Fuel for thought

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The seemingly endless surge in fuel prices is an economic earthquake for most fleet owners, and its seismic shock waves continue to ripple through the industry. For the week ending May 19, the national average diesel price shot up 16.6 cents to set another all-time record high of $4.497 per gallon. As of that date, the national weekly average diesel price had been above $4 per gallon for six weeks.

Here are some fuel facts compiled by the American Trucking Associations and the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

  • Just a one-penny increase in the price of diesel annualized over an entire year costs the trucking industry an additional $391 million a year.
  • At the current price, compared with five years earlier, it costs 200 percent more, or $866, to fuel up a typical tractor-trailer. Compared with 10 years earlier, it costs 303 percent more, or $977, to fuel up a typical tractor-trailer.
  • Because trucks haul 70 percent of all freight tonnage, and 80 percent of communities receive their goods exclusively by truck, rising fuel costs have the potential to increase the cost of everything that Americans consume that comes by truck.
  • The trucking industry spent more than $112 billion on fuel in 2007, and we’re on pace to spend $154.1 billion in 2008 – a record high. That’s up from $106 billion in 2006. In 2007, the industry’s diesel expenditures were about equal to the entire New Zealand economy.
  • The climbing pump price is due to two main factors: surging crude oil prices and increased global demand for diesel fuel. Demand is not falling; we’re seeing increased demand both in the United States and internationally, particularly in China, India and Europe.
  • The longer oil prices stay above $100 per barrel, the less we can expect significant price reductions for diesel. There is a strong correlation between crude oil prices and diesel prices.
  • Commercial trucks consume 53.9 billion gallons of fuel each year. About 39 billion gallons, or 73 percent, is diesel. The remaining 27 percent is gasoline.
  • EIA predicts that diesel will average $3.94 per gallon this year, 37 percent higher than the 2007 average. So far in 2008, diesel prices have risen nearly 30 percent.

ATA issued a call to Congress and the Bush administration to address this crisis situation and move immediately to take steps to increase diesel fuel supply. The trucking industry can do its part by promoting good fuel conservation practices that reduce emissions and improve fleet efficiency. It’s hard to predict fuel prices, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll remain high throughout the summer months.