By Bob Johnson
NTEA Director of Fleet Relations
Reducing fuel costs is a goal for just about every fleet manager in the country. Obviously, there are many ways to accomplish this, but in far too many cases, fleets are attempting to do so by focusing exclusively on the technology they think is the best solution for their application. This can severely limit your options.
Due to factors such as energy density, infrastructure support and drive cycle requirements, there is no alternative fuel type currently being developed that is the single right choice for every application in every part of the country. Most large fleets that have embraced alternative fuels will tell you that they are using just about every alternative fuel currently available and that their various regional selections are based on local operating conditions. Unless you are operating a fleet that is limited to a single geographical area, and all the vehicles in the fleet have a common drive cycle, limiting your alternative fuel option to a single “winner” could result in a less-than-satisfactory experience.
Addressing the Mandate
One of the issues many fleet managers face is a mandate from upper management regarding a particular type of fuel. Your best defense against such a situation is to learn all you can about energy alternatives and try to educate those above you. If you receive the mandate anyway, be prepared to provide a logical, educated analysis of the mandate and, if it’s not appropriate for your fleet or even a portion of the fleet, offer a better alternative. A critical factor in preparing your analysis is understanding the underlying objectives associated with the mandate. Does management really want to reduce fuel costs or do they just want the positive publicity that comes with a press release saying company X is converting its fleet to fuel Y?
If the goal is to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and lower energy costs, there may be numerous options available that could have less impact on your operations. As a general benchmark, the use of hybrids and alternative fuels such as natural gas will reduce a fleet’s carbon footprint by around 35%. In ideal situations, hybrids can achieve reductions of 50% or more, but that is really the exception. If you can document your ability to achieve a similar reduction using other technologies that are more economical or conducive to your fleet’s drive cycle, don’t hesitate to make a proposal.
Don’t Stop with Your Fuel Selection
Alternative fuels (including electric) get most of the press when it comes to reducing carbon footprint and lowering fuel costs, but again, don’t limit your options. There are multiple techniques available to help reduce fuel consumption. Not every technique will provide a benefit in every drive cycle, so it’s important to identify those that will work for you. Most of these techniques are standalone applications, so there is little other than overall cost to keep you from integrating multiple approaches into your fleet’s energy reduction strategy, including:
- Powertrain optimization
- Vehicle base weight reduction
- Improved aerodynamics
- Low rolling resistance tires
- Air pressure monitoring/pressure maintenance systems
- Payload management
- Productivity improvements
- Telematics (routing, geo-fencing, vehicle dispatching, vehicle condition monitoring/maintenance management)
- Driver involvement/behavior modification
- Idle management
- Speed management
- Vehicle utilization optimization
- Accessory load electrification
- Auxiliary power units
While this list is not comprehensive, it touches on most of the common vehicle efficiency techniques currently being pursued. Again, not every technique produces measurable results in every drive cycle, but there is certainly something for everyone. By combining these techniques (as appropriate) with technologies such as hybrids and/or alternative fuels, you can reduce your carbon footprint even more.
The commercial press prints articles addressing energy alternatives on a regular basis. In addition, there are dozens of conferences and trade shows held each year that focus on fleet energy issues, including the Green Truck Summit, which is produced by the NTEA and CALSTART and held in conjunction with The Work Truck Show. The Summit focuses exclusively on vocational truck applications and is technology-neutral. By attending, you can learn about hybrids, natural gas, propane, telematics and every other viable energy conservation and carbon reduction technology in one place from experts in their fields. In addition, the Summit features presentations from fellow fleet managers who have successfully implemented various technologies. They will discuss the issues faced and lessons learned during the implementation process.
Also, be sure to check out the Green Truck Association's (GTA) Technical Resources section. This section offers helpful insights and practical tools for designing and analyzing the value of green vehicles or vehicle systems under consideration.
Save the Date
The 2013 Green Truck Summit is scheduled March 5–6, 2013 in conjunction with The Work Truck Show 2013 (March 6–8) at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. To learn more, visit www.ntea.com or call 1-800-441-6832.
Contact Bob Johnson, NTEA director of fleet relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have suggestions for future Fleet Affiliation topics or for more information on how the NTEA can benefit your company.