It was the Fourth of July weekend in 1985 and Tom Stemberg, a former supermarket chain executive turned entrepreneur, was printing a business plan when his ribbon broke. After driving from store to store and not finding a ribbon, he seized on an opportunity. Ten months later, Staples Inc. opened its first office supply superstore.

Now, the Framingham, MA-based office products business operates a delivery fleet of 1,774 vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. And with that comes the cost of fueling all those vehicles.

“Fuel consumption is always a concern for any company that operates delivery trucks,” says Mike Payette, fleet equipment manager for Staples Inc. “Today, it's especially a big issue. Our fleet travels millions of miles per year and consumes a considerable amount of fuel, so we never waited for fuel prices to rise to address fuel economy. It's something we work on all the time.”

The majority of the fleet consists of Isuzu NPR, NQR and NRR HD models rated 14,500, 17,950 and 19,500 lbs. GVW. All of the vehicles are equipped with Morgan Gold Star dry van freight bodies.

“Five years ago we ran a test to gauge fuel savings and we set our engines to a top speed of 60 mph,” Payette explains. “Almost immediately we realized a 20% fuel economy improvement in our existing fleet. That same year, through acquisition, our fleet tripled in size, and we set the maximum road speed on the trucks we added to 60 mph.”

TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN

“Staples is keen on adopting new vehicle technologies that can save fuel,” Payette continues, “and diesel-electric hybrids have been one focus of those efforts. We tested two hybrids with Isuzu, for example, and while the OEM is now studying the test trucks, we're interested in new hybrid models, possibly in 2012. By partnering with suppliers, we can assist in development and test ideas in a real working environment.”

The numbers also add up for Staples when it comes to all-electric delivery trucks. Currently, the company is placing 53 of Smith Electric Vehicles' Smith Newton with a 23,148-lb. GVW chassis in service. The first of the electric trucks joined the fleet last December in Kansas City, followed by rollouts in Cincinnati and in Glendale, CA. The Portland (OR), Dallas, Los Angeles and Atlanta areas are slated to receive the trucks next.

“This technology more than saves fuel,” Payette states. “For instance, we use electricity to power rear and side doors, which the driver can operate from inside the cab and with the key fob. Eliminating the need to lock and unlock doors at every stop improves productivity. In addition, the electric trucks have fewer maintenance requirements, and we anticipate four or five times the brake life compared to traditional vehicles.”

Other practices at Staples are aimed at lowering fuel consumption as well. “Idle-reduction technology is something every fleet should consider,” says Payette. “On newer trucks we can accomplish this through the engine ECM. On older units we've used aftermarket systems. Also, because drivers account for 80% of how efficiently a truck operates, we have formal training for new and current drivers.”

Staples monitors fuel efficiency across its entire fleet. The handheld scanners that drivers use to record deliveries also collect odometer readings and gallons purchased. That information can then be analyzed by location, regionally, by groups of trucks, and for individual vehicles and drivers. Problems can then be addressed with manufacturers, drivers, operations personnel or contract maintenance providers.

“Staples has grown considerably,” Payette says, “but all of our efforts are still focused on making intelligent choices, especially those for fuel efficiency. We're always exploring ways to improve.”