You can't open a newspaper these days without being bombarded with headlines about fuel prices. Here are several measures—some basic, some more sophisticated—that you can implement to reduce consumption.
Selection and Design
- “Select a vehicle that meets the vast majority of your working day needs,” says Todd Bloom, vice president of marketing for GM/Isuzu Commercial Trucks. Over-spec the vehicle and you'll pay at the pump for the additional weight.
- Consider the difference between a truck with a GVWR of 10,000 to 14,000 pounds and a truck with a GVWR of 14,001 to 16,000 pounds. Based on U.S. Census statistics on mean fuel economy in those two classes and a Jan. 15 national average diesel price of $2.46 per gallon, over the course of 50,000 miles the fuel cost difference between those two truck classes can amount to $2,755. If you need a larger vehicle only a few times a year, consider renting it.
- Shed extra weight, such as from unneeded chains, says Bob Johnson, director of fleet relations for the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA).
- Improve aerodynamics. A white paper from International Truck and Engine reports that an aerodynamically sloped hood and windshield can add up to 3% fuel efficiency to a truck's performance.
Even small steps can add up, Johnson says. The most well-known recommendation is to maintain proper tire pressure. (According to www.fueleconomy.gov, in automobiles alone, under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4% for every 1-psi drop in pressure of all four tires.) Other fuel-saving measures Johnson suggests are to keep the wheels aligned, pay attention to wheel bearing adjustments and lubrication, keep engines tuned, use the proper grade of oil, and keep air filters clean.
On the Road
“The way you drive a vehicle has a huge bearing on the fuel economy you're going to get,” Bloom says. To save fuel costs, Bloom recommends driving and shifting smoothly and efficiently, avoiding “jack rabbit” starts and stops, and keeping rpms as low as possible.
Finally, unless the engine is required to operate a boom or other equipment, shut it off when loading and unloading. According to International, an average truck consumes up to 1,800 gallons of fuel—more than $4,400 worth—each year due to idling.
“Telematics,” technology that tracks trucks and truck performance, can make it easier to track these details. Among the options is third-party provider DPL America's SkyHawk, which can monitor, among other things, location, speed, miles and hours driving, maintenance schedules, and roll time vs. idle time. Meanwhile, International's built-in GPS system allows fleet managers to remotely view the engine diagnostics available on the truck's dashboard to monitor when vehicles may need maintenance upon their return. The system also allows for route mapping so that the manager can advise drivers of more efficient routes.
Should You Go Hybrid?
A report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy indicates that hybridization could almost double the fuel economy of Class 3 through 5 trucks in city driving. Hybrid vehicles, which combine the benefits of a gas engine and an electric motor, provide the most efficiency in stop-and-go traffic, making them a logical option for dealers delivering around town.
Various forms of hybrid technology for commercial trucks are offered on a limited basis from Peterbilt, Freightliner LLC, International, and others, and the technology may make its way into mainstream work trucks in the next three to five years, says Doyle Sumrall, director of strategic operations for NTEA. There are industry groups working together to devise solutions. International has a bucket truck currently in testing that offers the benefits of hybrid driving plus the ability to use the energy stored in the engine's battery to power the bucket without the engine running.
NTEA will host educational events on hybrid and alternative-fuel technology during its Work Truck Show in Indianapolis (March 6-9). Visit www.ntea.com.