By Bob Johnson
NTEA Fleet Relations Director
The first article in this two-part series of “Fleet Perspective” (see part one in the April 2009 issue of NTEA News) addressed how many of your fleet customers are seeking ways to “green” their operations. I have since participated in a National Association of Fleet Administrators fleet management conference and an American Public Works Association regional conference — both of which had a “green” focus. (In fact, APWA’s official theme was “Green is Groovy.”) Most fleet managers I met at these events said one of the ways they’re going green is by reducing fuel consumption.
How Can Your Customers Take Advantage of this Trend?
Most of these fleet managers have already taken the usual steps to reduce their fleets’ fuel consumption. Hybrids offer one opportunity to achieve this goal, but current options are somewhat limited. In addition, the cost premiums associated with medium- and heavy-duty hybrids can be a budget buster. This leaves many vocational fleet managers looking for practical ways to reduce fuel consumption, such as by reducing non-productive engine idle time. Other fleet operations that are involved in more highway driving are looking for ways to improve their actual MPG fuel economy. In either case, fleet managers are struggling to keep up with all of the new products that can help them achieve their fuel consumption goals.
This gives you an opportunity to better serve your fleet customers and gain new business at the same time. By becoming familiar with these new products and understanding how they can be used in your customers’ operations, you can offer a valued service. I realize that incorporating many of these new products into a customer’s vehicle will increase the overall cost of the finished product. However, if a customer is willing to pay the premium associated with a medium-duty hybrid, the company may very well jump at the opportunity to achieve significant fuel savings for a fraction of the cost.
One of the best opportunities available for reducing fuel consumption on a vocational truck involves eliminating non-productive engine idle time. When looking at the drive cycle of many vocational trucks, you will see that a significant portion of their non-productive idle time is associated with power takeoff (PTO) operation and/or hotel loads (cab heating and cooling). Devices such automatic PTO load demand engine start/stop systems; electric cab heating and cooling systems for warmer climates; fuel fired heater systems for colder climates; and auxiliary power units (APUs) offer real opportunities.
Other ways to reduce overall fuel consumption include improving aerodynamics on vehicles that spend more time operating at highway speeds; reducing vehicle weight; and spec’ing more efficient equipment (less power demands equal less PTO or electrical system loads). Also, remember that increasing vehicle productivity can significantly reduce fuel consumption in some cases. If you can do the same job with two vehicles instead of three, or if you can complete a transport job in two trips instead of three, you reduce overall fuel consumption by 33%.
Don’t Forget the Hybrids
No matter the cost premium, many of the more cutting-edge fleets will continue to purchase hybrids. In fact, the current availability of government funding (both state and federal) will likely result in even more medium-duty hybrid purchases over the next couple of years. For example, one major utility fleet is currently in the process of purchasing eight medium-duty hybrids using state grant money, and several other utility fleets are actively pursuing federal grants for the same purpose.
Until now, the majority of medium-duty hybrids upfitted with vocational bodies and equipment have been completed by a limited number of vendors. However, as this technology gains more market penetration, there will be more opportunities for other upfitters to enter the market. If you want your business to do so, start investigating requirements for integrating your equipment with a hybrid system. Don’t forget that not all hybrids are electric. There are a number of different hydraulics entering the market that could lend themselves to a number of vocational applications. Also, in the near future, you may start seeing series electric hybrids and total electric (plug-in) trucks joining the mix.
Regardless of the technology, the trucks you work on will be changing. If you don’t start preparing now, you may find yourself left behind.
If you have any questions regarding this article or other fleet-related matters, contact Bob Johnson, NTEA director of fleet relations, at (301) 606-5797 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.