Fleets Rapidly Embracing New Fuel Savings Technology

One of the most important industry trends in the management of fleet trucks and construction vehicles is the effort at developing diesel fuel saving technologies. Now, a massive new study by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) confirms these trends are having important effects.

Released in late August, the study reveals that technology and other key fuel saving practices are working: there was a 3 percent improvement in fuel economy in 2015 compared to 2014. The average MPG for the 17 fleets studied improved to 7.06 in 2015, up from 6.87 in 2014.

In all, 69 different fuel efficiency technologies being used by the fleets were studied. They included well-known tactics and tech involving idle reduction, tire pressure monitoring systems, and automated manual transmissions.

 Two Years for ROI

Fleets generally see a return on investments (ROI) on these fuel efficient technologies in roughly two and a half years, but the report emphasizes that the speed of savings depends very much on fleet management and how quickly it embraces these technologies.

“The cost of fuel must be taken into account when doing payback calculations for investments in fuel efficiency technologies,” the study concludes. “But regardless of the price of diesel, fleets would be unwise to lose their focus on improving fuel economy. Yes, lower diesel prices make the paybacks for some technologies longer, but the price of diesel isn’t the only reason fleets should strive to improve their fuel economy. Whether fuel is $4 a gallon or $2 a gallon, when you improve fuel economy you cut expenses from the bottom line.”

 Get Ready: Oil is Going Back Up

One of the surprising aspects of the study is that diesel fuel savings technology was rapidly being embraced despite a plunge in oil prices over the last two years that roughly cut the price of a gallon of fuel in half. That’s good, because by every indication oil is eventually headed back up. Earlier this week, Russia said it would join Saudi Arabia and Iran in an effort to put a lid on OPEC oil production. That means that prices at the pump could be higher by year’s end.

“If you look at a five-year timeframe, we’re seeing some pretty substantial differences in fuel economy between the truck that’s being traded in, say, a 2010 model year, and the new ones that are being operated now,” Dave Schaller, NACFE’s industry engagement director, told Fleet Equipment magazine. “We’re looking at close to a 16% gain in fuel economy between the truck you’re stepping out of and the truck you’re stepping into, and that’s pretty exciting stuff.”

 Fewer Miles, More Tons

The study includes some surprising findings like the fact that fewer miles are being put on trucks annually. In other words, trucks seem to be hauling more freight over shorter routes every year.  “More tonnage was being hauled with fewer loads traveled and this trend continues and even widens through 2016,” the report states. “This suggests a 20 percent plus improvement in goods hauled per load.”

The study’s authors found a number of factors leading to this sizeable shift in efficiency:

  • Freight becoming denser, for instance, tighter packaging on the products,
  • More pallets are being hauled in each trailer per mile,
  • Private fleets report less empty backhaul miles,
  • Telematics help carriers know where their equipment is to be able to pick up more freight,
  • Third party logistics are maturing,

Interviews with fleet managers also came up with these reasons trucks seems to be covering less ground with greater tonnage:

  • Expanded use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) which remove the manual calculations of Hours of Service,
  • Increasing demands on the driver that limits their driving time. These include increased paperwork, more complex equipment to inspect, etc.
  • Longer wait times for freight, for example when loading or unloading at a dock,
  • Insufficient truck parking at truck stops or rest areas so drivers need to stop early or drive around to find spots during their Hours of Service,
  • Increased congestion lowering average speed during the route, lowering miles.
  • Movement of some freight to rail, particularly in long haul routes.