Fuel smarts

From the June 2016 print edition

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Josh Ferguson is national sales manager, commercial fleet for Shell Canada.

Fuel costs and maintenance are the two largest variable expenses for any fleet manager. While many variables are beyond their control, certain measures can make a fleet more efficient, reducing fuel costs and wear-and-tear. These measures include smarter driving techniques, improving fleet management through fuel monitoring and vehicle maintenance plans.
Managing costs starts with drivers. How they operate a vehicle will determine its fuel consumption and how often it needs maintenance. Therefore, ongoing driver training and education in smart driving practices should be a priority. Fleet managers should at least consider the following areas:

  • Drive smoothly: When combined, speeding, quick acceleration and hard stops—all considered aggressive driving—can increase fuel consumption by up to 25 percent.
  • Avoid excess idling: Idling burns significant amounts of fuel. Encourage drivers to turn off their engines when in a motionless lineup, waiting for someone or expecting to be stopped for more than 60 seconds.
  • Plan and combine trips when possible: Encourage drivers to be smarter about when and where they drive. Drivers can avoid rush hour or construction zones to save time on the road. Also, trips of less than five kilometres don’t allow the engine to reach peak operating temperature, which increases fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Therefore, drivers should try to combine several short trips into longer trips.
    Avoid high speeds: The faster a vehicle is driven, the greater the wind resistance encountered, the more fuel the vehicle will consume to maintain speed. Reducing speed to 90km/h from 110 km/h can save up to 20 percent of fuel. Fleet drivers should follow the speed limit and use cruise control on flat highway terrain to prevent inadvertent speeding.
  • Keep an eye on tire pressure: Monitoring tire pressure isn’t just the responsibility of maintenance staff. Even if it doesn’t involve a pressure gauge, drivers can eyeball their tires to see if they look low on air. Properly inflated tires last longer, make a vehicle safer to drive and save fuel.
  • Use air conditioning sparingly: Due to the extra load on the engine, air conditioning can increase a vehicle’s fuel consumption by up to 20 percent.
  • Keep a safe driving distance: Drivers should leave distance between their vehicles and those ahead of them to give ample time to brake evenly. Hard braking uses more fuel than controlled, smooth braking does.

Fortunately, it has become a lot easier for fleet managers to monitor progress in the above areas thanks to modern technology. Telematics in fleet vehicles permit the collection of data that provides insight into drivers’ habits, allowing corrective action. Some telematics systems even provide real-time feedback on braking, acceleration and other areas so a driver knows when to adjust behaviour behind the wheel to be more fuel efficient.
Fleet fuel cards have also provided fleet managers with insights that help improve overall fleet management. The insights gained from using a fuel card present a distinct advantage over filling up using a corporate credit card. For example, Shell’s Fleet Navigator card comes with online management software called eTRAC, which allows fleet managers to analyze transactions according to criteria—such as when, where and by whom a fuel card is used. Managers can use the collected and stored data to access ready-made reports and receive alerts to assess whether there are any problem areas within the fleet. By providing fleet managers 24/7 access to information about their fleet, managers can look for opportunities to improve efficiencies.
If a fleet manager sees that a particular driver is filling up more than the fleet’s average, the manager can work with the driver to determine the cause, such as poor route planning or inefficient driving practices. Fleets can then develop strategies for improvement and track progress. These savings can justify investment in driver training, telematics or fleet cards, which facilitate improved fuel efficiency. Financial gains can be redistributed to the employees who helped achieve them by way of an incentive program. Fleet managers looking to encourage fuel efficient driving can offer bonuses or rewards tied to performance, which is easy to track using the technologies described above.
Fleet managers have a lot to consider when evaluating fuel management practices, including vehicle maintenance, load weights, fuel types, etc. One way to improve fuel efficiency is to encourage employees to drive smarter. By investing in training and technologies that monitor driving practices, fleet managers can reduce fuel usage and keep vehicles on the road longer.