FUEL MANAGEMENT: Chip away at engine efficiency
13 December 2013
Author: Jack Carfrae
Remapping the engine can be a scary thing for fleets, with fears of hiked insurance premiums, void warranties and damaged RVs. But despite these issues, there are notable benefits, as Jack Carfrae reports.
Remapping or chipping - the reconfiguration of the engine's computer brain that is traditionally associated with making a vehicle more powerful - isn't a new thing. It's been around for years and is well established as the first port of call for altering the performance of, in particular, diesel engines.
A remap can also, however, optimise a vehicle's settings to improve economy and emissions. And in a lot of cases you can have your cake and eat it, as a chip for better fuel consumption and lower CO2 often goes hand-in-hand with improved performance.
The stigma is the worrying knock-on effects that come with any modification of this ilk, such as voiding the manufacturer's warranty, costlier insurance premiums and damaging a vehicle's residual values, which explains why it hasn't caught on in the fleet community - until now.
BT Fleet is the first high-profile company in the business car arena to buy into the movement in a big way. The firm, which ranks 10th in BusinessCar's BC50 list of the top 50 leasing companies, paired up with remapping specialist Viezu Technologies (see page 5 for news of another Viezu deal) to roll out a modification package across part of its fleet.
The process began more than two years ago with a series of tests and pilot schemes with the company's own fleet of Openreach vans. Sales and marketing director, Joe Fielder, explains: "For the past four to five years, we've been looking at the economic reality of the market and trying to work out how we find fuel efficiencies.
"We put 200 [modified vans] out [to the Openreach drivers] without telling them the vans had been remapped. Half of them thought there wasn't any difference and half of them thought the vans were quicker."
Testing and pilot schemes were followed by a gradual and then an accelerated roll-out across the 24,000-strong Openreach fleet. BT claims the modification creates, on average, an 11% fuel economy saving and a 20% reduction in emissions.
"Over a year, it's the equivalent of taking 1900 black cabs off the road in terms of CO2," says Fielder. Don't expect any tax breaks for subsequent lower emissions, though, because the manufacturers' figure is final, regardless of any modifications.
There isn't much impact on downtime for the vehicle, either. Fielder reckons the work can be done "inside 20 minutes" and can also be incorporated into a vehicle's service plan, so the tweak could take place while it's already booked in for another maintenance job.
Jamie Turvey, technical director at tuning specialist Superchips, says it can be a case of no downtime at all for fleets: "A fleet workshop can do the work themselves. They can do it overnight if they keep the vehicles there or on weekends, bank holidays etc. by downloading it from our database. There should be no downtime for the vehicle."