“Eco-driving” for fuel savings

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The 24% fuel reduction that fleets can achieve through eco-driving has a real impact on the bottom line.” –Jason Palmer, president, SmartDrive Systems

Despite the “big picture” worry concerning the slumping U.S. economy alongside the nation’s political inability to hammer out some sort of debt ceiling agreement – thus imperiling the tepid recovery even further – fleets must still continue to battle on against daily operating concerns of their own, namely against the largest line item on their spreadsheets: fuel.

Fuel economy never disappears as a primary fleet concern, no matter what roils the larger economic waters. For saving fuel means saving dollars, giving fleets that all-important flexibility when it comes to pricing their services, even generating excess cash to buy new equipment or raise driver wages.

[Just for fun, check out European truck journalist Brian Weatherley and his efforts to save on fuel via with tips provided by Andy Colett, a driver trainer with the Volvo Group. And yes much of what Andy shares can be applied in many cases to fleets operating on U.S. roads, too.]

Yet the question always dogging efforts to reduce fuel consumption is how to measure it – and that’s regardless of whether the fleet in question is a big over-the-road behemoth running diesel-powered Class 8 tractors or a small municipal operator relying on gasoline-fired pickups to get the job done.

This is where a new report compiled by SmartDrive Systems comes into play. The company used its technology to record all sorts of vehicle-derived metrics and found that commercial fleets can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 24% by getting their drivers to use more fuel-efficient driving techniques, specifically eliminating unnecessary engine idling and reducing excessive speeds.

[Vehicle specifications and aerodynamic enhancements play a role as well, as every fleet manager knows. Even simple wheel covers on a big rig can save significant fuel over time, as you can see below.]

Now, while such practices are hardly revolutionary, what SmartDrive has done is finally put some concrete numbers behind the supposition in its Commercial Fleet Fuel Consumption study, which analyzed fuel consumption rates of more than 1,000 commercial drivers in industries including waste hauling, transit, public transportation, plus food and beverage delivery.

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Jason Palmer, SmartDrive’s president (at right), said the study relied on real-time fuel use data – accurate to within few hundreths of an ounce per second – pulled directly from the vehicle's engine computer to calculate fuel savings.

The report then went on to examine inefficient driving, unnecessary idling time and excessive speed, with company analysts reviewing data from different vehicle types under different loads and road conditions, he explained.

After a review of all the data, just reducing and/or eliminating three “fuel wasting” practices can cut fuel consumption between 8% and 24%, depending on vehicle type and operator driving performance:

• Engine idling

• Excessive speed

• “Aggressive maneuvering,” which includes quick stops and starts, hard braking, sharp turns and curb bumps

The interesting part about SmartDrive’s technological package is that it can return “instant feedback” to the driver in the form of color coded lights to let them know they’re committing such maneuvers and thus wasting fuel.

“By giving the driver direct feedback as events happen allows them to make instant adjustments, so a fleet doesn’t have to wait until the end of the day to make corrections,” SmartDrive’s Jim White told me.

[Tom Bagwell with Peterson Trucks, an International dealer with 11 locations in Northern California and Oregon, compiled a detailed white paper that’s worth reading on tips to help fleets and drivers alike improve fuel economy – you can delve into it by clicking here.]

All of this just goes to show that the hunt for fuel economy improvements never really ends – and will continue forward regardless of the ups and downs in the overall U.S. economy.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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