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Fuel Saving Fleets: Ursa Sees High MPG in the Real World

June 2016, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by David Cullen, Executive Editor - Also by this author

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Long- and short-haul truckload carrier Ursa Logistics reports that its best trucks are running at close to 10 mpg. 
Long- and short-haul truckload carrier Ursa Logistics reports that its best trucks are running at close to 10 mpg.

When it comes to running in the real world versus under ideal test conditions, we definitely see a difference in miles per gallon,” says John Lampsa, founder and CEO of Pewaukee, Wis.-based Ursa Logistics. That being said, he nonetheless reports that the long- and short-haul truckload carrier’s best trucks are getting close to 10 mpg.

In line with his realistic approach to saving fuel, Lampsa qualifies that performance by pointing out that the near double-digit fuel mileage is seen “during the summer months and better than average environmental conditions.” Likewise, he attributes the fleet’s overall average of somewhere “in the 8’s” to running a mix of long- and short-haul routes for various customers. “Generally, it’s more challenging to get maximum fuel efficiency from short-haul trucks,” he notes.

“Even if the cost of the fuel-saving product is only equal to the fuel savings, the benefit is we’ve still made a positive impact on our carbon footprint.”

Lampsa and his wife, Ursula, started a truck-repair operation called Truckserv in 1998 and launched the trucking company two years later. Ursa, which runs close to 300 trucks, provides dry van truckload service nationwide, although a majority of the dedicated runs are within the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor with linehaul service up to 600 miles outside of Milwaukee. They also provide long-distance and local service to the U.S. Postal Service. Ursa deploys numerous specs on its tractors and trailers to help cut fuel use. These range from speed limiters and trailer aerodynamic devices to tractor lift axles controlled by weight and automatic lift axles on trailers. Among other fuel-savers and safety devices, the carrier puts automatic tire-pressure inflation systems on trailers and is adopting a tire inflation system on drive tires. “We also utilize aerodynamic mud flaps that not only increase our fuel economy, but make the roads safer during wet conditions with reduced spray.”

Lampsa doesn’t just throw stuff into the mix in the hopes it will improve mpg. “We’re pretty data-driven about what we do and factor environmental impact into the equation,” he says. “We closely compare the different engine brands and drivetrains available when we order trucks.”

The fleet runs a mix of tractor makes with the latest fuel-efficiency options. The newest spec is Volvo’s XE powertrain package, which includes the OEM’s D13 engine and I-Shift automated manual transmission. All trucks are speed-limited to help conserve fuel.

“We buy trucks that are spec’d the same and then compare the data across multiple trucks,” Lampsa says. “That way, we can see what is happening related to the trucks and to their drivers.” He says the fleet also has a staffer — a “real data miner” — who sifts through vehicle and driver data to discern any issues that need attention, including safety, compliance and fuel economy. “This data is incorporated with our truck buying strategy, which allows us to compare data and better determine which OEM is giving us the greatest benefit.”

The fleet runs low-rolling-resistance tires on all wheel positions, and trailers are fitted with tire inflation systems from Meritor, Stemco and Hendrickson. Ursa recently completed testing Aperia Technologies’ Halo Tire Inflator to maintain the air pressure of drive tires. “The system has been very successful,” says Lampsa. “We tested it for three months with great results.”Ursa is evaluating Volvo tractors equipped with the OEM’s new Adaptive Loading 6x2 configuration. To save fuel when running empty miles, this setup has a liftable forward axle that adjusts to changes in load weight, allowing the truck to run as a 4x2. “There’s a weight sensor that takes the measurement from the rear-axle air bag. We got the first trucks with the system in the fall and we’re still evaluating the ROI.”

The newest trailers are fitted with Hendrickson’s SmartLift liftable slider suspension. Based on air-bag pressure, the suspension controls calculate the weight of the trailer load. If the front axle is not required to support the load, the axle is automatically lifted.

Lampsa also focuses on the aerodynamics and drag reduction of the combined vehicle. For the past several years, all the fleet’s vans have been equipped with Trailer Blade side skirts. “We tried different brands,” he notes, “and these perform the best in our operation.”

But it isn’t all specs driving Ursa’s highly respectable fuel efficiency numbers. To help address the people side of the mpg equation, the carrier employs a driver-trainer who, in addition to improving safe driving habits, is charged with helping those behind the wheel boost their fuel economy performance.

“The training staff focuses on both safety and fuel efficiency,” Lampsa explains. “We use our data to help drivers turn in better mpg numbers. Our trainer meets with them as needed to go over what’s happening out on the road and then follows up on their progress.”

Whether it’s considering the effect of trucks specs, or trailer aerodynamics, or the contributions of drivers, Lampsa says gaining more miles per gallon is all about continuously assessing real-world data.“The key is to identify and extract the vital data from the rest,” he continues. “Some might think we over-analyze things, but that’s okay. In the end, if you focus on something, it usually gets better.”

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