Taking your drivers out of the fuel equation
The problem with drivers is that they are human. No matter what you do, some of them will drive too fast, or badly, and cost your business more in fuel than necessary. So can you take the driver element out of the equation, and reduce your fuel spend using technology, better procurement and management?
Buying fuel more cleverly is obviously the first port of call, and this can be done with the use of fuel cards and monitoring.
Martin Franks, the business development manager responsible for fuel management services at fleet management firm Motiva, says: ‘The way you and your drivers buy fuel should be reviewed now and at regular intervals – there’s no excuse for putting it off.
‘Paying pump prices on an ad hoc basis is almost always going to be more expensive than having a fuel management system in place – as long as you read the small print and make sure excessive administration or transaction charges aren’t wiping out any savings when the invoice drops on the mat.’
Fuel cards available include those that feature commercial pricing that is fixed weekly based on Platts – an industry-accepted spot price taking into account variables including crude prices and exchange rates.
Motiva believes demand will be driven by businesses wanting simultaneously to save money and reward employees with cheaper private mileage fuel.
‘There are different fuel cards available, but not all feature commercial pricing that is fixed weekly. That saves between three and eight pence a litre, which is obviously pretty significant,’ Franks added.
In addition, the cards can be linked to in-depth, web-based mileage capture software – information that reduces the internal and HMRC reporting burden and cuts costs by accurately auditing private mileage.
Franks added: ‘There is evidence that companies pay on average about 25% more than they need to in fuel and mileage expenses, so mileage capture is a powerful tool to bring down costs.’
The Fuelcard Company’s marketing director, Jakes de Kock, reckons that you need to ‘monitor to minimise’, and savings should quickly become apparent.
He says: ‘It’s difficult to implement strategies for saving fuel unless you know how much fuel you are using and this is where the benefits of a fuel card really come into their own.
‘Most fuel card providers offer real-time reporting showing how much fuel is being consumed and who is consuming it. MPG reporting is also often available allowing you to record and analyse mileage patterns.’
Maintenance is another area that so often gets missed, especially among the busy cut and thrust of corporate life. But just keeping an eye out and putting programmes in place could reap benefits.
‘It’s important to bear in mind areas of inefficiency are not necessarily caused by poor driving or fleet mis-management,’ The Fuelcard Company’s Jakes de Kock reckons.
‘In the first instance make sure the vehicle is thoroughly checked for any running issues which may be causing excess fuel consumption.’
A controversial area where you could reduce fuel bills through a technical and engineering approach is by altering the vehicle’s engine mapping system. Generally manufacturers are loath to recommend this. But Austec Racing has produced mapping for vans in particular that it says produce better results in “real-life” than the maps carmakers use because they are bespoke for the type of driving your fleet might encounter.
Austec Racing managing director, Paul Austin, says: ‘Our method of ECU modification differs from our competitors because every map is uniquely developed in conjunction with the client’s operational requirements; our remapping is designed not to adversely affect the vehicle’s performance.
‘With our approach, the ECU behaves in exactly the way in which the manufacturer designed it and there are no third party products to go wrong.
‘Over time we would also anticipate our technology providing added benefits including fewer accidents and less wear on components such as brakes and tyres.’
Historically, the company’s primary focus was on motorsport but in 2009, Austec began to investigate optimising ECUs for fuel efficiency. The results of ECU programming are usually very subjective and it was not until stringent tests were carried out with a given amount of fuel on a rolling road, and later at the Millbrook Test Facility that conclusive results were established. The bottom line was 31% increase in mpg on the first test case.
In one typical instance, the firm claimed a fleet of 200 Vauxhall Combo 1.3 CDTIs with an average annual mileage of 16,000, achieved a 21.66% reduction in fuel usage, an annual saving of £102,500 in fuel costs and a 154-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions.
Austec already has a number of high-profile clients, including Rentokil Initial plc, for whom it recently completed a roll-out of the technology to the firm’s 2,000-strong UK fleet.
BT group has used remapping on 20,000 of its light commercial vehicles remapped using Viezu’s proprietary technology, in a bid to deliver better fuel consumption and reduced CO2 emissions, while also improving vehicle driveability.
‘BT is committed to being a responsible and sustainable business leader, so remapping our vehicles for economy and better environmental performance makes complete sense,’ explains Steve Watson, senior innovation and design specialist, BT Fleet. ‘But it’s not just these benefits which make it appealing. Once we saw what was technically possible, we crunched the numbers and the business case also stacked up.’
The vehicles being tuned within the upgrade programme range from small Corsa sized vans through to larger Transit chassis-cab vans, with much larger payloads and different driving cycles. However, due to their extensive understanding of their fleet’s operating cycles, BT Fleet was able to provide Viezu with detailed requirements and benchmarking figures.
Viezu and BT Fleet then developed a unique blend of tuning solutions to match BT’s requirements that included throttle, rev, speed and power limiting. It is anticipated that the programme will help BT deliver savings of over £3 million.
‘Vehicle remapping offers fleets a host of opportunities and we’re being increasingly asked by companies like BT to help them achieve their own environmental and cost reduction targets,’ explains Paul Busby, CEO, Viezu Technologies. ‘With an ISO certified process and a potential payback period of just three months, any technical risks are minimised and rewards can be felt almost instantaneously.’
Motiva believes that important area fleet managers should be looking at when it comes to reducing fuel costs are fuel management and vehicle tracking.
Peter Davenport, chief executive of Motiva Group, says: ‘There are three things every fleet manager in the UK can take as a given. The first is that the majority of their drivers will not spend time or effort locating cheaper fuel. The second is that the majority of their drivers believe they are good, efficient motorists – so they don’t see the need to change their driving behaviour.
‘And the third is that many of their drivers will maximise the amount of business mileage they claim. That doesn’t make them bad people, or even bad drivers. It just makes them human beings.
‘The key is to be aware of human nature and to put in systems and controls that deliver significant savings without creating undue friction between employee and employer.’
Motiva develops its own vehicle tracking systems under the Motrak brand, and Paul Holdcroft, head of fleet monitoring at Motiva, says: ‘Fleet monitoring has a whole range of benefits, including emissions reduction and increasing risk management. If most businesses are honest with themselves, though, the potential to save money on fuel bills and expenses claims are the principal motivations – at least at first.
‘In every case I know of, regardless of fleet size, vehicle tracking also reduces fuel consumption by improving utilisation. Fleet mangers know exactly where vehicles are, they know which is closest to a job and they can identify under-utilisation.
‘And, crucially, the knowledge that exact locations, times and mileages are being recorded and analysed keeps a real downward pressure on mileage and overtime claims. We’ve known cases where related expenses have fallen more than 30% after a Motrak system has been installed.’
Mark Forrest, general manager of Trimble Field Service Management agreed, saying fleet management technology is key to mitigating fuel costs.
‘Reducing overall fuel spend is very much possible if you have the right technology in place and drivers are educated on how to manage fuel consumption effectively.
‘Fleet management technology has risen to the challenge of helping businesses to decrease fuel costs. Its capabilities include reducing unauthorised vehicle use, curbing excessive speeding as well as lowering vehicle idling times by 50-90%.’
OK, so you can’t ignore the drivers…
As much as it would be nice to leave them out of the equation, the right foot on the throttle, and the attached driver, does need to be considered.
A key factor in controlling fuel costs through this technology lies with the employee in the driving seat. Mark Forrest, general manager of Trimble FSM, said: ‘Fuel utilisation can vary significantly between drivers due to driving style and also the health of the vehicle. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. It is for this reason that fuel data use per individual vehicle can be of significant value to managers, rather than the overall fuel use of a fleet.
‘Fleet management technology allows the driving style and behaviour of every single driver to be dissected, allowing fleet managers to take appropriate action if need be. By providing feedback and highlighting areas for improvement in driving performance, employees can be trained to optimise their operations, leading not just to improvements in fuel efficiency and productivity, but also driver safety.’
Whilst driving down inefficiency offers quick returns, eradicating poor driving behaviour is a longer term project but has the potential to deliver long-lasting results; many businesses are testament to this. However, there are certain factors which businesses need take on board when changing their driving culture, according to Navman european vice president, Steve Blackburn.
He says: ‘Behaviour change needs to be driven from the top down with senior management support. Telematics highlights the cost of less than optimal performance, making driver behaviour a boardroom priority.
‘Businesses need to view behaviour change as a long-term strategy. One off interventions won’t have a lasting impact. To ensure that positive behaviour becomes the norm, constant monitoring and feedback is required. The use of training aids provide drivers real time performance feedback, ensuring they remain focused.
‘It is important to set targets and benchmark performance. Questions businesses should be asking themselves include what MPG should we be achieving, what are we achieving and what is the cost to our business?
‘Training should always be integrated. By using telematics data businesses can ensure that training remains targeted and is relevant to an individual’s needs.
‘Putting into place an incentive scheme will see more focus from drivers. Performance league tables are an effective method of incentivising change, which sees top performers earning a percentage of the savings achieved.’