Minimising fuel spend is one of the biggest priorities for van fleet managers.
While driver training can reduce the amount of fuel a fleet uses, technology is increasingly playing its part.
Stop-start systems and speed limiters help increase fuel economy, but other developments can also help.
One company involved in the development of new technology is Viezu, which ‘remaps’ the electronic control units of both cars and vans, either making them more powerful or more economical.
It has remapped 24,000 vans for BT and 400 for Homeserve, among other major fleets. BT subsequently picked up the cost saving initiative of the year award at the 2013 Fleet News Awards.
Paul Busby, chief executive of Viezu, says: “When we set up the company, we wanted to bring professionalism into the tuning industry, but in addition to making vehicles go faster, we saw another use for it too.”
This led to the company’s Blue Optimize product, where vans are remapped for optimum fuel usage – resulting in claimed savings of up to 20%.
The price of remapping depends on how many vehicles need to be tuned, but Busby predicts fleets will start seeing savings within around three months of the work being done.
Viezu has 90 dealers spread across the UK and vans can either be taken to a dealer’s premises or can be remapped on-site.
The company stipulates that all vans must be freshly serviced before remapping and are loaded with a typical cargo so that fine-tuning can be achieved.
Busby says: “When fleets come to us, they normally ask for better fuel consumption without affecting the drivability of the vans.
“So far, all the drivers in vans we have remapped have been very happy with the way their vehicles drive and we are seeing 8% fuel savings at the least.”
One method Viezu uses to reduce power and fuel use without the driver noticing a change in the way a van drives is to increase the torque slightly at lower revs and reduce it in the higher ranges.
That way the driver feels a good amount of acceleration at low speeds, but can’t waste fuel by over-revving through the gears.
So if it is relatively easy to achieve, why do the manufacturers not offer such a service at buying time?
Busby says: “The problem is that when the manufacturers make vans they have to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product.
“Ours is a totally bespoke service so when a fleet comes to us, we go into detail about what the vans are used for and what the client wants to achieve.
“We can then remap the vehicles on an individual basis so that each vehicle is different if necessary.”
However, remapping products can run into problems with manufacturers who are reluctant to support vans that have been fitted with something that changes an engine’s characteristics.
Mercedes-Benz Vans says that the complexity of remapping means that vehicle manufacturers cannot take into account all the possible effects that it may have on elements like vehicle integrity, handling, reliability, safety, compliance with legislative requirements and conformity to the base vehicle’s European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval.
Steve Bridge, managing director of Mercedes-Benz Vans, says: “We do not approve any amendment in the vehicle’s engine control software and any unapproved modification breaches the terms in our manufacturer guidelines.
“Automatically, this then invalidates the warranty of the engine, drivetrain, exhaust system and electrical control units and any other associated components, so as a result, any modifications remain the responsibility of the entity carrying out the conversion.”
Bridge also stressed that any owner or operator considering such modification should understand the full extent of legislation such as Construction and Use Regulations, especially the issue of the emissions approval owing to ‘in-service conformity’ and ‘durability of pollution control devices’ requirements in both European and local legislation as accountability for operation of a non-compliant vehicle would remain with them.
He says: “We would advise that operators should obtain written confirmation from the nominated convertor in respect to having obtained the necessary approvals from the regulatory authorities to remain in compliance with the requirements of both European and local legislation for the purposes of both type approval and in-service conformity.
In response, Busby says Viezu has not had a warranty problem on any of the thousands of vehicles it has remapped. He adds: “If it ever happened, we are insured against any problems, so a damaged van would be independently assessed and if it is found that our remapping was at fault, we would pay for any repairs.”
Busby admits that as technology advances at a rapid rate, Viezu’s task is becoming more difficult.
He says: “With some of the older diesel engines it was easy to make a difference as they were pretty unrefined, but as engines become cleaner, our job gets more difficult.
“We are rising to the challenge but in future it may take longer to get a payback.”