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Panel talks pushing down per-mile fuel cost, impact on driver recruiting

A recent fleet study published by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) says the average fleet is carrying a cost of 64 cents per mile over 109,000 miles annually, equating to nearly $70,000 per year in fuel expenses per truck.

“It’s not exactly news that fuel is a fleets’ number one expense,” Mike Roeth, Executive Director NACFE said during a panel discussion at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo Monday in Long Beach, Calif.

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What wasn’t as obvious, however, were the potential targets for fleets, drivers and OEMs who each attack lower MPG costs from various angles.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) says the 64 cents per mile average is pretty good, but NACFE says 58 cents per mile is possible.

Freightliner’s Team RunSmart says 42 cents. Aero-aficionado owner operator Steve Kron says drivers who are aero-aggressive can get down to 38 cents per mile.

With SuperTruck, OEMs think 37 cents per mile is possible.

“There are tens of thousands of dollars in opportunity for the fleets,” Roeth says.

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Ryder Systems, Inc. has more than 210,000 vehicles in its commercial vehicle fleet and dispenses nearly 300 million gallons of diesel fuel at its 400-plus commercial fuel service locations.

Government mandates have become a thing of regularity as Washington seeks to squeeze more green energy and innovation from commercial trucking; something Ryder Vice President, Supply Chain Management, Fleet Solutions, Scott Perry doesn’t see changing anytime soon.

“I think we’re in the new norm that every three years or so, there are going to be new (emission) requirements,” he says, adding fleets who are slow or resistant to adapt will cause regulatory changes to be thrust upon the rest of the industry.

“EPA and states are implementing more stringent emissions standards and will continue to do so if technology advancement and industry adoption rates don’t accelerate,” he says. “And Renewable Portfolio Standards will dramatically reduce our choices.”

Innovation hasn’t come without a price, though: Perry says vehicle investments in the past decade have increased upwards of 60 percent, and Ryder feels the sticker shock as much as anyone. The company is one of the largest buyers of commercial vehicles in North America.

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“This is only going to increase as the product becomes even more complex,” he adds.

While much of green innovation lies at the feet of OEs, there are plenty of things fleets can do on their own, and those returns can mount quickly. Roeth estimates based on current averages, adding a 1 percent savings would equal $700 per year per truck.

Mike O’Connell, Frito Lay’s director of fleet capability, says his company – a division of Pepsi Co. – has trained more than 14,000 of its 17,000 drivers on how to be more efficient behind the wheel.

“Driver training can have up to a 30 percent impact on miles per gallon,” he says of the company’s plan to improve its fuel efficiency. “It was more to me about a cultural shift.”

O’Connell — who oversees the seventh largest fleet in the U.S. — says driver training had several key benefits, only one of which was its impact on MPG. He says the company saw a sustainable 6 percent fuel economy improvement from its over-the-road drivers and a double digit return from its route delivery fleet.

“And in most cases, we got (to the destination) faster, or in the same amount of time,” he adds.

In the search for drivers, fuel efficiency can, and does, fall to the wayside, Perry says.

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“Fleets are saying ‘Make it easy on me to recruit drivers.’,” he says. “They’re not focused on fuel economy. They just want safe, dependable drivers.”

But Perry says there are several green truck technologies available to fleets that can have a positive impact on driver retention and fuel efficiency.

“From some of the early feedback (from the use of automated transmissions) on the driver’s well-being, their state of health…it’s having an impact,” he says of decreasing fatigue and mental wear and tear. “From a safety standpoint, we’re also getting some positive feedback. Drivers are not as distracted while driving. Not worried about downshifting…”

Mary Aufdemberg, director of product marketing for Daimler Trucks North America, says the company braced itself for a slow rollout of its automated transmission last year – the DT12. However, response was both positive and somewhat unexpected.

“We knew there was a place for the AMT in the trucking market, but weren’t sure how successful they would be in the market,” she says of a reception that quickly warmed citing the safety benefits. “Quite frankly, we can’t build them fast enough.”

Something else fleets can do to gauge the benefits of green technologies, Perry says, is to share data which avoids duplicating efforts and puts better real-world condition information into research and development.

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Jason Cannon is the Equipment Editor for Commercial Carrier Journal and Overdrive, and is a Class A CDL holder. Reach him at jasoncannon@randallreilly.com.