Volvo Trucks North America unveiled its Fuelwatch initiative to help fleet managers and truck operators achieve maximum fuel economy.

Fuelwatch is a comprehensive approach to get the most out of each gallon of fuel, encompassing vehicle spec'ing, maintenance, performance monitoring and driver behavior. Volvo introduced Fuelwatch at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas Thursday.

A major element of Fuelwatch will be driver training. Beginning in early 2009, Volvo will have driver trainers in each of its five sales regions to work directly with fleets and their drivers to teach how to increase fuel economy.

The tremendous rise in the price of diesel is the most significant challenge facing the trucking industry today. Volvo long ago recognized the importance of exceptional fuel economy and has worked for decades to squeeze as many miles as possible out of every gallon of fuel. These efforts have included the first aerodynamic truck design for conventional trucks (introduced 25 years ago in June 1983), as well as numerous engine and drivetrain innovations to improve fuel economy. In addition, Volvo has developed other less obvious but very effective methods to improve fuel economy, involving hardware, software and information technology. The end result of this intensive research is a wide-ranging body of knowledge that has been organized into Fuelwatch.

"Our customers are telling us 'I want Volvo to give me the most fuel efficient truck possible. We need every bit of help we can get' to survive the escalation in diesel prices," said Scott Kress, Volvo senior vice president - sales & marketing. "But we realized we can give them far more than the truck."

The Fuelwatch initiative has four major elements:

• Correct specifications. Before the truck is even built, its components and design are precisely matched to its intended application. Customers work with their Volvo Truck dealer and Volvo's Predictor software tool to select the most fuel-efficient spec for the job, taking into consideration terrain, desired cruising speed, vehicle loading, application and other factors.

• Maintaining for fuel savings. Without proper maintenance, wear and tear on the truck, over time, drags down fuel economy and raises costs. Fuelwatch helps Volvo customers keep up with scheduled preventive maintenance, which is critical. Lack of proper attention to wheel alignment as well as fuel and cooling systems can each reduce fuel efficiency up to 3 percent, while air system losses can result in a 4 percent hit. Tire pressure sensors and the ability to reprogram engine power ratings to match a change in application also contribute to better fuel economy.

• Monitoring performance. Volvo Link and Sentry allow fleet managers to monitor critical functions of the truck so they can identify and make adjustments to enhance fuel economy. Volvo Link also provides access to services for optimizing operations, such as fuel tax reporting, vehicle location tracking and route planning.

• Driver development. Nothing has a greater impact on fuel economy than the driver. In addition to the forthcoming driver training, Volvo offers drivers many aids. Volvo's Performance Guide is a ride-along "coach" that tells the driver how to operate the engine for maximum fuel economy. Performance Guide is visible in the Driver Instrument Display and uses icons to guide the driver on correct RPM, acceleration and staying in the engine's "sweet spot". This can be combined with Volvo's Performance Bonus to provide the driver with incentives for maximizing time in the sweet spot.

Volvo plans to introduce additional aspects of Fuelwatch moving forward.

"We think the days of inexpensive fuel are over, and the trucking industry must adapt to this new reality," said Kress. "Fuelwatch is not a switch that fleets can throw or a part they can bolt on a truck. This is a partnership between Volvo, our customers and our dealers involving a comprehensive approach to improving fuel economy tailored to the individual customer. We're confident the Fuelwatch process will play an important role in their success."