Optimizing each tank of fuel

by Harry Rudolfs

When Derek Varley spec’s a new tractor, fuel efficiency is paramount.

“Rates aren’t going up as fast as the price of trucks or the cost of fuel, so fuel economy is very important,” says the director of fleet operations for Premier Bulk Systems in Gormley, Ont.

“I don’t believe in big horsepower stuff. That’s for your B-train and aggregate group – they’d rather have 600 horses than fuel economy. We’re going with the 13-liter engine program now, although we still have some 15-liter engines that are pre-emissions.”

Varley has adjusted his spec’s along with the trend towards less horses, slower rpms, and lower rear-end ratios.

“Most of our trucks are in the 80,000-lb GVW range, and we’re running 455-hp Paccar engines with 1,650 lb.-ft. of torque. Currently we’re sitting on 3.66 rear ends, but we’ve got five trucks coming next month with 3.08s – and for the first time these will be equipped with 12-speed automated transmissions.”

In general, tanker fleets have been reluctant to jump into automatics, partly because of the perception that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the sloshing effect of the liquid in the tanks.

“We have a partner carrier in Chicago that’s been running about 400 power units that are spec’d similar to ours, except they’ve been running automateds for the last three years. The general consensus is that there is nothing to worry about,” says Varley.

“We’re running SmartWay-approved equipment, but aerodynamically we can’t do much – we’re hauling around a 48-ft. tube. But if we spec’ the truck right we can get some big (fuel saving) numbers. The more automated the units are, the better they are as far as I’m concerned. Sweet spots are dropping all the time, almost every year. I’m a firm believer that if you can get the transmission and engine talking together you can keep it in the sweet spot for a longer period of time.”

But no matter how automated trucks become, the driver is still the key factor in achieving good mileage. And old habits die hard, as Varley explains: “Some guys driving manual transmissions are still of the mindset that you need to have high rpms to climb a hill, which is not the case. Torque will get you a lot further than screaming rpms.”

On the other hand, drivers applying best practices to their driving technique can be remarkably fuel-efficient.

Keeping score of your drivers

Brian Botham, Premier Bulk Systems’ director of safety and compliance, has a unique tool at his fingertips. By downloading data from the PerformX software supplied by Paccar in its partnership with PeopleNet, Botham can track the performance of each truck and how it is being driven.

The program allows for the interface between the electronic on-board recorder, Paccar telematics and the Premier’s home terminal in Gormley, Ont. The system is invaluable should an engine fault light come on, or something else that requires immediate attention.

But Botham uses the data to chart his 65 drivers (owner-operators are included as well) according to pre-set goals and parameters. He sets the 10 parameters for the activities he wants to monitor, everything from quick starts and stops, to long idle times, to overspeed infractions. Drivers are expected to meet certain standards, ie., 6.5 mpg overall, 6.75 rolling mpg, no more than five hours-of-service violations, no more than 5% of time spent over the suggested rpm, no more than 5% excess speed, and no more than three sudden starts, stops and overspeed alarms.

At the end of the month, each driver receives a scorecard in his or her mailbox. The scorecard compares the driver’s performance against the goals set by the company and also shows the terminal average. If there are areas of concern, Botham schedules a meeting to address them.

“We’ve pretty well eliminated over-speed violations,” says Botham. “I’m looking at a scorecard here where the driver scored 99.2% – a little bit of long idle. But I can forgive that, it’s been really cold.”

Identify the areas of your biggest losses

Copies of the results are also forwarded to Varley and the maintenance department. Varley is always looking to cut fuel costs.

“The drivers take pride in their scorecard and we think our targets are reasonable,” he says. “We’re always trying to identify the areas of our biggest losses.”

Excess idling is one of the areas of concern for Varley.

“We are hampered with having to run PTOs all the time,” he says. But he also understands that idling the engine is unavoidable during extreme weather events. “We don’t want our drivers taking chances at -20 C or colder and shutting the engine off.”

The same holds true in the summer months. About 90% of Premier’s runs are into the U.S., within a 600- to 700-mile radius, and he knows sleeping in a hot cab can be difficult.

“Our guys do a great job in trying not to idle. Our trucks do have an ambient overdrive of 80F, which is something put in place by the EPA in the U.S. So they can run the engines when it gets that hot, but as we all know 70F with 90% humidity is just as uncomfortable.”

Premier has installed bunk heaters in all the units.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any trucks equipped with a gen-set or anything for air-conditioning in the summer. Running compressors and pumps, we just don’t have any more room on the frame to add anything else,” he says.

“The engine world has changed dramatically, especially with the lighter oils. We’re seeing trucks start at negative temperatures we would have never seen before. The old days where we used to have run the engine after coming off the highway are gone. The newer oils also mean less friction and parasitic loss in rear ends and transmissions.

“There are so many factors at play in achieving good mileage,” adds Varley. “We haven’t got it down to a 100% science yet, but we rely heavily on telematics and on-board computers for the answers.”


Where the rubber meets the road

Saving fuel with the right tires

Premier Bulk Systems runs on wide-base single tires. Director of fleet operations Derek Varley chose to go with Michelin X-Ones, on both power units and trailers. He opted for the more aggressive XDM2 tread pattern on the drive tires, sacrificing a bit of fuel economy for better traction in the winter months.

Colin Rafferty, senior account manager for Kal Tire, explains the economic benefits of wide-base singles. “Typically, one of these tires costs about as much as a set of duals, so there is no savings on that end. But right off the bat you save about 200 lbs per axle and that’s something that interests bulk haulers as they can carry more product.”

Rafferty says that approximately 35% of fuel consumption is lost overcoming rolling resistance.

“So, for every 1% of fuel savings, rolling resistance has to be decreased by 3%. To get a 4% fuel savings, you have to reduce the rolling resistance by 12%,” he explains. “A 4% fuel savings means that a truck getting 6 mpg would be getting 6.24 mpg. This is a huge number for big fleets that spend millions on fuel.”

No question, wide-base single tires have earned their place in the industry, and many fleets are adherents. But replacement tires may be difficult to source in the event of a blow-out, and wide-base tires suffer a higher rejection rate when sent for retreading. According to Rafferty, “It’s absolutely essential to run them at the correct air pressure to avoid premature wear.”

Michelin was the first to introduce wide-base tires more than 15 years ago. Since that time, most major tire manufacturers have come out with their own versions. But at the same time, dual tires have made great strides in the last few years.

“There was a bigger difference in fuel economy back then,” says Ryan Burke, general manager of The Tire Terminal in Mississauga, Ont. “Manufacturers are making much better tires now, with wider treads, and better compounds that can achieve fuel savings that are coming closer to what wide-base manufacturers are claiming.”

Burke suggests that those fleets thinking of changing over to wide-base singles might consider instead, the new generation of duals.

“I think singles have hit their peak,” he claims. “I don’t think they are going to continue to grow in popularity. They’re at a plateau and they’re going to stay there.”



  1. Driver Demand
  2. Safety First
  3. Slow the flow

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