Better Fuel Economy? Drivers Hold the Key.

IMG_1493

In trucking, 70% of achieved fuel economy has nothing to do with the driver.  It is simply the specification and maintenance level of the truck, the location where it is operated, and the weight of the load.  It comes down to the raw chemistry and physics of converting fuel into kinetic energy thru a machine to perform work.  Reduce weight, reduce resistance, burn all fuel injected into the cylinder:  improve MPG.  The OEMs and suppliers are largely doing a great job on the truck side of the fuel economy equation, however hampered we all may be by the regulatory environment our industry has seen thus far in this 21st century in North America.

Carriers have their hands full when it comes to determining the proper specification for a new order of trucks.  Obviously the truck must meet some minimum level of power and performance to be capable of  doing the job at hand.  But how can we set it up in a way that also maximizes fuel economy?  The answers are not always intuitive.

For example, Kevin Rutherford of LetsTruck and Overdrive magazine makes a great point we all should put to use:  “Slowing down 1 mile per hour will improve fuel economy by 1/10 of 1 mile per gallon.”  This is a universally accepted fact in the industry.  But rather than coaching the driver to simply slow down, fleet managers often decide to limit performance of the truck via a speed governor.  The challenge with the use of speed governors in general, and most definitely with setting a speed governor too low, is that a driver now often must downshift multiple times to climb a grade that he or she could have pulled in top gear if able to carry a little more momentum into the hill.  So the impact of slowing down actually forced them into lower gears with less overall efficiency.  This often nets out the potential gain.  Should a truck be ordered with a speed governor?  The answer is not an easy one to determine.  Perhaps in some cases,  for safety reasons it makes sense.  (If only there were a way to get drivers to slow down most of the time but allow them to drive hills in an efficient manner…hint – hint:  PedalCoach™)

When it comes to spec’ing a new truck, decisions that 20 years ago were pretty easy (tire size, final drive ratio, transmission, etc) are now very complicated (super singles? tag axles?  manual, AMT, automatic?  13L/15L/Natural Gas?).  These decisions are easiest where a fleet has a stable routes and a good dialogue with drivers coupled with a useful sales rep at the dealer or lease company who can and will find answers to questions on the latest models, features, and real-world performance.

Add in aftermarket options like trailer skirts/tails, wheel covers, air tabs, etc and a lot of money can be spent chasing better fuel mileage…and measuring results can be difficult.  This is because even with a properly spec’d truck, there are many things that are out of the drivers’ control which have significant impact on fuel economy:  weather, topography, gross weight, truck maintenance issues, etc.

Furthermore, ever-tightening emissions standards serve to re-set any knowledge we develop about specific set-ups and real performance, as EGR’s, DPF regeneration (SCR), and other emissions technology change from year to year and often prove costly to operate in their first and second generations.  Hopefully this improves and we are seeing a lot of good results with our partners and customers from the late-2013 and 2014 engines available in North America.

With today’s burgeoning cost of fuel, carriers must find a way to obtain and operate properly spec’d trucks.  This is critical as the truck represents 70% of achieved fuel economy.  But what about the driver?

At LinkeDrive™, we believe that truck drivers hold the key to the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to fuel economy.  As Cummins notes in their helpful guide “Secrets of Better Fuel Economy”, 30% of fuel economy is directly the result of driver performance.  Daimler, the ATA/TMC, and other industry experts have published similar or even higher numbers regarding the impact of drivers on fuel economy.

Though currently in vogue, solutions that effectively take the driver out of the loop (speed governors, cruise control) are not working and have the negative effect of increased distraction and fatigued driving, according to DOT studies and many fleets with which we have spoken.

Driver turnover renders (expensive) driver training largely ineffective as a means to improve fleet fuel economy, as any benefit gained is fleeting when drivers leave and wanes over time for any drivers that remain.

The telematics industry has given us driver scorecards, which are not working very well either.  According to telematics industry consultants and analysts at the 2012 Telematics For Fleet Management conference, driver scorecards are reviewed less than 20% of the time with drivers — which makes sense when we realize that the scorecards facilitate a tough conversation that neither drivers nor fleet managers typically want to have.  Scorecards unfortunately are lagging indicators and where used are often “too little, too late”.

Fuel mileage bonus programs are great, but tend to reward the top tier of drivers that have the advantage of knowing how to drive well. Furthermore, high-performing drivers are quite often assigned the newest, most fuel efficient trucks!  This effectively handicaps the lower-performing drivers making it even more difficult to improve.  And trust us when we tell you, taking a driver from 5mpg to 5.5mpg has a profound impact on fuel costs (1000s of dollars a year per truck)!

Because the opportunity to help drivers achieve better fuel economy is so enormous and existing “solutions” on the driver side are largely ineffective in helping fleets save meaningful money when it comes to fuel costs, we have launched PedalCoach™.  PedalCoach™ is an in-cab coaching program that helps all drivers do better when it comes to fuel economy.  The key to this is our unique ability to mathematically filter out everything that is out of the drivers’ control (in real time with no input from the fleet or the drivers).  We present this as an efficient target using an intuitive audio/visual feedback gauge that is so simple even my toddlers can get it.  We follow this with a bonus program (or we can feed an existing bonus program) that compels the drivers to work hard to make and sustain improvements.

The direct, immediate effect of PedalCoach™ is that drivers save fuel.  Furthermore, driving with PedalCoach™ increases focus and engagement which is reducing accidents.  Drivers are happier and turnover is reduced.

We have proven the solution over the last 6 months across 5 commercial fleets.  We are saving fleets $0.03 – 0.12 / mile right now with a payback on the order of months.  Furthermore, PedalCoach™ savings are additive to any investments a fleet has made on the “truck” side of the fuel economy equation.  We help good-performing drivers & trucks and poorly-performing drivers & trucks do better:

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 9.24.40 AM

MPG Trend – PedalCoach™ Pilot Fleets 2012 into 2013

 

We’ll use this site to update our followers and customers as we continue our progress in helping commercial truck fleets reduce fuel costs.  We have a number of features we’ll be adding to PedalCoach™ over the next few months that we believe will further round-out the solution.  Stay tuned for more of this and we’ll keep you posted on our results!  If you are interested in learning more about how much your fleet could save by deploying PedalCoach™, please reach out to us at:  info @ linkedrive.com.  Thanks!!! — Jeff Baer