"Managing fuel is really a proxy for how well you manage your overall business," said Vin McLoughlin, chairman of Cardinal Logistics. "But it's not that easy."

Numerous factors affect a truck's fuel performance: weather, geography, load size and type, urban streets vs. interstate highways. These are all difficult to track, and it's even harder in slip-seat operations where drivers move among trucks, which the carrier has.

For Cardinal Logistics, fuel economy is all about micromanagement. In McLoughlin's world, effectively managing fleet fuel consumption means knowing what every driver is doing and how every truck is performing every step of the way. That way you can troubleshoot quickly, he says.

Cardinal is in the process of installing information collection systems that use blue tooth and a driver's handheld device to collect data from drivers and trucks throughout a given day. This can help alleviate the problems associated with tracking fuel efficiency in slip seating, McLoughlin says.

Another large part of that micromanagement is making sure trucks get to the cheapest refueling stations. Cardinal Logistics uses Appian truck routing software to manage drivers individually, and to make sure trucks pass near optimum refueling points, usually stations with which Cardinal has purchasing agreements. This makes an enormous difference in how much fleets pay for fuel.

"It's all about execution at the local level," McLoughlin reiterates. "When prices are $4 a gallon, you have to look under every single rock."