Fuel Efficiency for Fleets: How to Manage an Efficient Fleet

July 24, 2020

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Key Takeaways

For most fleets, fuel is a huge cost driver. Even a small increase in fuel efficiency can benefit your bottom line. In this guide, learn about the six most important fuel efficiency metrics for fleet managers and drivers to understand. Plus, see how you can improve your fleet’s fuel efficiency with real-time telematics.

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From ensuring on-time delivery to meeting maintenance needs, managing a fleet of vehicles can be challenging—and expensive. In fact, one of the largest expenses in managing a fleet is the fuel used in the vehicles themselves. Vehicle fuel costs can represent as much as 60% of a fleet’s total operating budget.  

While fuel efficiency may not be your day-to-day focus, fuel cost reduction can have a significant impact on your bottom line. With the help of a real-time telematics solution (that provides insight into things like idling and routing optimization), these cost savings are an achievable reality. Not only can fuel savings turn into more profits—they can also allow more flexibility in pricing for customer satisfaction. Keep reading to learn how you can improve your fleet’s fuel efficiency.

What is fuel efficiency?

At the vehicle level, fuel efficiency (or fuel economy) is how much energy a vehicle can extract from fuel. The more energy a vehicle can extract from a certain amount of fuel, the greater the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. A vehicle’s fuel efficiency can be impacted by what type of vehicle it is (including whether it’s a heavy-duty or light-duty vehicle), how it’s driven, how old it is, how it has been maintained, and other factors like rolling resistance.

At the fleet level, fuel efficiency refers to how efficient your entire fleet of vehicles is. For fleets that are not looking to purchase new, more efficient vehicles (like plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles) but are trying to increase their fuel efficiency, factors like driver behavior and gas mileage are very important. Improving the fuel efficiency of your fleet requires changing behavior at the driver and vehicle level.

What affects a vehicle’s fuel efficiency?

Fuel efficiency for an entire fleet is more than just the fuel economy sum of each vehicle. Truck, bus, or SUV gas mileage, for example, can be very different from that of a sedan. A pickup truck can differ vastly from a passenger car. The aerodynamics of each vehicle will also play a role in their ability to be efficient in fuel consumption. The combustion engine efficiency of a new car will be different than that of a well-traveled, older model year vehicle. While the vehicle engine’s fuel economy is a starting point for the overall fleet fuel efficiency, there are several more areas that can be addressed.

Here are a few of the most important factors that affect a vehicle’s fuel efficiency:

  • Routing: The most efficient route is not always the route taken, despite best efforts. Traffic, personal preference, and construction can all cause drivers to take less than optimal routes that lead to worse fuel efficiency.

  • Driving behavior: How a vehicle is driven plays a large role in efficient fuel use. Harsh braking and acceleration, for example, can be big drivers of fuel consumption. The good news is that more efficient driving behavior can be encouraged through feedback, coaching, and training.

  • Maintenance: Tires issues, old oil, and other problems can lead to decreased fuel efficiency. This is why it’s important to adhere to a preventative maintenance schedule and address small maintenance issues before they become larger problems.

  • Excessive loads: Heavy loads can also weight down a vehicle and decrease fuel efficiency.

What are fuel efficiency standards?

Governance of vehicle fuel economy standards within the United States has been in place since the high price oil shock of the 1970s. At that time, the government aimed to reduce reliance on foreign oil sources for lower gas prices by establishing a baseline miles per gallon (MPG) rating. These efforts have evolved over time with technological increases in engine performance. With less of a current focus on oil from abroad, today’s policies lean toward decreasing vehicle pollution and investing in vehicles with a smaller carbon footprint. Climate change is an important consideration in global fuel use and carbon emissions. Vehicles play a major part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel efficiency standards are created on a federal level and enforced at the state level. This forces automakers to improve engine technology to continue creating more fuel efficient vehicles. Politics has changed the focus of fuel efficiency standards over time. You can find the latest standards on the United States’ Office of Energy Efficiency website.  

How can fleets improve their fuel efficiency with telematics data?  

One of the biggest benefits of telematics is getting visibility into key efficiency metrics that can drive cost savings. Here are three ways fleets can leverage telematics data to improve their fuel efficiency:

1. Decrease idling with insights into driver efficiency

Fleet telematics solutions can provide real-time driver and vehicle efficiency reports. For example, Samsara’s Driver Efficiency Report provides insight into driver behavior and highlights areas for fuel efficiency improvement. The report ranks how efficiently each driver is performing compared to the rest of the fleet (and in relation to their best potential). A fleet eco-health analysis uses actual data to determine how much unnecessary fuel drivers are consuming due to idling. The tool can also recommend the use of electric vehicles in areas that might be beneficial to your business.

Excessive engine idling is one of the leading causes of poor fleet fuel efficiency. While not intentional, it is behavior that can be corrected through coaching and training. By identifying these instances and coaching drivers on fuel waste, fleet managers can increase fuel efficiency and reduce costs.

2. Decrease fuel theft with analytics and alerts

A complete fleet management platform like Samsara can also help identify any instances of fuel theft from either internal or external parties. Companies can now connect previously siloed financial accounting and vehicle performance data. By tying each fuel purchase to the specific vehicle and monitoring fuel consumption, data analytics can pinpoint outliers as probable areas of theft. Management can take further action to investigate any instances of fuel skimming with real-time, customizable alerts.

For those fleets that run on diesel engine fuel, proper vehicle operation requires diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). This is a technical means of reducing diesel pollution by mixing exhaust with chemical agents to reduce oxides of nitrogen. Besides monitoring diesel fuel usage, Samsara can also collect data on real-time DEF levels. Analytical models can highlight the optimum execution for refilling DEF tanks.

3. Improve routing efficiency with optimization tools

The route that vehicles take to their destination also plays a major role in fuel efficiency. If drivers take routes out of their way or through known high-traffic areas, this adversely impacts fuel consumption. Samsara’s routing tools make it possible to analyze routes and predict the most efficient routes for drivers to reach their destinations. You can use these tools to reduce fuel consumption through more intentional routing of the vehicles.

When unexpected delays arise or additional stops are needed, Samsara’s real-time dispatching tools can also help increase fuel efficiency. Congestive traffic, accidents, and road closures can change otherwise viable routes for vehicles. Samsara can help you reroute and dispatch vehicles most efficiently. This, in turn, will increase fuel efficiency for your overall operation.

How can drivers improve their fuel efficiency? 

Aside from the vehicle’s own engine performance, driver behavior is what affects vehicle fuel efficiency. By monitoring and adapting simple driving habits like deceleration, acceleration, coasting, and cruising, drivers can improve fuel efficiency. These small behavioral changes can have a significant impact on the fuel efficiency of your entire operation. Although these driving habits seem insignificant, when analyzed and changed, they can have a meaningful impact on your fleet’s overall fuel expenses. 

Here are a few ways drivers can improve their fuel efficiency:

  • Cruise control: Cruise control helps maintain the constant speed of the vehicle. However, it can be worse for the vehicle’s efficiency if drivers use this technology for uphill travel or within heavy traffic. By tracking the impact of this feature, you can coach drivers on how to properly use cruise control to decrease fuel consumption.

  • Coasting: Drivers lose forward momentum each time they use their brakes to stop their vehicle. By anticipating upcoming traffic, pedestrians in crosswalks, and traffic lights in advance, drivers can determine when the proper time is to slow down. By doing this well before the obstacle, they can improve their fuel efficiency. Using minimization acceleration techniques and braking while maximizing coasting reduces friction on the engine, saving on gas and repairs and adding to a vehicle’s lifespan.

  • Maintain a stable speed: As much as 20% more fuel is consumed when a vehicle’s speed suddenly changes (by increasing or decreasing its acceleration). The optimal fuel efficiency speed varies by the type of vehicle. However, this speed is typically between 35 and 50 MPH.

  • Reduce idling waste: Engine idling wears on the vehicle and increases the overall cost per mile. By minimizing excessive idling, fleets can save up to $6,000 per vehicle annually on wasted fuel.

6 key metrics needed to improve fuel efficiency 

Samsara’s fuel and maintenance reports can help you get new visibility into key fuel efficiency metrics, like idling time by driver. Here are a few important metrics to keep an eye on when trying to improve your fleet’s fuel efficiency:

  • Fuel consumption: The amount of fuel used by each vehicle within a set time frame.

  • Fuel efficiency: The miles per gallon (MPG) of a driver/vehicle pair within a set time frame.

  • Estimated cost: The estimated cost of fuel consumption across your entire fleet.

  • Engine run time: The time that the vehicle engine is loaded or running.

  • Idle time: The time that the vehicle engine is on but not loaded. When a vehicle is traveling zero MPH for extended periods (more than two minutes), it can add significantly to fuel consumption.

  • Idle time percentage: The idle time as a percentage of total engine run time.

How Dohrn Transfer Company saved $500,000 in fuel costs in just one year with Samsara 

Fuel management systems like Samsara help you visualize fuel usage across the fleet. With Fuel Usage Reports and Idling Alerts, Samsara collects and analyzes engine data from each vehicle in real time. This provides unmatched visibility into your fleet’s fuel usage. You can identify which vehicles are idling, which drivers would benefit from coaching, and which routes minimize the distance between stops. Plus, the gamification feature on the Samsara Driver App lets drivers compete to see who can be the safest and most efficient.

Dohrn Transfer Company used Samsara’s gamification feature and reported an 88% reduction in harsh driving events. “Insights provided by Samsara tools have contributed to a 2% improvement in our mileage per year, which equates to about 150,000 fewer gallons of fuel,” said Megan Schoff, Operations Technology Analyst at Dorhn. That’s more than $500,000 in fuel savings without any new vehicle overhead.

Not only did Dohrn recognize the value of Samsara’s integrated fleet platform for fuel efficiency—but implementation of Samsara within their organization required low effort. Dohrn’s VP of Administration Michael Leathers said, “Samsara is hands down more flexible and user-friendly than other solutions we tried. It was much simpler to implement and integrate with other parts of our business, and for drivers to get up to speed.”

Improve your fleet’s fuel efficiency with Samsara

Samsara can provide insight into driver efficiency, vehicle performance, routing, and fuel consumption across your entire operation. With this information, managers can execute their plans to reduce fuel costs. They can also work with drivers to influence their driving behavior to be more efficient with less fuel consumption. Across an entire fleet of vehicles, these savings can make a significant impact on your bottom line. 

To learn more about how Samsara can help improve fuel efficiency across your entire fleet, reach out for a free demo or trial today.

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