Average mpg up 2% among 20 top fleets as fuel-efficient technology deployment grows

 Schneider National is one of 20 fleets that participate in the annual NACFE Fleet Fuel Study. This year's study found that the fleets achieved an average of 7.28 mpg. ( Photo: Truckstockimages.com )

Schneider National is one of 20 fleets that participate in the annual NACFE Fleet Fuel Study. This year's study found that the fleets achieved an average of 7.28 mpg. (Photo: Truckstockimages.com)

After remaining flat in 2015-16, the average fleet fuel economy for the nation’s top fleets improved in 2017, according to research conducted by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).

The 2018 Annual Fleet Fuel Study found that the 20 participating fleets achieved an average fuel economy of 7.28 mpg in 2017, up about 2% from 2016’s numbers, compared to the national fleet average of 5.91 mpg. The 2017 study (2016 data) reported a fleetwide average of 7.14 mpg. The fleets operated 71,844 tractors and 236,292 trailers collectively. The 7.28 figure means the fleets saved $600 million in fuel costs over what they would have spent achieving the national average.

The participating fleets were: NFI Industries, UPS, CR England, Frito-Lay, Challenger Motor Freight, Ryder, Bison Transport, Cardinal Logistics, Crete Carrier, Nussbaum, Schneider, Hirschbach, Paper Transport, Prime Inc., CFI, Werner Enterprise, Mesilla Valley Transportation, U.S. Xpress, Maverick, and XPO Logistics.

The Rocky Mountain Institute/Carbon War Room also participated in the study, which Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE, said can be utilized by all fleets. “It is a benchmarking tool as we found that fleets can go in and add their data to the spreadsheet and compare themselves to the 20 fleets in the study,” he said.

Fleets can download a spreadsheet of the data for their own use from the NACFE website.

The fleets use a variety of technologies to achieve the fuel mileage prowess, NACFE pointed out. The organization said that in all, 85 separate technologies are utilized and adoption of at least some of those technologies has grown from just 17% in 2003 to 44% in 2017.

NACFE also sought data for the 2018 study from ATBS, NPTC and FleetAdvantage. Data from those groups also showed fuel efficiency growth over the past several years, NACFE noted.

This is the seventh year NACFE has conducted the study, which performs a deep dive into the use of technologies and best practices for fuel economy.

“I look forward to this report and read it each year within days of it being published. It is important to Schneider’s efforts and it can be a critical resource to any fleet or owner/operator as well as manufacturers and others who are working to improve Class 8 efficiency,” said Rob Reich, senior vice president, equipment, maintenance & driver development, Schneider, Inc.

A look at the average fuel economy for NACFE studied fleets (blue line), the average of all fleets, and "business as usual" fleets. (Source: NACFE)

The vehicles studied are Class 8 tractors, both sleeper and daycab models, and trailers operating in regional and long-haul applications. All 85 technologies and practices included in this year’s report are not prototypes and all are currently available.

Of note, this report was conducted during a time of rising fuel costs. The average price per gallon of diesel during the reporting period was $2.65 per gallon. The 2017 report was $2.31 per gallon.

Compared to a “business-as-usual” (BAU) standard of 6.42 mpg, the 7.28 mpg achieved this year represents a $5,122 saving per truck, per year at $2.65 per gallon for fuel and tractor mileage of 105,041 per year. NAFE explained that the BAU standard “shows a projection of what average mpg might have been given the combined impact of 2002, 2007, and 2010 emissions regulations, and an assumption for the effect of the 2014 and 2017 GHG base powertrain improvements.”

The per vehicle, per year saving over the national average of 5.91 mpg was $8,864.

From a technology standpoint, several continue to grow in acceptance by fleets, including cab extenders, which were up 21% in studied fleets year-over-year and are now used by 90% of fleets. Lower viscosity engine oil grew 29% year-over-year and is used by 87% of fleets and “shift-to-neutral” technology was up 28% year-over-year to 57% of fleets.

Trailer solar panels are only used by 9% of fleets, but their growth was up 1,177% year-over-year, and trailer lift axles were up 46% year-over-year and are now being utilized by 3% of fleets.

“Manufacturers continue to develop and improve technologies,” said Roeth. “What we continue to see is sometimes slow and sometimes quick updates to technologies depending on the challenges they present.”

There are also technologies that are becoming less popular with fleets, including the number of fleets that utilize full tractor chassis skirts and wide-based tires. Chassis skirt adoption fell 11% year-over-year to 66% of the studied fleet operations. Wide-based tires on tractors were down 12% to just 42%.

“There are cases where we have seen a reduction in these technologies based on challenges, but overall, the fleets are adopting [more] technologies,” Roeth noted.

Speed also appears to be increasing, with a 9% decrease year-over-year in fleets limiting speed to 65 mph or less. That, though, is something that Roeth said may not be what it appears.

“They still do limit speed, they are just allowing them to go faster,” he noted. “We are also seeing more fleets add speed on cruise rather than on the pedal, which is a good thing.”

Roeth noted that the fleets range in size from a few hundred trucks to thousands of trucks, and when compared with the data results from ATBS, NPTC, and FleetAdvantage, the fleets continue to show that fuel economy growth is possible, although it continues to show that there are large gaps between the studied fleets and the rest of the industry.