With fuel being a fleet’s number one operating expense — accounting for as much as 60% of a fleet’s operating budget — lowering fuel costs is a top priority for every fleet manager. Whether fuel prices are rising or falling, putting management strategies in place to mitigate fuel costs is key to running a cost-effective, efficient, and profitable operation.
Two Is Better Than One
When considering strategies to lower fuel costs, fleet managers often make the mistake of focusing their management efforts on either their drivers or their fleet. If this solely focused approach is your modus operandi, the more efficient process is a dual one that’s both driver-centric and fleet-centric. Focusing on driver and fleet will improve your efforts to lower fuel costs and improve safety, efficiency, productivity, and more positively impact your bottom line.
To that end, let’s look at three driver-centric and three fleet-centric management strategies to consider that together can help you achieve those goals.
1. Monitor Driver Behavior
No question about it, bad driving habits can decrease fuel economy in a big way. According to the EPA, 33% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption is affected by how a driver operates it. Hard acceleration, hard braking, inconsistent speeds, distracted driving, and excessive air conditioning in traffic are bad habits that can be corrected with a driver training/coaching program.
Fleet managers who have implemented such programs have achieved an impressive 5% to 30% reduction in annual fuel consumption. The challenge is getting driver-buy in. An enforcement program with incentives is a good solution. Showing drivers that their work is appreciated will reinforce their behavior and go a long way in lowering fuel costs.
2. Ensure Your Drivers are Efficient, Productive, and Safe with Route Optimization
Route optimization software is an effective solution for lowering fuel costs, increasing productivity, improving safety, and keeping your customers happy. Capabilities vary depending by provider, but typically most give you the ability to:
- Plan the most efficient route to cut back on unnecessary miles driven
- Monitor driver in real-time to know when and if drivers check-in and if they took the planned route
- Track personal use versus work use of vehicles to better control fuel spend
- Determine the best driver for delivery/service calls for time and customer service efficiency
- Know vehicle/driver needs, such as an emergency or maintenance issue for improved safety and productivity
3. Stress that Drivers Keep Idle Time at a Minimum
Reducing excessive idling — maintaining a stopped vehicle with the engine running for five minutes or longer — is one of the simplest ways for fleets to reduce fuel costs, reduce maintenance costs, and prolong vehicle life.
It’s not uncommon for drivers to leave their engine running when making a delivery or interacting with customers. Make it a fleet policy that drivers turn off the engine when possible and avoid long idling periods. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, idling can use a quarter to a half-gallon of fuel per hour — which can quickly idle away your fuel budget.
1. Make Preventative Maintenance a Top Priority
Performing regular preventative maintenance intervals to keep your fleet running properly can conserve fuel by as much as 40%. The key to preventive maintenance and one of the most significant components is changing motor oil and using the proper oil. Just using the recommended oil can improve fuel economy by as much as 2%. Switching to lower viscosity engine oils can also improve fuel economy and increase fuel savings by as much as 1.5%, as they require less energy to circulate through the powertrain.
Proper tire pressure is also essential for fuel economy and is easy to maintain by equipping your drivers with a tire gauge. Improperly inflated tires can cut fuel economy by 2% per pound of pressure below the proper inflation level. When a tire is underinflated by 4 to 5 psi below the recommended tire pressure, fuel consumption increases by 10% and over time reduces tire tread by 15%.
2. Rightsize to Optimize
Utilizing the vehicles that fit your fleet needs best and cutting those that don’t is one of the most common and quickest strategies to lowering costs and building a sustainable, fuel-efficient fleet.
Rightsizing can help fuel managers lower fuel costs and maintenance costs by replacing older vehicles with newer models. Common rightsizing strategies include the following or a blend of these strategies:
- transitioning to smaller/more efficient engines
- transitioning to light vehicles
- transitioning to alternative fuels/vehicles
But that said, no matter the strategy, it must serve a purpose and meet fleet needs.
3. Chose the Best Fueling Program
The method you choose to fuel your fleet and fuel type is key to getting the greatest control over your fuel budget, mitigating your exposure to fuel price volatility, and lowering fuel and operational costs.
The most common fuel delivery methods are mobile fueling, bulk fueling, retail fuel cards, emergency fueling, and unattended fuel outlets (UFOs). With the demand for lower fuel costs, fuel efficiency, and clean energy, many fuel providers offer alternative fuels, including biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, CNG, and propane.
Discussing your needs with your fueling partner is the best way to determine which method and fuel would be the most beneficial and cost-effective for your fleet and give you the best ROI. No two fleets are alike, and working with your fueling partner is the best strategy for determining the fueling program that will ensure your profitability and viability over the long-term.