When you think about it, fleets don’t really ask for much when it comes to managing their drivers’ fuel purchasing. The lowest available price per gallon; few out-of-route miles to get to the pumps; absolute transparency concerning purchase transactions; and accurate, real-time data reporting are all that is required. How hard is that?
It is a very tall order, as it turns out, but nothing less will do when the life of the company may hinge on successfully managing the variable cost of fuel. Fleets want to get real control over fuel purchasing—to stop waste, to stop theft and to gain enough visibility into the entire process to better manage costs lane-by-lane, truck-by-truck and customerby- customer.
According to many people in the fueling business, this desire for increased control is creating a move toward greater automation of the fuel purchase process. The theory is that if you can increase efficiency and eliminate opportunities in the transaction process for human error or intentional tampering, cost savings are bound to result.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen more and more requests for cardless systems and for control, a lot more control,” says Kyle Sale, executive vice president for eFueling, a supplier of rugged terminal solutions for selffueling providers and (more recently) petroleum retailers. Historically, the company has provided fuel terminal systems that rely on the driver swiping a fuel card and/or entering data such as a PIN number, vehicle number, etc., into a keypad to initiate the fuel purchase authorization process.
eFueling recently announced, however, that the company is now also working with QuikQ to serve both the truck stop and terminal fleet markets with a cardless system developed to activate, manage and track the fueling transaction via RFID. The QuikQ system is designed to allow a carrier to directly interface its enterprise software solution to a fuel vendor’s point of sale, eliminating the need for fleet fuel cards or third-party billing. According to Sale, the primary benefits of the RFID-based system are streamlined user operation, reduced shrinkage and more accurate accounting and billing.
As a vehicle approaches an equipped fuel island, an RFID antenna in the island canopy automatically pulls the data formerly stored on a card off an RFID tag attached to the vehicle. “The trigger mechanism to initiate the fuel purchase is all that is changing,” Sale explains. “All the preauthorization security steps still take place.”
eFueling is already logging data about the fueling transaction, which Sale says can be exported into various fuel management systems. “We have been a niche player in the market,” he notes, “so nine times out of 10 we can interface with the fuel management system a fleet is using.”
Fuel card providers are not sitting on the automation sidelines either, according to Sale. He notes that eFueling is already working with “more than one fuel card provider” to offer RFID based fueling services.
Comdata, for example, is venturing deeper into the field of fuel purchase automation. Ernie Betancourt, president of QuikQ, says that his own company turned its marketing and sales operations over to Comdata Network in the fall of 2011. By the end of 2011, Comdata had already announced that TravelCenters had agreed to roll out the system developed by QuikQ at all its locations nationwide.
“What we hear from our customers, the fuel providers, is that the fleets they serve want more security, more convenience and more reporting,” notes Lynn Greeley, director of sales, merchant solutions, for Comdata. “The fleet fuel card authorization process is probably the most complex process in retail. Many carriers ask drivers to enter PIN codes, various I.D. numbers and other information like the driver’s name into a keypad before fueling can be authorized. [Sometimes this is in addition to swiping a fuel card.]”