Tech In Focus: Fuel optimization

RandMcNally, a provider of fleet mapping and mileage software, offers fuel optimization in its latest version of IntelliRoute.

Planning truck routes to get the lowest possible fuel costs is no small feat. The pump price can fluctuate wildly along interstate routes, but that’s only one of many considerations. Truly sophisticated fuel purchasing takes into account fuel rebates, surcharges, taxes, mpg, distance, fuel levels, tank size, route schedules, truck stop preferences and other factors.

Fuel optimization systems are designed to resolve these various factors into a recommendation for each trip. Such systems have been on the market for nearly a decade, but vendors are seeing greater interest in recent years as fuel prices are dramatically higher and fleets look for new ways to squeeze out more miles from their fuel expenses.

“Usage is up tremendously,” says Chris Lee, marketing manager for ProMiles, a mapping and mileage software provider. The company has offered fuel optimization for eight years, and for the past three it has included fuel optimization at no extra cost in the ProMiles XF mapping and mileage system – both in online and client-installed versions.

Today, nearly 70 percent of ProMiles’ customers use its fuel optimizer, Lee says. As with all fuel optimization software, ProMiles calculates routes by using current fuel price information through direct feeds of fuel transactions from vendors of fuel purchasing cards.

ALK PC Miler and RandMcNally IntelliRoute also offer fuel optimization in their latest mapping and mileage solutions through an interface with FuelAdvice.com, a Web-based fuel optimizer from Integrated Decision Support Corp. (IDSC). Users pay the same monthly price, per truck, as they would to use FuelAdvice.com separately ($9.95 per truck per month). The interface with FuelAdvice.com provides the convenience of using one package.

“The combination of having (fuel optimization) right there on the desktop has been a hit so far,” says Corey Grabow, manager of partner programs for Rand McNally.

IDSC also offers a client-server product called Expert Fuel, which fleets use as a fully integrated product with dispatch and enterprise management systems. Expert Fuel automatically generates fuel plans without any manual input; it also automatically captures driver compliance to plans through comparing planned purchases to actual fuel receipts.

The benefits of fuel savings and automation may seem obvious, but surprisingly, some fleets remain skeptical of fuel optimization software because it seems too good to be true, and they also believe it will negatively impact driver turnover. Both of these assumptions are false, says Ben Murphy, president and chief operating officer of IDSC.

“Where our system differs from others is that we not only show where you are saving money, but where you are losing money,” Murphy says. “Drivers are smart people. They get it if you can show them. We have never seen an increase in turnover because of Expert Fuel.”

Murphy says that fleets using Expert Fuel can add parameters that accommodate driver necessities and amenities, such as their preferences for fuel stops and the minimum fuel levels in their tanks; after all, drivers might panic if caught in a snowstorm with 50 gallons of fuel remaining.

“If you give drivers ownership in the system, they do fall in line,” he says. “If they have a problem with a stop, they can tell the fleet fuel manager and have the stop taken out of the network.”

Fuel optimization software may require significant tweaking for its optimum solutions to fit a company’s fueling objectives, such as preferring to fuel at company terminals even when prices are cheaper at the local truck stop. Some fleets also may choose to maximize available drive time by fueling at the end of drivers’ on-duty time, says Jamie Munson, director of carrier management for Manhattan Associates, which provides the Fuel&Route system.

Each fuel stop also can be assigned a cost of time, Munson says. The fuel optimization software uses historical data on stop times, as collected by onboard computers, to calculate fuel stops. Fleets also can winnow down the list of possible fueling locations.

“If you are not taking this into account, it is very difficult to generate a solution using generic pricing,” Munson says. “Many of the listed truck stops aren’t more than a convenience store with a diesel pump. Using marginal stops leads to low acceptance.”

And with low acceptance by drivers, fuel savings will be far from optimal.