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How to balance fuel economy and driver retention

Nov. 1, 2022
Certain mandates to improve fuel economy may dictate drivers' behavior, which won't sit well with them. How can fleets strike a balance?

Fuel prices are at historically high levels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, for the week of Oct. 24, diesel fuel prices were $5.34 a gallon. Fuel is the highest cost of operating a vehicle excluding the driver, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) report, An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking: 2022 Update, and in 2021, fuel represented 22% of a fleet’s operating cost. ATRI reported in its “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry” that fuel has replaced drivers as the top issue of concern for the industry.

Of course, there are things fleets can do to improve fuel economy. Unfortunately, many of those things will not sit well with drivers—think limiting speed, adjusting engine parameters, and controlling idling.

See also: Fuel prices, parking top trucking industry's biggest concerns

However, at over $5 a gallon, fleets can’t afford to continue with business as usual. A balanced approach is required to improve fuel economy by looking at a variety of options and factoring in driver recruitment and retention

In a perfect world, fleets would replace older assets regularly and new assets would have improved fuel economy—even if that improvement is incremental. At $5.34 a gallon for diesel, an additional 1/10th of a mile per gallon can add up to real savings. However, we are not in a perfect world, so fleets have been forced to abandon their normal replacement cycles because truck makers are being hamstrung by material shortages preventing the production of enough new trucks to meet the demand.

Fleets need to look at other ways to improve their fuel economy with older assets. There are some simple and inexpensive things fleets can do to improve fuel economy, such as adding vented mud flaps, as well as larger investments like chassis skirts or tractor-trailer gap closure devices. Route optimization is another strategy that can save a fleet money. If you haven’t looked at your routing lately, invest some time in doing so. You may find significant savings by making a few changes to delivery orders and routes.

You also can focus on training your drivers to drive more efficiently. Using cruise control to keep speed consistent is one good way. Avoiding hard braking and hard starts is another. You can also incentivize your drivers to drive in a fuel-efficient manner. Peg bonuses to miles-per-gallon goals landing above the national average or that are at the level you have set for your fleet. Slowing down might not seem too onerous if it means more money in the driver’s paycheck.

No one knows when or if fuel prices will come down. Even if they do, fuel is such a large part of your fleet’s operating cost, so it makes sense to find ways to improve fuel economy while ensuring driver satisfaction.

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