Proven Strategies to Reduce Fuel Spend
Fleets are seeing significant savings by focusing on improving the fuel economy of existing vehicles and acquiring newer, more fuel-efficient models.
At a Glance
Ways fleets can save on fuel include:
- Match the right vehicle to the right route.
- Monitor and reduce idling.
- Shift to lower gear when feasible.
- Use alternative fuels where it makes sense.
As long as fuel prices continue to rise, fleet managers will look for ways to reduce fuel spend. At the most fundamental level, reducing fuel spend comes down to two strategies: improving the fuel economy of existing vehicles and acquiring newer, more fuel-efficient models. Whether fleets must work with what they have or whether they have the budget to invest in new models, when fleets drill down into these two categories, they’ll find several smart ways to save.
Give Existing Vehicles an MPG Boost
From modifying engine performance to making smarter choices about what vehicles perform which jobs, fleets have several options to improve the fuel economy of their existing units.
Match the right vehicle to the right route. One of the simplest ways to increase fuel economy and reduce fuel consumption is by matching the right vehicle to the right route. With no software requirements or vehicle modifications, making an informed choice on what vehicles offer the best fuel efficiency per route can be a cost-effective way to spend less on fuel.
FedEx Express, a unit of FedEx Corp., has seen a major impact on overall fuel efficiency by matching the right vehicle to each route, an initiative that has pushed the company toward its goal of reaching a 30-percent increase in fuel efficiency for its global fleet by 2020.
With proper vehicle choice — such as alt-fuel vehicles for shorter routes and lighter vehicles for longer routes — fleets can save big on fuel. In fact, FedEx Express expects to save approximately 20-million gallons of fuel this year alone by pairing the proper vehicles to routes that allow them to maximize fuel efficiency.
Keep an eye on idling and shift smarter. RailCrew Xpress, a railroad crew transportation service, looked to lower engine idling and smarter shifting as a means of reducing fuel spend. To do so, the company employs software that modifies an engine’s computer to lower engine idle speed and shift threshold.
“Using a higher gear sooner lowers the overall rpm — and the fewer times the engine turns over, the fewer gallons that go through it,” said Dan Gammill, director of fleet operations for RailCrew Xpress. “Likewise, lowering engine-idle speed improves fuel economy, too. We believe the software modifications can provide up to a 30-percent reduction in engine idle speed, so we are burning less fuel at the stop lights and when we are waiting for crews.”
RailCrew Xpress piloted this strategy in two regions, Texas and Mississippi.
The Texas pilot was conducted over 20 weeks, with programming installed on 180 vans and tested in varying driving environments — some that see a lot of city miles and short-distance, gas-guzzling trips, and others that make long-distance, more fuel-efficient trips on the highway. In aggregate, the company saw a 5-percent improvement in fuel economy as a result of the software pilot. A similar 15-week pilot in Mississippi resulted in a 10.8-percent improvement in overall fuel economy, according to Gammill.
With an annual fuel spend of $12.5 million — if rolled out platform wide — the software alone would save the company somewhere between $625,000 and $1.35 million. “Our vans average approximately 60,000 miles per year, so our high usage yielded a pretty quick payback on the project,” Gammill said. “For our purposes, it looks like a very cost-effective, low-impact way to get additional fuel economy out of the same piece of equipment.”
Speed up speed restriction. Software can also help fleets restrict speed, helping drivers lighten their lead feet — and lay off wasting fuel.
“I’m a strong proponent of speed restriction,” Gammill said. “Study after study says you lose 5 percent in fuel economy for every 5 mph over 55 mph — and that deterioration could be even greater for us, considering the large passenger vans we drive. If you’re looking to cut fuel costs, one of the easiest places to look is applying speed restriction to your fleet.”
Switch to alternative fuels. Beyond software, modifying vehicles to operate on alternative fuels can reduce fuel spend in two ways: through a lower price per gallon equivalent and lower maintenance costs.
Stanley Steemer is seeing positive results by using alternative fuels. Initial fuel-cost savings on Stanley Steemer’s alternative-fuel vehicles is approximately 40 percent.
Stanley Steemer, a provider of residential and commercial cleaning services, has looked to alternative fuels as a means of saving money and helping to green its carbon footprint. Currently, the company is testing operating vehicles and equipment on compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), aka propane autogas, fuels.
“Stanley Steemer is a unique business; not only do we burn fuel getting to a job, we also burn fuel while performing our cleaning service,” said Sean Vrenna, director of research and development for Stanley Steemer International, Inc. “By implementing lower-cost alternative fuels in both instances, we are hoping to see a significant savings in fuel cost.”
So far, the company has seen “very positive results” using the alt-fuels, according to Vrenna.
Initial fuel-cost savings on Stanley Steemer’s alternative-fuel vehicles is around 40 percent. “To date, we are pleased with how this pilot is going,” Vrenna said. “There are some significant costs in converting vehicles and equipment to run on alternative fuels. However, we feel our ROI time frame is viable. An added bonus we are seeing when using clean-burning fuels is a longer maintenance interval, thus providing additional savings.”