Golf handicaps and fuel efficiency

Feb. 14, 2017
We were talking with Vnomics the other day, and they brought to our attention the idea of Potential mpg.

We were talking with Vnomics the other day, and they brought to our attention the idea of Potential mpg.  They compared it to the United States Golf Association handicapping system, which allows golfers of different ability to play in tournaments on equal terms.  

A golfer’s handicap is a measure of his potential golf ability and is used to calculate a net score in his matches compared to other golfers (of different potential ability) in each tournament. It is these “net scores after applying their handicap” that allows players of different ability compete fairly regardless of the difficulty of the course or their skill level.

The handicap system is based not only on a player's historic performance on a given course but also the rating of the course and its slope. This got me thinking about how golf is perhaps an important window into something that is desperately lacking in commercial trucking.

Everyday drivers deliver freight, and just as golfers play different courses with different ability, drivers all achieve different fuel economy on their daily runs.

Fuel economy is typically measured in actual miles per gallon, but what I really want to know is what should the MPG have been given the configuration of the truck, the load and the difficulty of the route. Let’s call that the potential MPG of the route.

A fleet could benefit from calculating potential MPG for each truck to gain a clearer understanding of the difference between the actual MPG on a given trip and what it should have been.  

Imagine if we had a fair rating of a driver’s ability with respect to fuel-efficient driving and a clear way to highlight specific trucks, routes and loads that determine what the potential MPG is, once the ability of the driver is isolated and removed.  

So how would such a system for potential MPG rating be put in place? There are two important considerations. The first is an independent governing body similar to the USGA that would standardize the way in which the potential MPG ratings are maintained and offer accreditation of commercial trucking organizations to maintain their ratings.  

The second factor is the actual way potential MPG would be calculated and maintained.  

The methods fall into three categories of technical capability:

  • Fuel data accuracy and precision — There is no shortage of actual MPG data available to a fleet but the accuracy of this information varies. Even small inaccuracies in the engine control unit reported MPG can make it impossible to assess potential MPG. Attempting to validate a 1% to 2% improvement in fuel efficiency with the latest gizmo becomes impossible when the MPG data being used has a 2% to 5% inaccuracy rating. The ideal potential MPG system of scoring needs to rely on actual fuel flow measurements to provide the level of precision and accuracy necessary to have a valid and fair fuel economy scoring system.
  • Fuel use decomposition — Not all fuel consumed is equal. There are three categories that contribute to fuel consumption: the task, the driver, and the equipment. The task includes things like the route, environment, load, etc. The driver contributes additional factors like idle waste, speeding, improper engine RPM control, etc. The equipment used contributes to fuel consumption too. The make and model of the tractor, its gearing, aerodynamic aides, maintenance of the tractor, etc. all need to be isolated in the fuel measurements so that individual contributing factors are independently cataloged.
  • Continuous Scoring — Just like a golfer’s handicap is based on his or her most recent play, the potential MPG scoring needs to be continuously calculated for each trip your drivers’, routes’ and assets’ fuel efficiency up to date. A decision that improved fuel efficiency in the past does not guarantee it will have the same impact in the future. Trucks change, drivers change, operations change. Testing a change once, then implementing and forgetting about it, can make for short-lived fuel-efficiency improvements.  With continuous analysis those impacts can be assessed quickly and new optimal fuel efficiency can be determined.

Just like the value of a handicapping system in golf, there is a real need to institute a potential MPG (handicap) system in commercial trucking. Fair and equitable analyses of routes, drivers and assets all depend on a higher level of understanding and a standard scoring system can be a key factor in making significant gains in fuel economy and reduced carbon emissions.  

It’s something to think about.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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