Diesel prices have finally entered a period of steady decline after rocketing to near record levels this summer. We all know, though, that the next spike is just a hurricane, or coup, or pipeline shutdown away. And more importantly, average diesel fuel costs are not likely to show any sustained decline in the foreseeable future.
It's well known that fuel is a truck fleet's single largest operating expense after labor, so price increases have obviously gotten your attention. However price isn't the only reason to be concerned about minimizing your fleet's fuel consumption.
The social and health implications of engine emissions have attracted a good deal of attention from people who are outside the industry, but play a large role in regulating it. Idling controls and community resistance to new or expanded facilities that draw trucks are the two most obvious examples. More ominous, though, is the growing interest in “environmental justice,” a relatively new legal concept that seeks to compensate communities suffering adverse health impacts from industries or facilities through class action lawsuits.
Whether it's lowering operating costs, being a more acceptable neighbor or limiting liability exposure, conservation has never been a better management strategy for any truck fleet. There's no secret formula or high technology required. But what is required is a comprehensive and persistent management focus on cutting fuel consumption.
For example, putting the burden on drivers alone won't work. Yes, a driver is the person in control of the throttle. How drivers choose to accelerate, brake, shift and navigate through traffic, not to mention idle has a huge impact on fuel economy. But it's the responsibility of your managers to convince them that maximizing mpg is vitally important and then train them and incentivize them to consistently meet that goal. Newsletters and posters in the lounge alone won't do it.
Drivers also have to be supported with equipment that allows them to be frugal with fuel. That starts with buying the most aerodynamic trucks available for you particular applications, and spec'ing them with the right components.
The contribution of maintenance is obvious. Like drivers, though, your maintenance department or providers need to know that they a crucial role. A good understanding of how they impact fuel economy starts with training, which has to be backed up with the tools and information systems to exploit that training. If it's an in-house maintenance operation, it's your responsibility to see that they have those resources. And if you contract your maintenance, you need to be sure providers understand that you expect them to support your fuel-economy efforts.
That's just the low hanging fruit. An all-out conservation push requires going through your fleet department by department, identifying ways each can contribute. Dispatch, customer service and even back-office functions probably all have suggestions if you ask them.
It's not that difficult to figure out how to cut your fleet's fuel consumption. The hard part will be motivating everyone to stay focused on the goal as they deal with all the other issues involved in running a fleet. The responsibility for that starts with you.