years ago, they’ve developed their own habits. They’re good drivers but that engine they started driving 20 years ago isn’t the same as the engine we have today, but nobody ever told them this is different and why. They just give them the truck and say ‘Go drive.'” Scott says drivers should be taught to eliminate unnecessary shifting.
“Every time you shift, it costs you fuel,” Scott said.
Driver training is a subject close to Andy Roberts’ heart. He’s president of Castlegar, B. C.-based Mountain Transport Institute.
“There are still a lot of people out there who ignore the driver, and the driver has the single biggest impact on fuel economy,” Roberts said. “They can destroy just about every technology out there, including automated transmissions.”
Roberts said driver training should consist of three phases: train, measure, and reward. Even small rewards will be well-received, like acknowledging top performers in a newsletter or giving the driver with the best fuel economy a special parking spot at the terminal.
Feedback must be timely and relevant, Roberts said. Drivers hauling B-Trains through the Rockies should not have their fuel mileage compared to others who are hauling doughnut holes across the prairies, he pointed out.
MTI and Natural Resources Canada are currently offering free fuel economy training to drivers working for fleets that have collected historical fuel economy performance data via satellite. There are still a few spots available for fleets that wish to take part in the program.