Stop wasting fuel and cut your costs

If you want to cut your fuel bills and manage your drivers more effectively there are plenty of options available to help you to do so.

You can address driver behaviour, consider the vehicles they are driving, analyse the routes they take and consider the fuel they use.

Drivers have arguably the biggest impact on fuel consumption and are a good place to start, according to Martin Flach, Iveco product director. “Invest in a good telematics system to monitor their behaviour,” he says. 

Telematics companies generally calculate that their driver behaviour monitoring systems, which highlight wasteful activities such as harsh acceleration and excessive engine idling, can result in a 10-15% fuel saving, if combined with a driver training programme.

GreenRoad reckons that its software, now in operation in more than 20,000 vehicles in the UK, has reduced fuel usage by up to 20% for some fleets.

“We install the equipment for a while to get a baseline figure from which we can measure the level of improvement then we turn it on,” says president and chief executive officer, Zeev Braude.

“If it shows green, then you are driving efficiently and safely; if it shows yellow, then you’re rather less efficient and safe; and if it goes red, then you’re not very efficient or safe at all. What we’re doing is giving drivers an objective view of their performance.”

It is not a disciplinary tool, Braude stresses, but one that should be used to encourage drivers to raise their game; and one that can be backed by an incentive scheme. Offer the safest and most frugal drivers a cash bonus and they are sure to buy in to what you are doing, and ensure that the predominant colour in their cabs is green rather than red.

Lightfoot was developed by Exeter-based Ashwoods and uses verbal warnings to remind the driver to slow down and drive more carefully, says managing director Mark Roberts.

“It’s a human being that’s advising you rather than beeps and lights,” he observes. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be backed up by driver training because it is driver training.”

Lightfoot costs £14 per month per vehicle, but the fuel savings achieved can offset the cost.

South West Water has installed the in-cab system from Lightfoot in 54 new Peugeot Partner vans, after a trial which began in January 2014 and delivered fuel savings of over 15%. They are in service in Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset and Dorset.

HSS Hire Group conducted a similar trial which resulted in a 12% saving. It aims to have a Lightfoot package fitted to the majority of its new light commercials.

“Our drivers have responded really well to it and we’re seeing improvements across the board,” says HSS logistics project manager Rhys Davies. “Our maintenance costs have reduced, along with our fuel bills, and we may be able to negotiate lower insurance premiums because Lightfoot encourages safer driving. What we needed was something that is easy to manage.” 

Lightfoot gives the driver two opportunities to remedy any short-term poor driving behaviour as indicated by warning prompts. When warnings are delivered, an immediate improvement in driving style wipes them and re-sets the gauge. If a third warning is received, however, then it will be recorded and reported, and the fleet manager is emailed a weekly table by Lightfoot showing how well (or how poorly) each driver has performed at the wheel.

Moving up the weight scale, Scania offers a telematics-based driver monitoring package under the Optimise banner. It includes a day’s training for the driver plus a monthly coaching session carried out over the phone and by email.

Average fuel savings of around 5% are being achieved by hauliers as a consequence, says the manufacturer.

Aerodynamic options

If you do a lot of long-haul motorway work then an aerodynamic package will help reduce fuel expenditure, just so long as it is correctly adjusted.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen trucks with cab-top deflectors that are positioned either below or above the front of the body or trailer,” says Flach.

If they are in the former position, then the square-shaped front of the body will be left exposed and trying to punch a large and very un-aerodynamic hole in the air. In the latter, a maelstrom of air turbulence with be created.

Hatcher’s ‘Active Freddie’ cab-top deflector, developed in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz and Cranfield University, is marketed with manual, electric or automatic height adjustment as options.

Furthermore, it constantly alters its position in relation to the truck’s yaw angle, says Hatcher, which helps it to deliver a fuel saving of up to 5%.

“When you buy a truck, make sure you specify the right axle ratio for the work you are on if you want to save fuel,” Flach says. “If you tackle a lot of motorway work with modest gradients then you are going to want a long ratio.”

Ensure your tyre pressures are set correctly, he adds, a view endorsed by ATS Euromaster. It warns that tyres that are up to 20% under-inflated can cost up to £555 extra in fuel per truck per year. It is a message that many operators have yet to absorb. A survey of 500 truck fleets conducted by Texaco in 2014 contained the surprising revelation that only 42% carry out regular tyre pressure checks.

Do not buy your tyres solely on price, Flach advises. Pay a little bit more and invest in premium-brand products instead. “Buy the cheapest ones around and your fuel economy could suffer to the tune of 3% to 4%,” he warns. “Opt for premium tyres and it could improve by up to 1%. That means if your truck does 100,000 miles annually and you spend £60,000 a year on fuel then you will save £600.”

In this context, it is worth noting that Michelin Solutions is offering pence-per-kilometre tyre management contracts that include a commitment to save the customer fuel. If the savings are not delivered then the client is compensated accordingly, always assuming that the trucks concerned are fitted with Michelin energy-efficient tyres and at least 70% of them are equipped with a telematics system.

Trucks have moved away from manual gearboxes towards their automated counterparts in recent years with the former now increasingly available solely as options; or not available at all.

That is no bad thing from the economy viewpoint, says Flach, because only the best driver with a manual box can match the fuel efficiency of an automated box. “And there aren’t that many ‘best drivers around’,” he says.

Automated boxes can be married to predictive technology that anticipates the route ahead and structures gear-changing accordingly, with an eye to shrinking fuel bills. Automotive component giant Continental’s eHorizon is a prime example.

“We supply it to Scania and it is enabling users to reduce fuel consumption by around 3%,” says Helmut Matschi, head of the company’s interior division and a member of the executive board.

Though offered by some manufacturers as an option, with fuel savings promised, automated boxes have achieved only limited success in light commercials. Partly that is due to the premium charged for them, partly it is because their unwillingness to be rushed can lead to frustration for drivers on a tight delivery schedule.

The fully-automatic ZF eight-speed Hi-Matic transmission available in Iveco’s latest Daily is a better bet from the driveability viewpoint. At £1,500 the premium charged remains substantial. Iveco contends that anybody who opts for it will enjoy a 4% fuel saving. However, over annual mileage of 15,000 (assuming 35mpg), this would result in a saving of less than £100 – payback would be more than a decade.

What about alternative fuels?

“Electric vans may be worth considering, if you do a lot of urban delivery work, and they can make sense in central London in particular because you get the congestion charge exemption,” Flach says. “Add the low cost of the power you use and you should see payback in four-to-five years.”

Gaseous fuels could be worth a look, because they attract lower rates of duty than petrol or diesel. That means they can deliver a cash saving, despite the fact that their lower calorific value means that more has to be burned to propel a vehicle a given distance.

Running vans powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that cover a modest 10,000 miles annually is leading to a saving of £500 per vehicle per year, says Buckinghamshire-based Florascapes, which specialises in tree surgery.

Fuel supplier Autogas, a joint venture between Shell and Calor, points out that LPG produces 33% less CO2 than petrol and 45% less than diesel. NOx emissions are 82% and 99% lower respectively, and Autogas LPG is now sold from more than 215 forecourts. That figure rises to 1,400 if outlets supplied by other LPG companies are taken into account.

Bear in mind, however, that converting a petrol van to run on LPG costs around £1,500 says Autogas.

Van operators could learn a lot from their truck-operating colleagues believes Mark Cartwright, head of vans and light commercial vehicles at the Freight Transport Association.

“Whereas a haulier will often know how much fuel his trucks are burning to two decimal places, too many van operators have no idea what the mpg figure is for the vehicles they run,” he says.

Nor are they always aware of where their drivers are refuelling. “Fill up at a motorway service area rather than at the local supermarket and you could be paying 10 pence a litre extra for your diesel,” he adds.

More of them need to address the whole question of fuel security, he suggests. “Ask yourself if one or two of them may be putting the odd gallon of diesel into a fuel can for use in their own car every time they put fuel in one of your vans,” he remarks. That is somewhat easier than siphoning, which can be prevented by fitted a van or truck with an anti-siphoning device.

Cartwright points out that there are a number of simple measures light commercial fleets can take that will lead to better economy and potentially cut consumption by 10-15%.

“If, for example, a van has got a roof rack that is never used then take it off,” he advises. The consequent improvement in aerodynamics will cut fuel usage by 5%.

“Take a look at what your drivers carry around in the backs of their vans and ensure that anything that isn’t needed is taken out,” he continues. The less weight you carry, the less fuel you burn.

Van drivers should also be encouraged to only use air-conditioning systems when genuinely necessary and not to drive around with the windows wound down; open windows increase aerodynamic drag. They should be exhorted to use the eco button too, assuming that there is one ready to hand.

Press it and you immediately reduce engine power and alter the way the accelerator pedal responds without making all that much difference to your performance if you are running lightly-laden on roads with only modest gradients. You can achieve a fuel saving of up to 10% if you are driving, for example, the latest Vivaro, says Vauxhall.

Van drivers are less likely to ignore such exhortations if you set up a fuel economy league table with a bonus for the most frugal. Modern vans can be ordered with top speed limiters and are increasingly being made available with fuel economy packages.

Due to appear in dealerships in September, the latest Volkswagen Transporter will be fitted with Bluemotion Technology as standard. The package includes stop-start, low-rolling-resistance tyres, and regenerative braking. As a result, its 102hp 2.0-litre Euro 5 TDI diesel is 4.5mpg more frugal than the equivalent engine in the departing model without Bluemotion says Volkswagen. The Euro 6 version is 10.2mpg more frugal, it adds.

Cost-effective management of deliveries using routing and scheduling software can certainly garner fuel savings contends William Salter, managing director of Paragon.

It can determine whereabouts an operator’s depots should be and the number and size of the trucks and vans it should run to achieve optimum operational efficiency. If depots are in the wrong place and the fleet is made up of too many vehicles too big for the job in hand then it may be burning more fuel than is necessary.

“You may be able to reduce your fleet size by up to 20%,” Salter says.

Paragon can also help fleets manage their delivery cycle on a day-to-day basis. “Tracker uses our software to manage its fleet of mobile engineers and has cut its fuel bill by 22%,” says Salter. “Anglian Water has saved £100,000 a year.”

Nor are Paragon’s packages solely for the big fleets, he stresses. “If you run 10 trucks or more then you may be able to benefit,” he contends.

How should you buy your fuel?

Bulk purchasing fuel and storing it in a tank can save money. “By doing so, you will pay 3-4p per litre less than the pump price,” says James Spencer, who set up fuel purchasing consultancy Portland Analytics in 2009.

The economics only fully stack up if you can accept a full tanker load at a time. “That’s 36,000 litres,” he points out.

Bulk tanks cost money to install and maintain and have to be fitted with a pump with a security system that prevents it from being used by anybody other than authorised employees. A large quantity of fuel stored in one place is a tempting target for thieves. If it leaks then the loss will cost dearly, will have to be cleaned up in an environmentally-approved manner and there is always the risk of prosecution should the fuel run into an adjoining water course.

Bunkering cards which involve the fleet concerned regularly purchasing an agreed volume of diesel – 50,000 litres, say – and depositing it with a particular network so that it can be drawn on when needed, offer almost as big a saving. “It’s like having a virtual bulk tank,” Spencer says.

“A further option is a fixed-price fuel card. We can arrange one that operates through the UK Fuels network of around 1,600 sites.”

Customers commit to taking an agreed volume of fuel in return for a discount based on the current price – presently around 2-3p below the national aveage pump price.

The key benefit of such a card is that it gives the fleet the ability to predict how much it is going to cost to fill up its vehicles for the next 12 months.

If the national price falls, savings will disappear, but some fleets prefer to have a fixed figure in their budgets.

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