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Trucks are Earning Assets: How to Make Them More Productive

January 20, 2009, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

By Mike Antich

Fleet managers need to view work trucks as earning assets. To maximize truck productivity, it is necessary to optimize specifications, operating procedures, and replacement strategies. When spec’ing vehicles, past history is important, but one outcome to using last model-year specs is repeating past inefficiencies. Fleet managers need to adopt a “clean sheet” approach to how they manage their truck fleets. One way to increase truck productivity is to modify specs to increase mpg, thereby reducing fuel spend. For instance, PHH Arval conducted a study that showed fuel costs can be reduced by slightly over-spec’ing a truck. Fuel economy was improved by as much as 0.3 mpg by slightly over-spec’ing an engine to run more consistently in the “sweet spot,” choosing a gear ratio low enough to suit a fleet’s application and location and enabling the correct fuel-efficient, engine-specific parameters.

GE Capital Solutions Fleet Services offers another productivity tip when spec’ing powertrains. It recommends gearing a truck so the engine is running at a slower RPM at a given speed, which results in less fuel burned. However, GE says this must be balanced with meeting “startability and gradeability” requirements. Another GE productivity suggestion is to specify multi-torque or multi-horsepower engines. These engines run at a lower rating when the driver operates the throttle. When the cruise control is engaged, the engine rating increases to its higher rating. This encourages a driver to use cruise control, which can save fuel over a driver-controlled throttle.

In the final analysis, the drivertrain, tires, engine, and aerodynamics of the vehicle should be properly matched to maximize fuel efficiency. Selecting trucks with aerodynamic features can prove cost-effective. The rule of thumb is that for each 10-percent reduction in air resistance, mpg increases by 5 percent. Examples of aerodynamic modifications include specifying aerodynamic mirrors, moving air filters under the hood, and eliminating fender-mounted mirrors. When spec’ing auxiliary equipment, be cognizant of component weights. Extra weight not only increases fuel consumption, but also reduces payload capacity.

Fleet managers should keep an open mind on how vehicles should be spec’ed. You never want to overload a vehicle, but could a smaller truck with heavy-duty options accomplish the task at hand? Likewise, you do not want to underpower a truck, but a smaller engine with a higher numeric axle ratio might increase fuel economy, while maintaining the same payload.

A clean-sheet approach should also be adopted with fleet cycling parameters. Avoid the error of having a single replacement policy for all work trucks. Replacement policies should be guided by lifecycle cost and history, mileage, and engine hours.

Altering tire specifications should also be investigated, such as using low-rolling resistance tires. However, the best way to reduce tire and fuel costs is to establish a process for drivers to regularly monitor tire inflation. This will increase tire wear-and-tear and reduce fuel efficiency. To control replacement tire costs, eliminate driver behaviors that decrease tire tread life, such as speeding, excessive braking, driving over curbs, and load distribution. Another cost reduction strategy adopted by some fleets is the switch to retread tires. Retreading tire casings can add an additional 120,000 miles per retread at about 35 percent of the cost of the new tire.

Modifying Driver Behavior

How employees drive trucks greatly impacts productivity. Driver training, in-truck displays, and telematics can be used to modify driver behaviors. Fleet productivity increases when drivers adopt more efficient driving techniques. One example is unnecessary idling. Drivers should avoid idling whenever possible. If a driver leaves the truck, the employee should be instructed to turn off the engine. It is also important to keep in mind that an engine wears out twice as fast idling as under normal operation. One hour of unnecessary idling a day over the course of a year adds the equivalent of 26,000 road miles to an engine’s wear.

Opportunities to Increase Productivity

Fleet managers must adopt a multiprong approach to increase truck productivity. In addition to modifying truck specs, fleets are also focusing on training drivers to drive for improved fuel economy. A controllable fuel expenditure is the elimination of unnecessary idling. A growing number of fleets are also researching, piloting, and implementing telematics solutions to optimize routes and reduce idling. Increasing productivity while managing and containing fleet costs is the central part of a fleet manager’s job. By taking a hard look at how trucks are spec’ed, along with modifying driver behavior, a fleet manager can find many opportunities to increase productivity and reduce costs.

Let me know what you think.


  1. 1. John Feeney [ January 21, 2009 @ 01:38PM ]

    Change is generally the hardest thing anyone can accomplish. Considering the current market place and the un-certainity of the times, adopting a "new" approach may take a back seat to just surviving. We shouldn't expect just the Fleet Mgrs to participate. Employees(drivers) need to also take a step forward in supporting this effort, from a positive point. Savings on "Lost Revenue's", means your check will cash next week......

  2. 2. COURTNEYCOMM [ March 04, 2009 @ 02:03PM ]

    I agree with the article. I cannot tell you how many times as a salesman going in if given the chance I might just be able to show a fleet manager a better way to build a truck to maximize use and cut down on vehicles owned at the same time. Wouldn't a reduced fleet cable of multitasking mean more profits in the long run and money saved in fuel and insurance and maintenance? Not to mention more money because you have a vehicle or vehicles doing more than one job.

  3. 3. James Blakely [ May 04, 2009 @ 11:35AM ]

    I agree with both comments, technology is always changing as in most cases the use of the truck. All specifications should be on the table when a new vehicle or specification is being considered.

    With CNG and Hybrids now being incentivized they may want to be looked at as well.

    With all of the turmoil in the industry you better research your business partners and make sure they are financially solid to see the project through past delivery but to the end of the lifeycle of the vehicle.

    Work with and experienced and knowledgeable sales rep he will be worth a few extra dollars over some huckster that changes dealers every few months.

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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