Maximizing fuel efficiency starts with driver coaching, performance analysis

  (Photo: Vnomics)

(Photo: Vnomics)

Whether they are ordering brand new trucks or deciding which tires to purchase, fleet managers have a lot of choices to make. They are often making these choices while working to meet particular fuel efficiency objectives. That is where Vnomics comes in.

Vnomics works to enable fleets to improve fuel efficiency nationwide. One of the ways Vnomics’ does that is through True Fuel, a stand-alone fuel optimization application that combines real-time driver coaching with comprehensive vehicle performance analytics.

True Fuel is unique because it monitors the vehicle’s actual fuel usage and compares it to the maximum potential miles per gallon (MPG.) Looking at actual MPG versus potential MPG allows drivers and managers alike to get a fair and accurate picture of driver performance, as opposed to holding all drivers carrying all loads on all routes to the same MPG standards.

Maximum potential MPG is affected by several external factors, including routes, weather and load weight. By taking this context into account, True Fuel provides users with a look at their vehicles’ and drivers' overall fuel efficiency and helps them address anything that may be compromising efficiency.

Ultimately, North American Council for Freight Efficiency Executive Director Mike Roeth hopes to move the industry away from the MPG metric altogether in favor of freight ton efficiency (FTE.).

“Trucks are all about hauling freight. MPG works fine for passenger cars because there you might be adding a 200-pound person to a 3,000-pound car,” Roeth said. “With a truck, an empty tractor-trailer will weigh something like 35,000 or 40,000 pounds, then you’ve got another 40,000 pounds of freight to move. If you only use MPG, the best MPG will be for an empty truck or a truck not even hauling a trailer, but that’s not good because you haven’t moved a single ounce of freight.”

NACFE regularly releases confidence reports intended to help managers choose the best technologies to improve fuel efficiency for their fleets. NACFE also held an event last year titled “Run on Less.” It focused on improving fuel efficiency and used the FTE metric.

Roeth noted that fuel efficiency is about more than just the technologies a fleet uses.

“As technology improves, you think about automated manual transmissions shifting the truck or cruise control helping manage the speeds over hills,” he said. “The truck is becoming more automated in its operation, and something that comes to my mind and a lot of others is, ‘Well, how the driver drives doesn’t matter. The driver’s influence on fuel efficiency has gone away.’ Well, it certainly hasn’t gone away. We have seen driver influence remain a factor.”

True Fuel allows users to monitor factors affecting FTE or maximum potential MPG, including driver performance.

Vnomics CTO Lloyd Palum echoed the importance of drivers in improving fuel efficiency. He said efficiency can vary up to 35 percent between a fleet’s most and least efficient drivers.

“Any efficiency program needs to focus on driving behavior as being a key factor in improvement. You’re definitely going to want to move away from MPG and get to efficiency because, unless you do that, it’s not going to be fair. It’s not going to be accepted by the drivers,” Palum said. “Everyone knows that hauling bricks up mountains is going to result in a lot lower MPG than hauling potato chips across the plains. If you institute a fuel improvement program for your drivers based on MPG and subject them to those varying driving conditions, then judge them all the same, they quickly become demotivated.”

True Fuel provides managers and drivers with both real-time information to help them address unnecessary fuel burn before it happens and broad-based analytics that indicate efficiency over classes of vehicles, routes and loads, according to Palum.

Terpening Trucking Company is one customer that has seen significant fuel savings since implementing True Fuel.

When the New York-based company started using True Fuel a couple years ago, it saw performance ranges climb from 5.1 to 5.4 mpg before implementation to 5.8 to 6.0 mpg after implementation.

Having True Fuel in the vehicle trains the drivers to drive for efficiency. This not only saves money on fuel but also increases the longevity of the trucks and provides safety benefits, according to Terpening Director of Safety and Operations Brian Brundige.

Brundige said the company incentivizes drivers to keep their fuel efficiency high by gifting gas cards to the most efficient drivers.

“It’s a friendly competition,” Brundige said. “The drivers like to compete and give each other a hard time.”

Tracking efficiency with True Fuel also allows Brundige to pull drivers aside and coach them when he notices inefficiency becoming a habit.  

Terpening uses True Fuel in all its trucks, and all new drivers are trained to use the application during the onboarding process.

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