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Success stories abound at Green Truck Summit

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Those who like green trucks, like them a lot. That’s the sense one got in attending day one of the Green Truck Summit, hosted by NTEA and Calstart and attended by a record crowd of about 750 delegates.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Those who like green trucks, like them a lot. That’s the sense one got in attending day one of the Green Truck Summit, hosted by NTEA and Calstart and attended by a record crowd of about 750 delegates.

There was no shortage of success stories being shared among panelists and attendees, however the overriding message was that environmentally friendly trucks will only deliver tangible benefits when placed into the applications they’re best suited for. Doyle Sumrall, senior director of business development with NTEA said the industry has gained a better understanding of which applications are best suited to ‘green’ trucks, whether they be hybrids or powered by an array of alternative fuels such as natural gas, propane or electricity.

One of those on-hand to tell a happy story was Tony Bizjak, a fleet manager with the County of Fairfax, Va. The fleet consists of about 6,000 Classes 1-8 vehicles, but the sore spot among them was the Class 8 fleet of 65 trucks that pulled walking floor refuse trailers and averaged a meagre 4 mpg.

Bizjak admitted it was a tricky application. Trucks had overhead clearance issues, spent a lot of time idling and handled unpredictable loads; an 80,000 lb load of trash one day may weigh 100,000 lbs when soaking wet.

The county spent five years trying to spec’ a more efficient truck for the application and went through five iterations before arriving at its new fleet of 2012 Freightliner Cascadias that have been fitted with an aerodynamic package that still allows them to travel under low clearance sections of the transfer station.

The trucks have been equipped with Eaton UltraShift Plus automated transmissions. Drivers rejected the first generation UltraShift, Bizjak noted, but the most recent version met their high expectations. The engine was downsized from 15-litres to 13, air disc brakes were spec’d at every position, and the county worked closely with its local dealer and component manufacturers to spec’ all the appropriate parts. Drivers were consulted along the way and their input was taken seriously, Bizjak added.

“The drivers love the trucks because they’ve had a hand in it,” he said. Taxpayers and beancounters are sure to like the new trucks as well. Bizjak said they haven’t been on the road long, but early indications suggest fuel mileage has improved from 4 mpg to about 5.5.

A higher profile fleet that has enjoyed similar success by spec’ing more efficient vehicles is Frito-Lay, which runs a massive fleet of 1,092 tractors, 3,800 trailers, 3,518 medium-duty box trucks and 14,100 light-duty ‘route trucks.’

Michael O’Connell, senior director, fleet operations with Frito-Lay, said the company set a goal to reduce its fleet-wide fuel consumption by 50%.

“When we talked about it for the first time, we thought it was a crazy goal,” he admitted. However, he said the company is well on its way to reducing its consumption of fossil-based fuels by 50%.

“Our strategy is working extremely well,” he said. “We’re about 14% reduced over the last four years and we’ve grown our business. It works, but it’s not easy.”

One of the ways Frito-Lay has achieved its fuel consumption improvements was to deploy electric vehicles in its light-duty fleet. The company currently runs 176 electric vehicles and will surpass the one million mile mark with its electric trucks this month, representing a fuel savings of 750,000 gallons of diesel.

Frito-Lay has deployed natural gas-powered tractors and will add another 50-60 units this year, O’Connell said. It has also outfitted its entire fleet with GPS, spec’d lighter-weight components and added aerodynamic equipment.

One of the biggest contributors to its success, however, may be its Top Gun driver development program that educates all drivers on fuel-efficient driving techniques. This alone has contributed a steady 6% fuel economy improvement across the entire fleet, O’Connell said.

Still, the journey has not been without its challenges. The electric vehicles were problematic in cold weather, particularly the six units that were deployed in Canada.

“We have found there is cold, and then there is really, really cold,” O’Connell quipped. “Really, really cold is not good.”

And while Frito-Lay does 75% of its maintenance in-house, it has found support for electric vehicles to be lacking. Before deploying any type of environmentally friendly vehicles, O’Connell advised fleets to provide technicians with the tools and training they will require to service the vehicles.

“If you provide the tools and training, they’re willing to learn,” he said. “Don’t just dump the asset on them and tell them to take care of it.”

Also sharing a success story was George Survant, director of fleet services with Florida Power and Light. He admitted purchasing green trucks can be intimidating for old-school truck guys who traditionally had essentially two choices to make: Gas or diesel; and big or small.

“You have a whole host of new choices,” he said. Florida Power and Light has found success in spec’ing medium-duty diesel-electric hybrids, as well as passenger car hybrids. Collectively, the organization now has 375 hybrids in service and last year they reduced their fuel consumption by 584,000 gallons. “There’s real money on the table,” Survant said.

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