The trucking industry in Australia needs to ask itself this question, do we really care about fuel consumption? Rationally, the answer should of course be yes, but don’t listen to what we say, look at what we actually do.
Australia is one of the few developed countries to lack a real carbon emissions reduction program. Large corporates may have a corporate goal of reducing their carbon footprint but it is not an imperative for anyone to reduce emissions.
Ask anyone in some form of position of responsibility in a trucking operation and they will tell you fuel consumption is very important and an vital way of controlling costs in the business. Their words are said with conviction and are sincerely meant, of that there is no doubt, but look at how the operation actually functions and you realise so many other factors compromise that well-meaning aim.
In global terms we can be seen to be an efficient industry, if the measurement looks at carbon fuels used per tonne per kilometre. We have road trains and B-doubles which make us look highly efficient, but this is a false result. If we compare the fuel use of a semi in Australia against one from Europe or the US, we use a lot more fuel.
The only real driver for reduced fuel consumption, and the reduced carbon emissions which flow from this, is to improve the efficiency of the operation. Everyone tries to reduce fuel costs, but many of the solutions which can be effective are often dumped into the too-hard basket.
The easy stuff does work but doesn’t provide the operator with the big gains. Fitting an aerodynamic kit can gain you a few cents, but can still be problematic when the truck suffers from a roo strike or just travels on a rough highway where bits can fall off the truck or trailer. Close coupling a trailer will get you a few brownie points but just look out at the highway and see how often it occurs.
There are technological solutions which will save fuel. The engines we run now are more efficient and an AMT in the drive line can be used to minimise fuel use by smart changing. Topographical mapping in cruise control programs gets a few points, as does automatically opening the clutch when the truck’s momentum is sufficient to maintain speed.
All of these ideas get you a bit more fuel economy. Their downfall is the fact most drivers will intervene themselves citing their strongly held opinion they can drive the truck better than the computers in the system. In some cases that may be true but, on average, the computer will beat the median driver every time.
This is the nub of the problem, the driver, they are capable of getting the operator the best possible fuel consumption outcome, but they are also capable of wasting thousands of litres of fuel by poor driving technique.
This is why many operators are investing in driver training. Get a driver on board with economical driving and they will reduce the operation’s costs. However, after a few months the lessons wear off and old habits start to creep back in. The training needs to be followed up regularly to have a long term effect.
There is also a lot of data being stored in the truck as it is being driven around the country. In a survey released this week by Teletrac Navman, it was found 89 per cent of respondents use telematics to track the truck and trailer, but only 24 per cent use the same equipment to monitor fuel use.
I return to my original question, do we really care about fuel consumption?