By Bob Johnson
NTEA Fleet Relations Director
What is Green?
Most people believe green vehicles are simply hybrids. Some individuals will also include vehicles that utilize a clean alternative fuel. Most fleet managers, however, have a much broader definition encompassing any vehicle that consumes significantly less fuel while doing the same job. Moreover, fleets are now considering the materials and processes used to build and maintain their vehicles when greening their operations.
Based on this point of view, increasing the fuel economy of a conventional medium-duty work truck from 6 MPG to 8 MPG through better design and utilization is just as green as the latest hybrid. Also, many vocational trucks spend a high percentage of their time idling or operating in power takeoff (PTO) mode. Eliminating non-productive idling time or reducing engine horsepower demand during actual PTO operations can be considered a green initiative as well.
Progressive fleet managers are closely reviewing how their trucks are being utilized and are searching for ways to reduce fuel consumption. However, vocational fleet drive cycles are diverse, making it harder to identify specific opportunities for reducing fuel use.
What are Fleets Saying?
The NTEA recently conducted a targeted survey of fleets throughout the country on their future plans for purchasing “green” trucks. More than half of those who responded indicated that they plan to purchase at least one hybrid or alternative fueled work truck within the next year.
Although the survey’s target audience was limited, a measurably higher percent of respondents said that they were not under corporate mandate to green their fleets. To follow up, I contacted numerous fleets to determine what other factors were influencing their decisions to purchase green vehicles. The most common responses to this inquiry were the need to reduce fuel costs and the desire to be good corporate citizens.
Fleets can basically only control fuel costs by burning less conventional fuel or by switching to a lower cost alternative fuel. Since these options both result in reduced emissions, their objectives go hand-in-hand. Many fleet managers say that even with current decreased prices, fuel is the largest single component of a fleet’s operating costs. In addition, most fleet managers believe fuel prices will rise again, so they are proactively seeking ways to control costs.
What are Fleets Doing?
Many vocational fleets have started using tools such as GPS and telematics to help define application-specific drive cycles. Once this occurs, the fleet manager can start looking for ways to improve the efficiency of the vehicles associated with that drive cycle. Obviously, a different approach will be required for applications involving a lot of highway driving versus vehicles mainly in stationary modes or that operate at low speeds.
For example, high-mileage fleets are concentrating on improved aerodynamics, weight reduction, reduced rolling resistance and matching vehicle powertrains to the actual job requirements. Stationary or low-speed fleet operations are focusing on non-productive idle reduction or elimination; using fuel-efficient auxiliary power units to eliminate the need for PTO operation and address vehicle electrical loads for items such as lighting; and better ways to address cab heating and cooling requirements. The City of Chicago, for example, installed fuel-powered heater units on its snow and ice control vehicles to provide cab heat and to maintain the operating temperature of hydraulic systems while trucks are on standby. The City of Chicago has also considered several alternatives for carrying vehicle safety lighting loads without operating the truck engine.
Where do You Fit in?
The NTEA recently surveyed truck equipment manufacturer and distributor members on current business conditions. Of the respondents, only 2% of distributors and 1% of manufacturers felt it was important to focus on alternative fuels and green truck products. When asked during a series of Midwest regional meetings hosted by the NTEA in January and February, most manufacturers and distributors said that green trucks were purely an OEM issue. However, based on fleet managers’ views of green trucks, there are numerous opportunities for manufacturers and distributors to take advantage of the green fleet movement. The next edition of “Fleet Perspective” will explore how you can green your products while also helping your fleet customers green their operations.
If you have any questions regarding this article or other fleet-related matters, call me at (301) 606-5797 or firstname.lastname@example.org.