GREENSBORO, N. C. –Information is power…if you know what to do with it. But there’s little value in having reams of data if you don’t know how to interpret it.
Volvo Group says it is able to tap into logged vehicle data (LVD) to establish benchmarks and remotely monitor the performance of its vehicles around the world. This allows the company to identify vehicles that aren’t reaching their fuel mileage potential and then proactively work with the trucks’ owners to improve how those vehicles are operated.
Performance-related data is automatically collected every time a Volvo engine is plugged into a diagnostic tool for service. The raw data is stored in a central data repository and then scrutinized by Volvo engineers using proprietary analytical software, explained Bill Dawson, senior vice-president of customer satisfaction with Volvo Trucks North America.
“We’re able to show our customers what the performance (of their vehicles) is on a gross, aggregate and individual vehicle basis,”he explained during a recent demonstration. “To be able to address and understand what is causing those operational results and how to improve them on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis is unique to us.”
Previously, Dawson said Volvo spent “an inordinate amount of time” trying to determine what was causing certain vehicles to underperform. Now, the company can simply run the LVD through its software and within minutes determine if a vehicle is being poorly operated or whether it was properly spec’d for its application.
“How we chase problems and how we solve problems has totally changed from what we used to do to what we do today,” said Dawson.
Peter Blonde, aftermarket engineer with Volvo, is one of the folks who is specially-trained to interpret the reports generated through Volvo’s LVD. Often, he can tell by a glance whether a truck is idling too much, running too fast or being driven too aggressively.
Volvo can generate customized reports for fleets that show how efficiently their trucks are being operated in comparison to similarly-spec’d vehicles across North America. The data can even be broken down within a fleet, so a customer can create their own benchmarks.
In some cases, fleet owners may even receive an unexpected call from Volvo, alerting them to performance- related issues they didn’t even realize they had.
“We go in (to a fleet) proactively and say ‘The performance isn’t there and this is why’,”explained Dawson.
The collection of LVD to measure vehicle performance has provided the foundation for Volvo’s new Fuelwatch program, which is aimed at helping small-and mid-sized fleets optimize their fuel economy. The aptly-named Fuelwatch focuses on four key areas: proper spec’ing; maintenance; monitoring results; and driver development.
Seth Gruber, director of business solutions, marketing with Volvo, said dealers have always helped their customers spec’ their trucks for optimum performance. But with fuel overtaking labour as the largest cost of operating a vehicle, the spec’ing process is evolving.
Volvo dealers have been equipped with software that generates colour-coded reports highlighting components that may not be best suited for the customer’s specific application.
“There’s no one size fits all,” said Gruber. “There’s always something unique.”
The spec’ing process takes everything on the vehicle into account, from the powertrain to aerodynamics and even the trailer gap.
“Ten inches of additional trailer gap equals a 1% degradation in fuel economy,” noted Gruber.
Through Fuelwatch, Volvo will also work with customers to ensure they’re properly maintaining their trucks. Factors such as tire pressure, wheel alignment, faulty fuel systems and air system leaks can all hinder fuel mileage, said Gruber.
Volvo helps customers develop maintenance schedules, including daily, weekly and seasonal checks.
Volvo customers receive a free two-year subscription to Volvo Link’s Sentry service when they purchase a new vehicle, which generates weekly reports on vehicle performance. Volvo Link has proven to be particularly popular in Canada, where it’s used by about 96% of customers, said Gruber.
Spec’ing, maintenance and monitoring will all contribute to improved fuel mileage, but it’s still the driver that has the greatest impact on fuel economy. It’s often been said there can be a 30% fuel mileage gap between a fleet’s best and worst driver.
“You can do all these things correctly, but drivers are still the biggest piece of the puzzle,” Gruber said.
Over the last two years, Volvo has offered an on-board coaching system dubbed Performance Guide via its driver display. Icons provide real-time advice to drivers, alerting them when to let off the throttle or decrease RPM. Dollar signs appear when a driver is running in the sweet spot and a trophy can indicate when a certain fuel mileage target has been met.
Fuelwatch, however, will also involve driver training by Volvo-certified representatives. Fuel management consulting services will be offered by Volvo in the second half of next year in what’s being referred to as Phase 3 of the program’s roll- out. (Other driver development services will be launched earlier, in the first quarter of 2009. Phase 1, including spec’ing assistance and dealer training is already underway). Courses will be delivered by certified driver-trainers or dealer reps and an e-Learning option will also be available.
There will be a charge for the consulting portion of Fuelwatch, but Gruber said “it’s a quick return on investment.”
A 5% fuel mileage improvement, which Volvo officials said is easily attainable through Fuelwatch, will save a fleet about US$3,692 per truck each year. Over a four-year lifecycle, that’s a savings of US$14,768 per vehicle. Even a 1% fuel mileage improvement will save a fleet US$738 per truck each year, Volvo pointed out.
Medium-sized fleets that don’t have their own full-time fuel manager on staff stand to gain the most, according to Volvo. •