However, with the tightening economy, companies are considering holding on to their vehicles longer, so this is not the opportunity it once was. The good news is there's still a lot organizations can do to improve their existing fleets' fuel economy.
Just to be clear: we are not talking about fuel additives or magnets or some other type of snake oil. Instead, we are talking about good old driver behavior-training drivers to operate their vehicles in the most fuel efficient manner possible.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated, "Drivers commonly improve their fuel economy upwards of 20 percent after deploying a handful of eco-driving techniques." This was further supported by a study done a couple of years ago by the PBS program "Motor Week," which showed that driving behavior can have a 20 percent impact on a driver's fuel economy on average (in varied driving conditions). That's huge -- both environmentally and financially!
Human behavior can be tough to change, and you may not get all of your drivers to adopt fuel-efficient driving practices. But even small gains can make a significant difference. So how do get your drivers to adopt environmentally friendly driving practices and start to achieve these positive results? At PHH, we recommend any or all of the following three approaches:
Training. Many companies are working to train drivers on how to operate and maintain their vehicles to maximize fuel efficiency. This training can take several forms -- training at a sales meeting, online training, tips in a driver newsletter, etc. To make the training as effective as possible, there are a couple of keys to remember. First, the core messages of the training should be repeated. We rarely adopt a new behavior after hearing about it for the first time. Second, companies need to make sure they are not setting contradictory goals for their drivers. For example, if you ask drivers to do regularly scheduled maintenance in order to keep their vehicles running at peak efficiency, and also announce a goal of reducing vehicle maintenance costs, you are probably sending a mixed message to your drivers.
Early results of some of PHH's clients who are just in the beginning stages of instituting green driving training programs show that they have already been able to improve their fuel efficiency by up 4 percent overall, with individual drivers improving their efficiency by as much as 17 percent.
Contests. Depending on your organization's culture, contests can be an extremely cost-effective way to change behavior. The key to success is to develop a contest that rewards the right behavior and does not provide incentives for people to "game" the system. Some key things to keep in mind when developing contests:
• Consider the different driving patterns of your drivers -- if some drive in the city and some in the country, you might want to reward percent improvement, not an absolute MPG;We have seen organizations achieve up to a 6 percent reduction in fuel use with a contest.
• Consider individual and team awards -- if you provide awards that recognize the achievements of a particular office, the drivers in the office can reinforce good behavior among their co-workers;
• Consider the size of the prize -- it should be meaningful, but not so large as to negate any savings from reduced fuel use, or to create an incentive to "game" the system
Telematics. Telematics technology provides incredible insight into how the driver is operating the vehicle and how the vehicle is performing. Depending on the specific telematics device you use, it can provide information on driver speeding, idling and engine performance -- all key factors that impact fuel economy.
The benefit of telematics is that you get real time data on what is actually happening in the vehicle. You might have a policy that prohibits idling the vehicle for more than two minutes, but unless you ride along with all of your drivers, how do you know if it is being followed? With telematics, you can determine who is adhering to your company policies and take appropriate corrective action. While there is a cost for telematics services, there are other major benefits for this technology (including safety and productivity -- a separate article altogether), as well as fuel-related cost savings. For example, one service fleet we know was able to improve their fuel economy by over 3 percent just by reducing idling.
These improvements in fuel economy might seem small, but they can really add up. Do the calculations: For a company with 1,000 sedans in its fleet, a mere 5 percent improvement in fuel economy can mean a savings of $180,000 a year. And this assumes gas prices stay low; as gas prices go up, so do the relative savings. For fleets of vans, SUVs or trucks, the savings opportunities are even greater. In addition, these techniques are complementary -- implementing two or more can lead to even greater fuel savings.
Don't let tight budgets derail your fleet environmental initiatives. Instead, focus on areas -- like driver behavior -- where investment is low but the savings are real.
Karen Healey is the director of environmental programs at PHH, a leading fleet management company.
Photos CC-licensed by Flickr users snorri7 and Nelson D..