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Go Slow to Save Dough
Curbing driver speed is the most widely recognized behavioral change that can save fuel, with the 60 to 65 mph range the sweet spot for many 18-wheelers on today's highways, says Glen Kedzie, vice president of environmental affairs for the American Trucking Associations, a trade group headquartered in Arlington, Va.
On average, a truck traveling at 65 mph instead of 75 mph will experience up to 27-percent improvement in fuel consumption. "As a rule of thumb, for every one mile per hour increase in speed, there is a corresponding 0.14 mile-per-gallon (mpg) fuel consumption penalty," says Kedzie.
Operating at even lower speeds (around the old double-nickel limit, for example) would further reduce aerodynamic drag and decrease fuel consumption, but safety risks increase if trucks travel much slower than cars. And the problem voiced by truckers during the days of the Double Nickel Challenge—that slower speeds translate to less income—remains today.
In the United States, Australia, Canada, and Europe, for example, Hours of Service regulations force truckers to rest after a certain number of hours on the road.
"With these restrictions, some trucks traveling at 55 mph may not be able to get their loads to their destinations on time," Kedzie explains.
Fortunately, the tool kit for eking out extra miles per gallon has expanded far beyond driving speed. In an era of more intelligent and connected vehicles, trucking technology for better fuel economy now includes wireless sensors, GPS chips, algorithms, and sophisticated real-time data analysis.
Fleet operators can collect highly detailed information about a given driver and vehicle, for example. "They get a nearly real-time report on specific drivers," Kedzie says. "It includes where drivers stopped, how long they rested, how often they braked or hard-braked, and the engine temperature."
It might sound like Big Brother has moved into the trucking industry, but analyzing this data and training drivers accordingly can translate to real savings.
"Between the worst driver and the best, the difference in fuel economy can reach 25 percent," says Michael Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.
Others cite more modest gains from technology designed to encourage fuel-efficient driving behavior. For example, GreenRoad, a driver performance and safety management firm based in Redwood City, Calif., reports that drivers using its real-time feedback system consistently cut fuel and maintenance costs by 10 percent.
Oil and gas company Shell claims its FuelSave Partner system for commercial trucks can also improve fuel economy by 10 percent. The Shell system collects information on 13 separate driver behaviors, such as hard-braking and excessive engine revving, and creates weekly or monthly emissions, fuel, and efficiency data reports for fleet managers.
Tractor-trailers in the United States currently average just six mpg. But some fleets can achieve up to 8.5 mpg, with the most efficient trucks reaching 10.5 mpg.
"If we could bring the average up to the best real-world experience today, incredible cost would come out of freight," says Roeth. At current diesel fuel prices, each one-percent fuel economy improvement saves about $900 per truck annually. Source Inboundlogistics.com