Fuel is one of the largest expenditures on a fleet’s operating budget, and prices at the pump recently reached record highs, putting a dent in trucking companies’ bottom lines. But driver behavior can help reduce that expense.
Once upon a time, fleets only covered fuel savings during training, but telematics has provided a much more modern, scientific approach that gives drivers real-time guidance in the cab.
Telematics hardware provider Geotab, which offers sources of detailed and historical information on fuel trends as well as monthly reports on fuel usage through its MyGeotab platform to help fleets increase fuel efficiency and manage fuel costs, identified the top reasons for unnecessary fuel consumption: unnecessary idling; aggressive driving like excessive speeding, rapid acceleration, harsh braking and cornering, tailgating, excessive lane changes and running stop signs; lack of route optimization; inaccurate tire pressure; vehicle and cargo weight; oxygen sensor malfunction and lack of maintenance.
“Even though the fuel prices are rocky, using fleet management technology is a good way to maximize vehicle MPG performance and reduce fuel costs,” said Ethan Weir, senior devops engineer for Geotab.
He said using a fleet management system is an effective way to tackle, track and monitor idling, and telematics help fleet managers set idle limits and generate idling cost reports. Coaching drivers and promoting safer on-road behaviors is simplified with telematics technology, too, he said, recommending fleets set up a driver scorecard to effectively evaluate drivers based on how efficiently they drive and share results and set up rewards for top performers to help motivate drivers to aim for those top spots.
Through CalAmp’s telematics, fleets can schedule reports to be sent to different managers for review so they can pinpoint specific issues like fuel efficiency.
Bill Westerman, CalAmp’s vice president of product management, said reducing excessive idling, which burns just under a gallon of fuel per hour; stopping aggressive driver behavior such as harsh braking and acceleration, which contribute to excess fuel usage; and understanding vehicle performance like how tire pressure can impact fuel economy, are areas where telematics can help fleets reduce fuel-related costs.
“A lot of organizations have idle recommendations or guidelines, but you have no way of really enforcing it. The driver behind (less) idling is definitely saving money on fuel, but you're also saving the environment because you're not polluting it so much with unnecessary engine activity,” Westerman said. “Driver behavior has kind of a similar effect. When drivers are driving the right speed, not excessive braking, acceleration and so forth, it becomes much more affordable, less fuel is consumed, and there's less of an impact on the environment as well – and the vehicle will tend to last longer because it's being driven appropriately.”
It’s also important to monitor the vehicle with things like tire sensors because tire pressure can also have an impact on fuel consumption, among other things.
Geotab, for instance, can help identify faulty oxygen sensors by setting up emailed or pop-up exception notifications when a fault is triggered, allowing for prompt repair and lessening the impact it will have on the vehicle’s fuel economy.
Westerman said fleets can interface odometer information with a maintenance management application to better schedule recurring maintenance based on usage rather than just bringing vehicles in once every two months as a general rule.
“Depending on how much the vehicle or piece of equipment is being used, you may be over-maintaining it. If you don't keep track of the odometers – the drivers may not always report information in the way you want – you may be under-maintaining,” he said. “Both will harm the vehicle and will reduce the useful life … You really want to have a systemic way of seeing that information so you can make sure vehicles that are identified as having problems get looked at sooner rather than later before they become really costly.”
Westerman said GPS tracking can also improve fuel efficiency by ensuring drivers don’t stray from optimized routes as driving unnecessary miles consumes more fuel.
Weir said integrating routes into fleet management systems can help in choosing roads that have less traffic, are smoother for vehicles and shorten drive time. With telematics, fleets can set up customized, pre-scheduled routes and send them directly to drivers and monitor whether drivers follow those routes.
Isaac Instruments’s Isaac Coach platform focuses solely on what happens en route.
The platform coaches the driver with real-time, in-cab alerts specifically related to better fuel efficiency – up to 15% in savings. It monitors more than 40 vehicle inputs 100 times per second based on aerodynamics, load, slope and wind, and drivers are given indicators on their tablets that give guidance on things like acceleration.
“The Isaac Coach is really the component of moving the truck from point A to point B with the most fuel-efficient behavior,” said Isaac co-founder and executive vice president of sales Jean-Sebastien Bouchard.
He said managing fuel efficiency also promotes safety.
“There's a direct correlation between a driver that drives for better fuel efficiency and a driver that drives safer. To be safe, to be fuel efficient, you need to coast when you approach a stop; you need to slowly decelerate towards that stop and not brake at the last minute,” Bouchard said. “Drivers don't tailgate as much; they anticipate more what's coming up in front of them so they can have that distance. This has an impact on the fuel savings, and it has an impact on the safety. So they're really tied together.”
Another benefit is retention. Bouchard said Isaac has found that many of its customers use fuel savings to better compensate drivers.