This is a question which pops up regularly, how serious are we about fuel economy? When looking back at opinion pieces I have written over the years this same question has come back many times.
The answer is invariably, not much, with some creditable exceptions. On a visit to the UK, I was sitting listening to a major fleet operator talking about all of the work the company has put in to get some real benefits for the business, by thinking about fuel use.
The fleet is mainly involved with DC to supermarket or shopping centre distribution, in a similar set up to many operations in Australia, albeit on a larger scale but over shorter distances. Over half of the trucks doing the task are owned by the company, the rest belong to one single sub-contractor.
Fuel economy, alongside driver safety and comfort, are major considerations when thinking about getting the job done. The ownership structure of the business also contributes to the buy-in from the drivers, they are treated as part owners, ‘partners’ in the operation.
First cab off the rank would get drivers well offside in most situations. By going for less powerful trucks than the rest of the industry, drivers find they have less get up and go under their right foot. However, the tandem axle trailers and 4×2 prime movers do not need to any more than 340 hp to get the job done.
This gives the fleet an immediate fuel advantage. ‘More horses means they need more hay’ is how the problem was illustrated. Real fuel savings were found by the operation. Most competitors run 400 hp trucks.
The company also got really serious about aerodynamics and not only redesigned the trailers it used, but got the resultant savings tested and quantified by researchers at Cambridge University and an independent Government research facility. The team spent money to save money.
Although the savings from work on the prime mover was a limited success and dropped, the changes to the trailer design gained the operation a seven per cent improvement in fuel efficiency. No-one would sniff at this kind of cut in costs.
The driver buy-in is backed up by regular training and coaching based on the data retrieved from the truck telematics. A number of parameters and warning signs are noted and pointed out to the driver. The emphasis is not just about saving fuel, but more about driving the truck properly, all of the time.
This is backed up by a real bonus every year. The more profitable the company is, the higher the bonus. Everyone is incentivised to cut costs and be careful. Bonuses of 10 per cent of salary are not unusual and have been much higher in the past. That’s a real incentive!
You could point out this is a UK operation and laws about carbon emissions are driving some of the savings, but this is much more than that, this is an operation really looking at saving fuel in a rational and effective manner.
There are environmental gains to be had from this kind of effort, but the emphasis has been on making real savings to the bottom line, regardless of the environmental impact. How many in Australia can put hand on heart and say they really have gone this far? How serious are we about fuel economy?