How to maximize fleet efficiency – and get a quick ROI

How to maximize fleet efficiency – and get a quick ROI

Three of the most common ways to improve fleet efficiency metrics -- driver training, reduced highway speeds and progressive shifting -- also offer the quickest return on investment, according to a new survey conducted by logistics company Transplace.

These measures were also among the most common fleet efficiency initiatives among the 65 shipper and carrier fleets studied for the survey. Most of the carriers (59) were part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Fleet program, which delivers resources for benchmarking environmental performance.

Common practices embraced by the respondents include recording engine data for more comprehensive driver feedback, or implementing aerodynamic mirrors and verified low-rolling resistance tries.

Other SmartWay-suggested initiatives are used far less frequently, including nitrogen-filled tires, advanced trailer end fairings, verified retrofit technologies and truck stop electrifications. Slightly less than half of the survey respondents, however, were evaluating at least some of these ideas.

"We designed the survey, which grew out of the PepsiCo sustainability team, with key input from leading shippers and carriers such as PepsiCo, Con-way, J.B. Hunt and Western Express," said Ben Cubitt, senior vice president of consulting and engineering for Transpace. "We will continue our commitment to this initiative by investing engineering resources to include more carriers in the survey, continuing to update and modify the survey, and conducting additional analysis in focus areas."

Where's the best payback?

Although not all of the surveyed fleet operators are measuring their fleet efficiency programs, here are five measures that consistently met or exceeded expectations. All of these measures were also described as "easy" to implement. The examples provided are drawn from published case studies, not from the Transplace survey.

  • Weight Reduction – The EPA figures that every 10 percent reduction in truck loads can reduce fuel use by 5 percent to 10 percent. Common ways to achieve this include using cast-aluminum alloy wheels, downsizing to lighter engines and using aluminum cab frames.
  • Reducing Highway Speed – Estimates suggest that a long-haul truck that reduces its top speed from 65 miles per hour (MPH) to 60 MPH can save more than 1,200 gallons of fuel annually, cutting costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Progressive Shifting – This involves another fuel reduction technique -- changing gears as early as possible while accelerating. It is one of the practices used by J.B. Hunt Transport, which has received several SmartWay Excellence awards for its fleet innovations.
  • Intermodal Shipping – This is a strategy employed heavily by Sharp Electronics, which sends approximately 15 percent to 18 percent of products – from televisions to solar panels – by rail. It also uses electric forklifts in distribution centers and keeps terminals open at night, using motion sensors to help reduce idle times.
  • Trailer Side Skirts – "We were told we would get between 2.5 percent to 5 percent increase in fuel savings, and we are seeing 3 percent currently," one Transplace survey respondents commented. "These have been installed on new trailers since 2010."

Photo of truck fleet provided by Centurion Studio/Shutterstock     

Fleet operators evaluating multiple initiatives might want to think twice before investing in the following measures, which all rated "below" expectations when it came to return on investment:

  • Single Wide Tires (also rated as one of the most difficult things to implement)
  • Particulate Matter Filters
  • Vehicle Battery System (Heating and Cooling)
  • Emissions Control

Buying new? What to do

Fleet retrofits are one thing, new equipment purchase are another matter entirely – and one where operators are thinking far more progressively than in the past, according to the Transplace survey.

Moving forward, here are eight of the specifications that will be used most often as part of new vehicle procurement (ranked by the number of respondents focused on each):

  • Integrated Roof Fairings (88 percent)
  • Aerodynamic Bumpers (85 percent)
  • Aerodynamic Mirrors (85 percent)
  • Engine Data Recording Sensors (85 percent)
  • Cab Side Extenders (85 percent)
  • Idle reduction Technology (83 percent)
  • Fuel Tank Side Fairings (78 percent)
  • Verified Low Rolling Resistance Tires (77 percent)

Of these, idle reduction technology offers the highest possible return on investment, according to the survey data. Fleet operators are also reporting good returns from two other specifications that were not listed above: improved cab heating and cooling systems and verified low-rolling resistance tires.

The respondents were least likely to invest in these SmartWay initiatives: nitrogen-filled tires, alternative fuel/natural gas vehicles, hybrid trucks, hubcabs to reduce drag and advanced trailer end fairings.