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Fuel Management

Tips for Controlling Fuel Costs

March 2016, Work Truck - Feature

by Chris Wolski & Kat Sandoval

After depreciation, fuel is the largest cost for fleets. Controlling this often volatile, ever-changing expense is among the biggest challenges for fleet managers.

Truck fleet managers looking for better ways to handle that part of their operation have several tools that they can use to control costs at the pump and during day-to-day operations. Two of the most beneficial are fuel cards and telematics while in-vehicle solutions are also increasing their presence.Fuel cards are the older of these tools, having existed for several decades. But, some high-tech improvements have helped to make fuel cards even more indispensable in running modern truck fleets.

Fuel cards are the older of these tools, having existed for several decades. But, some high-tech improvements have helped to make fuel cards even more indispensable in running modern truck fleets.

Using Fuel Cards

Fleet fuel cards have long been a way for fleet managers to oversee their fleet drivers’ fueling activities and protect the fleet against fraud.

Above all, fuel cards allow the fleet manager to gauge potential areas of improvement and savings.

“The Voyager fleet card is designed for fleets of all sizes and for all class vehicles,” said Ramel Lindsay, Fleet Product Manager at U.S. Bank. “The card can be customized to meet the fleets’ specifications, for example, there is an option for fuel use only, fuel plus other services such as maintenance, car washing, and etc.”

Even with low gasoline and diesel prices, the experts all
advised fleets to keep an eye on fuel costs. (SOURCE: WEX INC.)
Even with low gasoline and diesel prices, the experts alladvised fleets to keep an eye on fuel costs. (SOURCE: WEX INC.)

Apart from providing transactional data, fuel cards also provide other data points that allow fleet managers to see their fleets fueling habits and focus on areas of inefficiency.

“The AssetWorks TRIPCard gives fleets control over their fuel and maintenance purchases and provides insights into spending habits,” said Joe Basile, Vice President of Hardware Solutions for AssetWorks.

According to Basile, the fuel card grants fleet managers the ability to compare outside commercial fuel sales to in-house fuel dispensing in near real-time as they occur, which differs from waiting on a once-monthly statement from a credit card provider.

“Thus, the real time data can alert the fleet manager of potential problems before they compound over a long period of time,” Basile said.

Agreeing with Basile is Bernie Kavanagh, VP, North American Fleet at WEX Inc.

“The WEX Inc. fuel card provides fleet managers with the tools to optimize their fuel spending by allowing drivers to find the lowest cost fueling stations,” Kavanagh said. “We generate scorecards that give drivers the ability to compare how they’re fueling against geographic averages, calling attention to potential savings opportunities.”

The ability to choose what the fleet fuel card can be used for helps to streamline the data captured, which is especially useful for fleet managers when it comes time to review reports.

Fleet managers know this too well, sometimes reviewing reports can become a daunting task when the fleet manager has to review hundreds of pages worth of monthly transactions. This creates extra work for fleet managers.

“The fuel card offers control similar to those offered on personal credit cards (e.g., fraud protection). Clients can identify potential misuse or abuse of fuel cards when using the TRIPCard due to its near real-time integration with our Fleet Focus fleet maintenance software program,” Basile said.

Additionally, fleet cards hold drivers accountable for their fuel purchases, fuel use, and tracking weekly miles per gallon (mpg) accurately.

The fleet fuel card serves as a watchdog, in the sense that if a fleet driver attempts to misappropriate fuel or cover up their spending at a fueling station, they will be caught.

Depending on the designated use of the card, whether it’s for fueling only or fueling and other services, each transaction is monitored.

As the fleet driver reports his or her weekly mpg, the fleet manager can weigh that information against the data the fleet fuel card provider generates and reprimand the driver.

“In relation to the fuel card, near real-time monitoring is far superior to detecting potential credit card abuse,” Basile said. “While many credit card companies offer different technologies to detect potential fraud, they revolve around their card use alone — and rarely compare retail purchases to fueling done at in-house locations.”

Fleet fuel cards easily integrate with other systems and programs to create a customized analysis of the fleet’s fueling practices, so fleet managers see how that impacts the bottom line.

Evolving Fuel Management Solutions

Fuel management has come a long way and continues to be an integral part of fleet operations. And, with the help of advances in technology, the process is made easier for fleet managers to oversee. In-vehicle devices and online portals are making their way into fuel management operations.

A trend that is picking up steam is fleets slowly migrating to the radio frequency identification (RFID) realm. RFID is used to tag objects, in this case, the fleet vehicle, and track them.

“The FleetJournal III (FJ3) is an on-board vehicle device that combines fully-automated, hands-free fueling (automatic capture of odometer, engine hours, diagnostic trouble codes, and engine measurements) and it provides fleet managers full confidence that every gallon dispensed has been put in the authorized vehicle (at all in-house fuel sites) as their dispensers will only dispense fuel when an FJ3 installed vehicle is present,” Basile said. “Fleet managers are also guaranteed an accurate odometer and engine hour reading without any human intervention as it is captured automatically from the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM).”

Online platforms help the fleet manager access fuel data and then easily incorporate that information.

“Fleets can do all of their account management online (e.g., set up new drivers, request new cards, change the driver identification number associated with the card),” Lindsay with U.S. Bank said. "And, through Voyager's online portal Fleet Commander Online, they have the ability to view real time transaction data and reports.”

According to Lindsay, there is also a daily account maintenance file for fleets allowing fleet managers to take data and pull that into their systems on a daily basis.

As fleet managers look for more ways to standardize processes, they can turn to programs that help monitor other areas of fleet operations and link them together. In doing so, the fleet manager would get a more holistic view of their operations while also keeping fuel management in sight.

“Fleet Focus can then do the fuel transaction comparisons and the information is available in real-time,” Basile said.

The biggest advantage to online portals, maintenance programs, and in-cab solutions is the passage of data in real time. The fleet manager does not have to wait on reports; he or she can receive notifications of suspicious fueling activity via text message or e-mail. Fleet managers can address drivers and problem areas almost immediately.

Differing from other in-vehicle technology providers, Derive Systems offers fleet managers a software solution through engine calibrations that also helps fleets achieve overall savings.

“Unlike a lot of other turn-key products, we provide a software solution that has customizable elements for each of our clients,” said Tom Kanewske, senior director of Business Development at Derive Systems.
From the start, Derive works closely with customers to understand the specific needs of their fleet in order to create a calibration for them.

By accessing the car’s engine through the OBD-II port, changes are made to a vehicle’s engine calibration to provide peak fuel efficiency. These tweaks don’t take up needed space, don’t add further weight, and don’t require additional manpower to manage.

After taking into consideration fluctuations in fuel prices, Derive Systems guarantees a one-year ROI. “On average, we provide fuel savings of 6-12% to our customers,” Kanewske said.

While significant cost savings is a major advantage of implementing this solution, it isn’t the only one. With Derive’s solution fleet vehicles emit fewer greenhouse gasses (GHG). Plus, with certain modifications such as speed limiters, Derive’s technology can make the vehicles considerably safer.

Solutions like this may prove to be the future of the fuel management space, and it’s important for fleet managers to keep an eye on such a technology.

“While the market has seen fairly large pricing fluctuations as of late, fleet managers still have to monitor total usage and other details such as mpg by vehicle class,” Basile said.

Instead of focusing on driver behaviors, these evolving fuel management solutions put the emphasis on data and the vehicle.

Comments

  1. 1. George Jetton [ April 06, 2016 @ 12:18PM ]

    I believe that I would be an asset for a trucking fleet and expect to save up to $1,000.00 per year per truck. Try me and let's work together.

 

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