Sometimes, we have the best intentions when we say something or make a promise, but circumstances conspire against us and we can’t deliver. Other times, we say something because we think we should, but do not wholly, in our heart of hearts, intend to carry it through.
It’s difficult to tell which of these applies to the trucking industry’s attitude to fuel economy. Most people running a trucking operation will tell anyone who wants to listen, one of their chief concerns is good fuel economy. Look at the way the operation is running and a number of ways to save fuel will always pop up, but are rarely carried through.
Why is this? Why do we say we think a subject is very important and then carry on as if it is not? The answer is, of course, complicated. In an ideal world we would all like to save on costs and reduce fuel consumption, but running a truck, a driver and a trucking operation get in the way.
There are so many imperatives in the operation of a trucking business. The goods must arrive at the delivery point safely and on time, they must also be in the right condition, drivers are needed who can handle the task with little direct supervision and freight carrying capacity must be maximised on every truck.
These automatically eliminate a number of fuel saving strategies. Run at 90 km/h and below and the amount of fuel used to get the task done is reduced considerably. The loading and scheduling process can’t help but put pressure on drivers to get there ASAP. Getting to the delivery point in good time takes a lot of stress out of their lives.
Training drivers to use fuel saving driving strategies may get results, but this gain can be short-lived, if reinforcing incentives and follow up training are not part of the process. This means more expense and more time off the road. An employer can also can alienate experienced staff who don’t need to be taught how to suck eggs, and good drivers are hard to find.
Slow running and training tend to be half done and end up in the too hard basket. Proper training can reduce fuel by 20 per cent, if done correctly. Speed reduction is an substantial automatic reduction in the fuel bill. They are also the hardest to introduce and implement, so what’s the alternative?
This leaves us with equipment solutions, which are those which yield the lowest results. Put an air kit on the prime mover and it will shave a very small percentage off the fuel consumption, as long as it is always set right. We have seen enough flat tops being pulled by prime movers with a full air kit to know this is not always the case.
Aerodynamics on the trailer can also shave a little off the fuel bill but it’s difficult to quantify. Close coupling the trailer will get good results but often compromises front axle weight. An overloaded front axle can be quite expensive. Fuel saving tyres may help but, again, the results may be hard to calculate.
Then we come to the snake oil salespeople. There are any number of fantastic sounding fuel saving devices arriving on our shores every year. Some may have merit, some definitely do not. How can you tell? The way they work is often surrounded in mystery or the examples quoted are from overseas.
The truth of the matter is, we have learned to live with the fuel consumption we currently get and we will be able to in the future. Saving costs is always going to be attractive, but getting the job done on time must always be paramount. For most of the Australian trucking industry, seriously reducing fuel consumption is on the wish list but not on the to do list.