Article

The Road to MPG Improvement

June 2010, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Jim Coffren, PeopleNet

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Fuel prices may have temporarily stabilized, but after hitting $4 per gallon during the past few years, it doesn't take a crystal ball to predict continued volatility.
Jim Coffren
Jim Coffren
What fleet manager wouldn't sleep better knowing the antidote for uncontrollable fuel prices was at hand?

MPG is about understanding on a truck-by-truck basis what it's capable of doing. This is a radical departure from traditional fleet management-using the fleet's average truck performance as the benchmark for comparing and assessing each truck's performance. A far more effective process is using historical data for each make and model of truck to customize an expectation for each unit.

Any fleet that has access to engine and driver performance data can create and manage a successful fuel conservation program. I've seen firms save between $2,000 and $10,000 per truck in the first year of a dedicated program, achieving a five to 15 percent improvement in fuel economy.

The key is how the data is set up. It has to be in a format that is easy to decipher, so problems can be identified. Secondly, it has to be frequent enough to do something about negative behaviors that are eroding mpg. Waiting for quarterly P&L statements to reach executive management is like closing the barn door after the cows strut out. Burnt fuel can't be recouped. Instead, put real-time data in the seats and hands of those who can take action to alter a negative course-drivers, dispatchers and maintenance.

Of course, drivers are critical. They need specific data for them and their truck, so they can track their progress in meeting the mpg goal for their unit, as well as behaviors that contribute to fuel consumption. Remember, you can't save what you can't measure. In this case, idle time, speed, sudden stops and starts are huge factors. But there are more.

P&S Transport Vice President Scott Smith says of his program, "We now have the bigger picture, which includes less evident factors, like routing, maintenance, customers, drivers and truck make and model." The carrier primarily hauls steel pipe for gas lines and sewers, steel and other building products in 48 states. That requires a lot of driving and fuel for its 260-truck fleet.

"We can identify issues the week they begin to impact fuel mileage. We can see which parts of the organization to approach and which questions to ask." As a result, P&S Transport determined that 10 trucks were not meeting expectations and sold them. This one decision alone saved the company over $12,000 per month. In addition to saving more than $100,000 in hard costs, there were untracked soft-cost savings, such as eliminated miles on trucks, vehicle depreciation and lower maintenance costs.

Service First Distribution experienced a 15 percent fuel savings for their 60-tractor fleet that drives 10 million miles each year-an $800,000 gain. USA Logistics Carriers improved mpg for its 570 trucks from 5.5 to 6.9 miles on the millions of miles driven each year.

Jim Coffren is a professional services consultant, mpg specialist for PeopleNet, which provides Internet-based and integrated onboard computing and mobile communications systems to improve North America's trucking industry's fleet management. More information about the company may be found on the company web site at www.peoplenetonline.com or by calling 888-346-3486.

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