In efforts to mitigate the impacts of the national sustained highs in diesel prices, private fleets are resorting to a range of solutions, from implementing advanced technologies to old-fashioned outreach initiatives to drivers.
On the technology front, Gary Petty, president of the National Private Truck Council, said that private fleets on average operate up-to-date equipment, including telematics that measure fleet performance.
“I think there is tremendous interest in the growth of on-board tracking technology that observes driver behavior in the use of the vehicle,” Petty told Fleet Owner. “That could have a significant impact on fuel economy. Many carriers have fuel economy incentive programs that optimize the fuel they use.
“It’s certainly disconcerting to have a dramatic and sustained spike in the cost of fuel,” Petty said. “But our companies are implementing rigorously-working systems in getting the most out of that fuel as possible without compromising security or safety.”
For JF Fick, a Fredericksburg, VA-based beer wholesaler that employs 54 CDL drivers, a conservation mantra has carved a new niche in the company culture— from placing fuel bids to carpooling for lunch. Ken Higgins, director of transportation and human resources for JF Fick told Fleet Owner that it had implemented a variety of low-cost solutions to address rising fuel costs. “On the national level, absolutely every wholesaler is suffering from the same issues stemming from high diesel prices,” he said.
“We have our own in-house facility for fueling,” Higgins explained. “We average a tanker-load every week and a half, so we take competitive bids and take them all through the week.”
“A lot of [NPTC members] are part of international global networks and they have tremendous leverage in buying fuel at competitive prices,” noted Petty. “It’s a different perspective than small- to medium-sized trucking companies.”
JF Fick has utilized its existing relationship with its drivers to emphasize the importance of saving fuel for the company and best practices. Drivers meet every other week to discuss that along with other key issues such as sales, safety and other housekeeping issues. “I really had to meet [drivers] on a cultural level so they could buy into what’s best for the company. When the company is successful, everybody realizes the benefits. That’s what we did a few years ago to increase productivity and to decrease accidents,” Higgins explained.
“We use individual responsibility among drivers and we challenge each person to [improve] fuel mileage on every vehicle he’s assigned to,” Higgins continued. “We look at people who fueled up one less time this week and what they did to do it…We have a person on the team-leader level that works with the person on driving issues such as how to accelerate and coast, and generally drive better.”
And as skyrocketing fuel prices become a familiar backdrop of a buzzing economy, JF Fick is ever more vigilant in doing what it does best—selling beer and selling more of it. “We’re trying to price-promote in the beer business [to grow our customer base]. If you ask, ‘are companies still making money?’ the answer is yes. But it’s costing us more money to make money,” Higgins said.
“If you say these fuel costs are huge and you’re cutting back and not meeting customers’ expectations, you’re falling twice as far behind. You have to go out there and sell, sell, sell.”