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VAN FUEL MANAGEMENT: Going the extra mile

Date: 05 July 2011

Lowering fuel consumption is crucially important for van operators struggling to keep their heads above water in tough economic times. James Dallas looks at the cost-saving options from driver training to telematics

Getting the best bang for your buck at the fuel pumps is of paramount importance for van fleet operators in straitened economic times.

The pressing need to squeeze every possible mile out of the gallon, while at the same time lowering CO2 emissions, can be seen by the proliferation of manufacturers' green badges flagging up their most eco-friendly model ranges and by the growing popularity of telematics systems to encourage more efficient driving.

Add to that driver training to encourage better habits behind the wheel plus an array of speed-limiting devices and it becomes apparent that thrifty fuel management has become an industry within an industry.

Driving safely and driving economically go hand in hand. As the Freight Transport Association explains in its Van Driver's Handbook: "Defensive driving is the art of driving to avoid preventable accidents."

But it adds: "A defensive driving style is also a fuel-efficient driving style."

Driving smoothly (without being heavy-footed on the throttle or brake) increases the number of miles a vehicle covers for every litre of fuel it consumes, which is the Holy Grail for businesses sweating over the bottom line.

The FTA reckons that racing away from a standstill can increase fuel consumption by 6%. To maximise fuel economy it recommends planning journeys in advance using website and satnav information in order to avoid getting stuck in traffic, where drivers get nowhere fast but burn up a lot of fuel in the process. The FTA also highlights the need to avoid idling the engine when not on the move - a fuel wasting problem that manufacturers are increasingly tackling by introducing stop/start systems.

Van operators also need to manage their loads carefully because carrying unnecessary extra weight will increase fuel consumption, as will driving vans on under-inflated tyres.

Green days

GreenRoad is a company that set out with the prime aim of producing driver safety systems but is now equally in demand with van fleets for helping them to combat the soaring cost of diesel.

It claims that not only do drivers using its GreenRoad 360 platform crash 50% less often but they also save 10% more in fuel and maintenance costs. The system works with a dashboard-mounted traffic lights-style display that encourages drivers to keep on 'green' as much as possible.

It also provides real-time feedback to fleet managers on drivers' performance and can supply data that can be used as a bargaining tool when negotiating insurance rates.

GreenRoad 360 can be tailored to the type of van used and, as a spokeswoman explains, it can be customised to flag-up whatever driving styles particular clients "see as harsh".

GreenRoad has recently introduced an idling solution to the 360 platform, which it claims can cut fuel consumption by an additional 2-5% on top of the 10% already typically achieved. The company says the idling-management capability quickly identifies drivers, vehicles or particular routes that increase fuel consumption and claims the customisable system highlights idling that breaks from the norm while filtering out the unavoidable idling that occurs at traffic lights and stop signs.

GreenRoad boss Dan Steere says: "GreenRoad is able to provide managers and drivers with complete control over idling - eliminating the cost and environmental impact incurred by this manageable driving behaviour."

The system does not require ECM integration or the fitting of an ignition sensor, does not affect warranties and has a GPS component that pinpoints where idling is most prevalent.

GreenRoad claims its technology can measure the g-forces affecting vans as they are driven. The firm claims to use sensor-based technology to measure and analyse in real time more than 120 vehicle manoeuvres in five categories - speed handling, cornering, lane handling, braking and acceleration. It also captures more complex compound manoeuvres, which it says present the greatest cost and risk to fleets.

"The service provides reports and analysis to drivers and fleet managers through a secure website to evaluate overall driving risk and skills," the spokeswoman says.

Having conquered the bus and coach sector in the UK it has now set its sights on becoming the industry standard for delivery vans.

This year, global information management company Iron Mountain has signed up to deploy GreenRoad across its fleet of 450 vehicles (including 290 vans) and 500 drivers covering the UK and Ireland. The scheme went live on 28 February following a trial period that GreenRoad claims drastically reduced driver risk and accident numbers.

Over a 10-month period in 2010 involving 32 drivers, Iron Mountain submitted just three insurance claims. It also reported 14% fuel savings and aims to increase this by up to 5% by using the new idling solution.

Rory Morgan, Iron Mountain's national logistics general manager, says: "As well as improving safety, GreenRoad also helps with our mandate to reduce fuel consumption. We complement GreenRoad's service with intensive driver training, fuel-saving technology and fleet management software."

Morgan describes GreenRoad as a "bonus" for line managers: "They can see, daily and weekly, exactly what a driver is doing wrong".

Iron Mountain follows the traffic light system and has introduced a 'blue band' for the best-performing drivers. Drivers, meanwhile, who score in the red over the course of a week are sent out for a session with one of Iron Mountain's five driver trainers to bring their results back into the green band. They are then monitored for a month to see if further training is required.

"Our mpg since 28 February has increased by 5% - the equivalent of one mile per gallon," says Morgan.

He adds that the number of incidents involving drivers had reduced from 67 in the previous three-month period to 58 while damage costs were down 32%. Morgan says the introduction of GreenRoad has also helped to slow down the rise of third-party insurance costs.

Iron Mountain is the first UK company to adopt GreenRoad's speed zone feature, which highlights, through live feedback, when drivers exceed the speed limit in restricted zones.

Delivery firm City Link has recently gone live with GreenRoad 360 in 280 vans at 14 depots nationwide. Insurance company Zurich, which also represents Iron Mountain, introduced the system to City Link under its fleet risk management scheme, Zurich Fleet Intelligence (ZFI), in order to reduce collision claims and insurance premiums.

Banging the drum

Satnav and telematics giant TomTom Business Solutions is in the vanguard of driving cost savings for commercial vehicle fleets.

TomTom's Worksmart fleet management tool makes vehicles visible to fleet managers, enabling them to locate and direct drivers to the next job in their area within seconds. TomTom claims drivers, for their part, can use its HD Traffic service to cut down average journey times by up to 15%.

A spokesman for TomTom says: "New developments from TomTom Business Solutions are enabling fleet managers to measure and reduce fuel costs and carbon footprint by taking live data direct from vehicles. This information - from fuel consumption, CO2 and rpm to gear selection and idling - is relayed to management back at base so they can view performance at any time during a driver's journey."

He adds that dashboard and reporting functions allow data generated by the Ecoplus on-board diagnostic system to be measured against pre-set business targets: "Not only does this directly impact the bottom line, it can help managers establish safer, greener driving policies."

TomTom has also recently introduced an in-cab satnav device called Active Driver Feedback, which details fuel efficiency and warns the driver of excessive braking or steering.

TomTom Business Solutions boss Thomas Schmidt explains the importance of focusing on the driver: "We believe that empowering drivers is a key success factor in promoting a safe driving policy. The active feedback functionality puts the driver centre stage in the quest by businesses to improve safety and efficiency on the road."

Active Driver Feedback displays actual and average journey fuel consumption in the TomTom Pro satnav system's status bar. A green fuel icon lets the driver know they are achieving below average consumption while a red icon means they are driving uneconomically.

Like GreenRoad 360, the device also hones in on fuel wastage with an idling alert. Drivers can get a snapshot of their performance over a specific journey, day or other selected period through the Ecostatistics menu option.

For fleet managers TomTom has launched Webfleet Optidrive, which provides an indicator bar with information on drivers' speeds, fuel consumption, idling and braking.

Giles Margerison, director UK and Ireland, says: "Optidrive cuts through the information clutter by giving employers an at-a-glance overview of each driver's performance."

TomTom claims Optidrive enables managers to compare the efficiency of all their drivers, monitor trends and developments and set benchmarks for the whole fleet. It helps fleet managers meet duty of care responsibilities, drive up fuel efficiency and minimise vehicle maintenance costs. Adjusting the variable weightings means businesses can tailor the tool to their own requirements.

As Schmidt says: "In business, time is money. With a fleet of vehicles on the road eight hours a day every minute saved on a journey delivers real savings. With TomTom Pro you will be able to spend more time with customers and less on the road."

Telematics specialist Isotrak claims its Active Transport Management System saves its customers £100m every year by allowing managers to measure their fleet operations via satellite tracking feeds and telematics data. As an example it says Sainsbury's ATMS has achieved an 8% rise in driver productivity and cut the distance travelled each year by 3.8%. Rival supermarket Asda improved fuel economy by 6.6% from its Lutterworth Distribution Centre while market leader Tesco claims to have increased the number of products delivered per litre of fuel by 8%. The system also includes a driving-style management module that produces debriefing reports to encourage more economical driving techniques.

At the start of this year Isotrak won a contract to supply its ATMS, including a driving-style module, to food producer Premier Foods, which reckons the system will deliver

fuel-cost savings of 7% compared with its previous telematics supplier.

Badge wearers

Makers are under pressure to cut CO2 and improve fuel economy and are clamouring to show off their green credentials. Several have launched sub-brands to draw attention to their most eco-friendly models, while stop/start systems are now becoming commonplace.

Mercedes-Benz pioneered the technology in its Sprinter and has now rolled it out to the smaller Vito. Vauxhall, Fiat, Citroen, Peugeot and VW have all introduced stop/start systems into their smaller vans. Vauxhall is also setting the pace in marketing its low-emission vans, having introduced Ecoflex versions on all five of its commercial vehicles.

Market leader Ford has also transferred green branding from car to CV with a Fiesta Van Econetic and an Econetic Transit, while VW has a Bluemotion Caddy and will launch a Bluemotion Transporter later this year.

Meanwhile, Zeta Automotive has developed a speed-limiting device called Econospeed that cuts fuel consumption by a claimed 10% by forcing drivers to ease off the gas pedal. It works by suppressing the speed of unladen vans to make them drive as they would when carrying a 60% load. It fits between the throttle pedal and the engine ECU and enables a vehicle's road speed, rpm and acceleration to be limited to the customer's criteria. Mercedes-Benz is putting the technology into practice on its Sprinter and has branded its version as Excelarate.

Gordon Anderson, Zeta Automotive's operations director, explains: "By electronically limiting a vehicle's maximum rate of acceleration to simulate that of a fully laden vehicle, and forcing earlier gear changes by limiting the rpm together with limiting the top speed to suit the routes, we can mimic the behaviour of a careful, economic driver."

And as Iron Mountain's Rory Morgan admits, the buck stops with the person behind the wheel: "You can have the best trainer in the world, but when trained your driver can drive however they want."