Using IT to save on fuel

The Fuel Economy Summit sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association last month was a sold out, standing-room-only event. More than 80 carriers, plus representatives from various suppliers, government agencies and organizations, came to Chicago on a rainy November day to talk about how to save money on fuel, which is closing in on labor as the number-one cost for fleets. I wish you all could have

The Fuel Economy Summit sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association last month was a sold out, standing-room-only event. More than 80 carriers, plus representatives from various suppliers, government agencies and organizations, came to Chicago on a rainy November day to talk about how to save money on fuel, which is closing in on labor as the number-one cost for fleets. I wish you all could have been there.

It is easy to treat fuel costs like winter weather in Chicago — unpleasant but utterly unalterable. As it turns out, however, there is a lot fleets can do to make the best of a bad fuel situation, including utilizing an automated fuel management system. Oddly enough, only a small percentage of fleets are doing that today, which means most carriers are paying more than they should for diesel. (Who would have thought such a thing was possible?)

In his presentation on fuel optimization at the recent summit, Benjamin J. Murphy, executive vice-president and COO of Integrated Decision Support Corp. (IDSC), explained. “The fact is, there is always variation in fuel price, even when prices are low and even within a fuel network,” he said. The price spread can be surprising large, too.

The challenges, of course, are being able to identify where the lowest prices are every day along every route and then managing fuel capacity, consumption and need in order to take advantage of those prices (while still addressing driver preferences concerning non-fuel services like food). This is where fuel purchase management programs come in. There are fuel optimization systems that integrate fully with dispatch/mobile communications systems, such as IDSC's Expert Fuel, as well as web-based and in-cab systems that are each designed to help fleets and owner-operators save money at the pump. Here is just a small sampling of the options available (listed in alphabetical order):

  • FuelAdvice.com: Fuel pricing and trip planning information delivered through your web browser on a subscription basis. (www.fueladvice.com)

  • Integrated Decision Support Corp.: Expert Fuel is designed to provide the driver with an optimized fuel plan at the time of dispatch, including where to fuel and how much. (www.idscnet.com):

  • Maptuit: FleetNav Fuel extends the company's FleetNav Directions to provide drivers and fleet managers with route analysis and fuel price evaluation data. Also takes into account a number of factors such as the vehicle's current fuel level. (www.maptuit.com)

  • ProMiles Software Development Corp.: ProMiles Fuel Optimization software is designed to help locate optimal fuel stops based on price, load size, route and destination. (www.promilesxf.com or www.fleetone.com)



Saving a few pennies here and there on fuel every day may seem like a lot of effort for a little return, which may be one of the reasons relatively few carriers have yet to implement an automated fuel management system. Suppose, however, that you were only able to save an average of four cents per gallon per year. If a typical truck in your fleet runs 100,000 miles per year and averages seven miles per gallon, that is an annual savings of $571.43 per truck. Not so bad, and the savings could be much higher. Maybe it is time to give fuel optimization systems a serious look, before diesel prices shoot up again, making the need to save every possible nickle on diesel even more compelling.

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