The fuel complement
Telematics are now a key feature of fleet management, measuring everything from a driver’s behaviour behind the wheel, to the amount of time an engine spends idling during a delivery. This data can be invaluable if it is filtered and evaluated correctly, offering huge potential to improve fuel efficiency and optimise the time a vehicle spends on the road.
The Energy Saving Trust (EST) estimates that if UK drivers switched off their engines for one minute rather than idling on every journey they make, this could save more than £500 million in fuel costs alone. Idling, after all, gets zero miles to the gallon. With the aid of telematics, operators can monitor how long an engine is standing idle when out on the road, and educate drivers or investigate Stop/Start features accordingly.
Route optimisation is also key to ensuring fuel efficiency. During a recent trial with Trimble, animal welfare charity the RSPCA calculated that it could save over 80,000 litres of fuel annually on its 730 vehicle fleet by using route optimisation technology to determine which of their inspectors was nearest to a call-out location. As well as the considerable fuel saving potential, the study also revealed that annual CO2 emissions could be reduced by up to 60,500kg through a combination of route optimisation and idling control.
But of course, telematics can be expensive to install, and so that means doing the sums: is the initial outlay worth the savings, and can your provider back up the claims of reduced fuel spend?
Fuel cards function as payment cards for petrol, diesel and other fuels, eliminating the need for drivers to carry cash or submit expense reports. Fleet cards also enable operators to analyse time reports and set purchase controls on cards, helping them to stay informed of all business related activity when their drivers are on the road.
FleetCor owns fuel card reseller The Fuelcard Company, and offers a number of products including Allstar, the UK’s most popular and widely accepted fuelcard; and Keyfuels which offers discounted diesel prices for fixed periods.
Savings from using fuelcards can be significant. For example, companies using a Keyfuels card could save up to four pence per litre on all diesel purchases. But it’s not just savings at the pumps fuel cards can offer – for many fleets hours of costly administration time saved are just as important as the fuel cost reductions.
For companies that have previously used a number of different fuel cards, consolidating down to one card could offer benefits. At Allied Pharmacies, which has 45 pharmacies across England and Wales, Ammar Nazir shared his experience: ‘Previously we had three or four fuelcards with countless individual receipts to process. Allstar provides one weekly invoice for multiple card users and consolidated reports and this has made our company more efficient'.
While fuel cards make it easier to control fleet spend by allowing a degree of surveillance at the pumps, it is easy for drivers to become disengaged with looking for the best deals when the money is not coming out of their own pocket. A driver with a fuel card is less likely to take the time to look for the best fuel rates or fill up strategically, and this issue is explored further in the “going it alone” section.
Engine remapping or “chipping” involves monitoring a vehicle’s electronic control unit (ECU) to improve the fuel injection output with the aim of increasing fuel economy.
BT Group, one of the UK largest fleets, underwent a well-publicised and extensive programme of remapping in 2013, which saw more than 20,000 of BT’s light commercial vehicles remapped by Viezu Technologies.
‘Vehicle remapping offers fleets a host of opportunities and we’re increasingly being asked by companies like BT to help them achieve their own environmental and cost reduction targets,’ explains Paul Busby, CEO, Viezu Technologies.
Working to BT Fleet’s specification, individual, bespoke software files were written for each vehicle by development engineers.
According to a BT Fleet spokesman, 24,000 vans have been tuned with Viezu BlueOptimize software to date, with the potential to deliver an estimated yearly fuel saving of £4million.
A number of the larger fleets we spoke to have either recently entered into remapping programmes, or were consulting on the idea. The technology is clearly growing in popularity, and especially in van fleets – a suggestion that Viezu’s increasing client base would support, as businesses grow ever more comfortable with new technologies and the opportunities it can offer.
As well as being imperative for road safety, tyre maintenance is also important in ensuring a vehicle is running as efficiently as possible – something that the delegates who attended the Van Excellence conferences are clearly well aware of, given the high standards of the tyres tested there.
Studies suggest that fuel economy can be improved by up to 3.3% just by keeping tyres properly inflated. Under-inflated tyres lower fuel consumption by 0.3% for every 1psi drop in pressure on all four tyres.
Proper vehicle maintenance also preserves assets by keeping vehicles on the road, reducing repair costs and lowering the potential for serious accidents. Vehicles that receive regular maintenance run more efficiently and use less fuel, and many of the managers we spoke to now require drivers to carry out daily or weekly vehicle checks to ensure vehicles are in good shape.
Going it alone
For SME fleets in particular, expense forms and spreadsheets still have a place in fuel management, with a number of the smaller fleets we spoke to preferring to reimburse drivers for fuel use manually rather than invest in telematics and mileage capture systems.
One method is to calculate reimbursement rates using the advisory fuel rate (AFR) and 85% of the advertised MPG of the specific model – an acknowledgement that it is difficult for drivers to achieve official consumption figures in real world driving conditions.
‘We introduced this mileage rate calculation when we changed the car scheme (more than 10 years ago) when we removed fuel cards for all fuel,’ one SME fleet operator explained.
‘It’s still not a particularly well liked system – many of our drivers believe their mileage reimbursement doesn’t completely cover their fuel expenses.’
Employees being unhappy with reimbursement rates was one of the main negatives highlighted by the fleet operators we canvassed, but one manager advocated the system to encourage greater driver awareness; ‘Fuel reimbursement rates that just about cover the driver’s fuel costs encourage careful driving.’
Although reimbursement policies might not be the most popular with drivers, all of the managers we questioned agreed that the system encouraged drivers to be more frugal, with one going as far as to call it: ‘the best initiative ever for fuel consumption in cars – make people pay for it and claim back at a fixed mileage rate. The last time I looked when people paid for fuel, consumption on like-for-like cars was better – for obvious reasons!’.
According to the AA, at least 150,000 vehicles are filled up with the wrong type of fuel every year. Not only does misfuelling a car mean litres of petrol or diesel are wasted, but it can also lead to catastrophic technical issues and costly repair bills.
No matter how well a driver is trained, mistakes such as misfuelling are a result of human error and are impossible to eradicate completely. Misfuelling caps can be a low-cost way of addressing the problem, and are offered by a number of companies, including Fuel Angel, Fuel Sure and SoloDiesel. These devices are retrofitted to the vehicle, and physically prevent the wrong sized nozzle connecting with the fuel tank.
If the unthinkable does happen and a driver misfuels, however, emergency drainage could be the best way to limit the damage to the engine. According to misfuelling specialist Auto Fuel Fix (AFF), 99% of problems can be rectified at the roadside, eliminating the need for recovery and the subsequent garage repair bill.
Dave Palfrey, group operations manager at Westbourne Motors, told us how a client who misfueled was back on the road within 30 minutes of the arrival of an AFF engineer to drain the contaminated fuel from his Audi, allowing him to continue his journey with minimal fuss.
As an engine repair bill can vary from £400-£10,000 for a luxury vehicle, it pays to educate drivers on the importance of not starting up the engine if the wrong fuel has been pumped into the tank. It is considerably easier to rectify the problem if contaminated fuel is contained to the tank, and under no circumstances should a driver attempt to drive a misfuelled vehicle off the forecourt.
Mileage capture solutions either import information directly from telematics software or allow employees to upload data using an internal portal. The data is then logged and made available for analysis.
‘Mileage represents a big opportunity to generate cost savings; especially when most research shows organisations typically pay out almost a quarter more in fuel and mileage expenses than they need to,’ says Nigel Trotman, strategic fuel consultant at Alphabet.
Independent supplier of car parts, Unipart Automotive, implemented TMC’s (The Mileage Consultancy’s) Audited Mileage Capture system in 2013, with the aim of reducing mileage costs by 5% on the fleet of 1,200 company cars and vans.
TMC captures and processes all expense claims and fuel card transactions from Unipart Automotive employees, who categorise each expense item as they enter claims.
The company claims it found the amount of private fuel being used by fuel card users typically increased by between 5% and 20% following the implementation of Mileage Audit system, showing they were previously paying for a lot of fuel not used for work. According to Andrew Gerrish, project director at Unipart Automotive, that could mean savings of around £250,000 a year for the fleet.
Another fleet manager, explained how up until 2011, the drivers of his 300 company car fleet recorded daily mileage on spreadsheets, leading to inaccuracies caused by the burden of submitting data manually and discrepancies between the mileage claimed by drivers and the true distances travelled.
After switching to the Mileage Audit system, the company claimed a £40,000 a year fuel bill saving as a result of improved accuracy and driver compliance.
Clearly for larger fleets, mileage capture could offer real fuel savings potential, as well as improve driver efficiency.
“You can only manage what you can measure”, as the saying goes, and mileage capture could help fleets keep a closer eye on their fuel spend.