Fuel. Diesel or gasoline, it's one of your customers' biggest costs. Worldwide energy consumption will grow by 53% between 2008 and 2035, according to a report
Build customer loyalty by joining them in their quest for better fuel economy.
Build customer loyalty by joining them in their quest for better fuel economy.
by the Energy Information Administration.

The agency also projects the price of light sweet crude oil will remain high, reaching $125 per barrel (in 2009 dollars) in 2035.

Fleets are looking for ways to cut their fuel costs. Here are some ideas for how you can help.

1) Learn about testing

When the price of fuel goes up, so do the pitches fleets get for various devices that claim to improve fuel mileage, from aero improvers to additives. Savvy fleets adopt the ones that work for them after testing them in their operation and assessing the payback opportunities.

Some testing is formal, often using the demanding TMC/SAE Type II procedure.

For instance, Mesilla Valley Transportation, a Southwest fleet known for its attention to fuel economy, tested ATDynamics' Trailer Tails "boattail" device and trailer skirts, as well as wide-base tires, at the Bridgestone Tire test track at Fort Stockton, Texas. They ran a TMC/SAE Type II procedure that requires use of separate fuel tanks or cells that are equipped with valves that allow tapping at the desired speed. This way, economy at cruising speed is carefully measured apart from fuel consumed during acceleration and deceleration. Fuel consumption with and without the subject component is measured and compared to a "control" truck without the device.

The Type II testing procedure was devised more than two decades ago by members of The Maintenance Council (now the Technology & Maintenance Council) of the American Trucking Associations. Type II and other numbered procedures were adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The TMC/SAE tests aren't cheap, but they can show in a short time whether a component can save the fuel its supplier claims. And if done right and supervised by experienced people, they can be run on public highways as well as test tracks.

Other tests are in-service, which take longer and are less scientifically precise, but perhaps more convincing.

For instance, Air Products, after having a university develop a package of potential fuel-saving devices through wind-tunnel tests, used two sample rigs, each pulling a pressurized tanker out of its Pryor, Okla., terminal. The first was the control vehicle, pulled by a Freightliner Columbia on which the company had detailed fuel-use data from 18 months and about 180,000 miles of operation. They installed the devices, then ran the rig on regular revenue routes for several weeks while watching closely for any economy differences.

The second rig had a newer Freightliner Cascadia tractor. The tractor and trailer got the upgrades, re-entered service, and fuel use was monitored and compared to that of the control rig. Conclusion: The three devices together improved fuel economy by 7% on both rigs. This was in mostly mild weather. Later, through a rough winter, the improvement dropped to 2%. It was deemed enough to start installing EcoFlaps, Airtabs and a different type of fender on the majority of Air Products' fleet.

However, a lot of smaller fleets don't have the major fleet resources needed for this type of testing. So when they're evaluating company claims, they need to know a few things about fuel testing - and so do you, if you're going to help recommend products that really work. Sure, you could sell them snake oil and make a fast buck, but that's not a way to build loyal repeat business.

One thing fleets can do is follow the lead of their larger cousins that do have the resources for testing.

Another strategy is to see whether the product is "designated" by the U.S. EPA's SmartWay program. While the program doesn't independently verify the products it lists on its website, it does require the company applying for the stamp of approval to conduct testing according to EPA test protocols and submit the results to EPA.

Chad England, president of C.R. England, says smaller fleets can run new equipment on some trucks and not on others, and compare notes. It's not as scientific, but it gets the job done. Fleets should try to keep other factors as close as possible. Truck specs, routes, driver habits, weather and the like can significantly affect fuel economy, to the point where it obscures what improvements, if any, were attributable to the product you were testing.

Keep in mind that testimonials are not scientific. For instance, if an owner-operator is testing a new product he believes will save fuel, he may, even subconsciously, alter his driving habits. Voila, he sees a fuel economy improvement. But is it really the result of the product he's testing? Carefully evaluate testimonials with this in mind.

2) Sell aerodynamic add-ons

For customers that operate over-the-road, there are a growing number of aerodynamic add-ons that can help them save fuel.

Increasing numbers of fleets are adopting aerodynamic trailer skirts, available through trailer makers such as Utility and Wabash, or from companies such as Carrier Transicold, Freight Wing, Laydon Composites, Ridge Corp.'s Green Wing, Transtex, Silver Eagle and Windyne.

There are mudflaps that both reduce splash and spray and allow air to pass through the flap, reducing drag. Spraydown Aero Guards, for instance, show a 1.5% to 3% improvement in testing. EcoFlaps from Andersen Flaps claim an average of 3.5% savings.

Another example is Airtabs, wishbone-shaped vortex generators that smooth the flow of air as it leaves vehicles' trailing edges.

3) Offer fuel-saving tires

Where the rubber hits the road, there's a huge opportunity for fuel savings. Rolling resistance is a measure of the friction between the tire and the pavement. The more resistance, the more fuel is used to move that truck.

With tires, until recently, you spec'd for traction, or for tread life, or for low rolling resistance. It was difficult to get all three in equal measure. But recent improvements in tire design have allowed users to nearly optimize two out of the three.

Even a quick look at a fuel-efficient tire reveals how designs have changed to reduce rolling resistance. Shallower tread, close-spaced ribs rather than lugs, low-profile sidewalls, and closed shoulders are common features. Tire casings (including belts) contribute about 50 to 65% of tire rolling resistance, and those have been optimized to lower rolling resistance by refining stress distribution and minimizing internal friction caused when the sidewall flexes under load. And in the case of wide-base single tires, two sidewalls per wheel position are eliminated, further reducing the tires' overall rolling resistance.

Despite the fuel-savings benefits of these tires, there's still some reluctance to embrace the product. Fleets can expect modest reductions in miles-to-take-off in many cases.

But tire makers say the economic argument against shallower tread is moot today. The fuel savings over the life of the tire more than offset the shorter life.

4) Promote proper inflation

The most fuel-efficient tires in the world won't live up to their promise if they are run underinflated, and fleet managers pull their hair out trying to make sure drivers even check them, much less keep them at the proper pressure.

According to the American Trucking Associations' Technology & Maintenance Council, approximately 7% of all tires are under-inflated by 20 psi or more. Only about 44% of all tires are within 5 psi of their target pressure. A set of tires at 60 psi versus the specification inflation of 100 psi can reduce fuel economy by up to 6%, as well as destroy the tire.

To help your customers with this problem, you might want to consider distributing aftermarket tire-pressure monitoring systems.

These can alert drivers in the cab