One way in which Nestlé has maximized its fuel usage is by investing in alternative-fuel vehicles, which now account for nearly 600 of the fleet’s 2,000 vehicles. (Photo courtesy of Nestle)
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One way in which Nestlé has maximized its fuel usage is by investing in alternative-fuel vehicles, which now account for nearly 600 of the fleet’s 2,000 vehicles. (Photo courtesy of Nestle)

Fleet managers worldwide have enjoyed an extended period of steady economic growth and low gas prices. But every dollar counts, even when business is booming, and companies are finding new and creative ways to manage fuel costs and reduce emissions. Work Truck sought new insights and strategies from fleet managers around the nation. Read on to pick up some tips and tricks you can apply to your fleet in 2018.

Cox Enterprises

Headquarters: Atlanta
Fleet Size: 13,500

Cox Enterprises is a leading communications, media, and automotive services company. With revenues exceeding $20 billion and approximately 60,000 employees, the company’s major operating subsidiaries include Cox Communications (cable television distribution, high-speed internet access, telephone, home security and automation, commercial telecommunications and advertising solutions); Cox Automotive (automotive-related auctions, financial services, media, and software solutions); and Cox Media Group (TV and radio stations, digital media, newspapers, and advertising sales rep firms).

To service the entire operation, the company maintains a fleet of more than 13,000 vehicles. They have made a point of looking for “green” options whenever possible, according to Jim Bigelow, the company’s senior director of enterprise fleet, investing heavily in hybrid powertrains, for example.

Asked to share tips for smaller fleets, Bigelow noted that every company and fleet has its own characteristics, and he would suggest every fleet manager start there.

“We look at ours, and we go from there,” he said. “Each company should do the same. There are some fleet managers who try to tackle a problem without knowing how their vehicles function. Start at the root of the issue, and then work your way up through that.”

The Electrification of Fleets

Electric and hybrid vehicle technology is gaining steam. Tesla generated headlines around the world in November 2017, when the electric vehicle manufacturer unveiled an all-electric tractor-trailer concept, with plans to introduce it to commercial applications far more rapidly than many fleet managers expected. Tesla already has a few major players on board, including a preorder for 125 rigs from the U.S. Postal Service that was announced in mid-December.

Owners and operators of work truck fleets are undoubtedly paying attention. A successful launch could portend the introduction of similarly equipped vehicles in lower classes, including vans and light- and medium-duty pickups.

Hybrid and electric work truck powertrains are expected to grow from 125,500 on the road today to as many as 1.66 million by 2027, according to Navigant Research.

For fleet managers, this means that, over the next decade, there will be far more options coming to market to choose from. Fuel management strategies that work today might be obsolete as hybrid and fully electric options require entirely new approaches to maximize their efficiency on the road — and all of this is going to happen whether fleet managers are on board or not, as more government bodies put regulations, fines, penalties, and incentives into place to ensure hybrid and electric technologies are adopted.

The fact is, Tesla isn’t the only company in a race to figure out how to electrify the work truck and fleet market. One example is Workhorse Group, which recently announced a partnership with FedEx to pair electric vans with some of the package and parcel delivery company’s drivers nationwide.

Verizon is another major fleet testing the waters with hybrid and electric technologies, rolling out 234 vehicles with the latest hybrid technologies in a pilot program in New York. The programs might be small right now, and the adoption might be limited, but it will only continue to gain traction as more companies get on board.

Electrification is happening, and it will completely change the fuel management game across the board.

Whether fleets choose to get in now as early adopters or wait to let the technologies mature a bit, hybrid and electric vehicles will be part of every fleet at some point in the future. Thinking about them now, doing the research, and having ideas for ways to incorporate them into current fleet policies will only make the transition smoother when the time finally arrives.

Coloplast

Headquarters: Minneapolis
Fleet Size: 320

Sometimes, fuel management isn’t necessarily a major focus for a fleet. Daniel Warner, fleet administrator for Coloplast, noted that, since his fleet is primarily used for sales, they have to approach things a bit differently. They also allow their drivers to use the cars for personal driving as well, making things a bit more complex.
“We’ve considered telematics,” Warner said. “But with a sales fleet, that is tough to roll out.”

That said, the company does get regular reports on a variety of metrics, including how many times the salespeople need to fuel up, the tank capacity on the vehicles, and whether or not the vehicles have been fueled outside of the established territory. “We don’t have a lot of restraints,” Warner noted.

Benco Dental

Headquarters: Pittston, Pa.
Fleet Size: 370

Benco Dental might be a comparatively small fleet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take fuel management seriously. The company relies heavily on their telematics system, said Dave Tosh, fleet services administrator. They monitor and audit their fuel usage and purchases on an ongoing basis through the system to try and maximize every mile per gallon.

“We certainly try to optimize our routes, but we found regular auditing and restricting off-hour usage have a large impact on fuel consumption without sacrificing our workload or service level,” Tosh noted. He also noted that some of the best advice he can offer is constant monitoring, ensuring that the fleet as a whole is only purchasing the fuel it needs to operate, and not more than it actually needs.

General Mills

Headquarters: Minneapolis
Fleet Size: 1,600

Fuel management can apply to fleets of all shapes and sizes, including the General Mills fleet. It is about 1,600 vehicles strong, but work trucks are only part of the equation. Much of the fleet is comprised of sedans and SUVs used primarily for sales and executive compensation.

According to Adam Orth, CAFM, who serves as the company’s global business solutions manager for General Mills’ fleet services division, a big part of getting the best fuel usage out of fleet vehicles is by making sure they are all up to date with the latest innovations.

“The best way we maximize fuel usage is by running newer vehicles that have the technology and configurations to limit our consumption and emissions,” he noted. “My oldest vehicles are 2016-MYs.”
Another thing to keep in mind, he pointed out, is taking into account seasonal changes that can impact fuel consumption. These include idling, filling up recreational vehicles, and holidays, which, he said, “can all provide further opportunities for increases in fuel fraud.”

Nestlé Waters North America

Headquarters: Stamford, Conn.
Fleet Size: 2,000

Nestlé Waters North America is the third largest non-alcoholic beverage company by volume in the United States. Some of the company’s offerings include such bottled water brands as Arrowhead, Deer Park, Poland Spring, and Zephyrhills; other brands include Perrier, Pellegrino, Nestea, Sweet Leaf, and Tradewinds.

One way in which Nestlé has maximized its fuel usage is by investing in alternative-fuel vehicles, which now account for nearly 600 of the fleet’s 2,000 vehicles. Each of the “clean” vehicles in the fleet is equipped with a ROUSH CleanTech propane autogas fuel system that provides 55 gallons of usable fuel. The result is an engine that is 75% cleaner than the current EPA standard and 99% cleaner than the diesel vehicles built before 2007.

“Becoming a better steward of our environment is a priority for Nestlé Waters,” said Bill Ardis, national fleet manager for the company’s ReadyRefresh business unit. “We’ve been running propane autogas vehicles since 2014, beginning with five Class 5 vehicles. Based on the proven emissions reduction compared with our older diesel units, and lower fuel and total cost of ownership, we knew this was the right application for us within the alternative fuel space. With propane being domestically produced, it’s proven to have a more stable cost per gallon, while the fueling and maintenance infrastructures are much more cost-effective than other alternative-fuel options.”

What is propane autogas? It is the leading alternative fuel in the United States, and the third most commonly used vehicle fuel, following gasoline and diesel. More than 90% of the U.S. propane autogas supply is produced domestically, with another 7% coming from Canada.

In addition to the fuel savings and environmental benefits, the company has found that going with propane autogas also produces a quieter engine, powertrain performance equivalent to current diesel delivery vehicles, easy fueling, and simple operation.

“Many of our drivers have provided positive feedback for the propane vehicles,” said Robert Austin, director of supply chain for the ReadyRefresh unit. “We are excited about this strategic endeavor that will ultimately drive awareness, efficiency, and sustainability.” 

5 Ways to Save Fuel Today

Fuel management is an important topic for many fleet managers looking to maximize their budgets. It can mean the difference between the fleet adding value to your business or being a drain on its finances. Here are five tips you can put into practice today to increase the miles per gallon in fleets of any size or type.

1. Use Telematics.
If your fleet already has a telematics system installed to improve driver safety or track work hours, you may be overlooking the fuel-management facet of the technology. Fleet managers can view statistics such as how often various vehicle types need to fill up, compare that to territories, and then optimize areas and routes accordingly, for example. Telematics for fuel management doesn’t have to drill down to the individual driver level — rather, you can use it to get a better idea of the efficiency of the fleet as a whole, and then develop strategies from there.

2. Only Carry What’s Needed.
For those with fleets that carry supplies such as liquids — including chemicals for home care or pest control — or wood or other heavy materials, consider only loading each vehicle in the fleet with what they actually need for that day’s work. Carrying around more weight than is necessary means burning more fuel to take the supplies on a scenic view of the territory.

3. Optimize Fuel Stops.
It might be tempting to tell drivers to always fill up at the cheapest station. Depending on the location, it could be a waste of time and money. If drivers have to go out of their way to find the cheapest options, the savings are literally driven away with every added mile — not to mention the added wear and tear that will accumulate on the vehicles. Instead, take a hard look at your routes and territories. Identify the locations that are the closest to where drivers will actually be, then go with the cheapest option.

4. Consolidate Fuel Card Programs.
Fuel cards are an excellent way for fleet managers to monitor and track fuel spending, but they can get complicated fast, especially for mixed fleets that need to track various vehicle types with different fuel requirements — all at the same time. If it’s been a while since you last reviewed the fuel card system you have in place, take this opportunity to go through all of them and see if there are ways to consolidate services or look for new or different programs that might work better for your fleet in the long term.

5. Work With Your Drivers.
Sometimes fuel management comes down to how a vehicle is driven. Consider holding a refresher course for all fleet drivers going over best practices for getting the most out of every tank of gas. It might be tempting to single out specific drivers, but a better place to start is simply making sure all drivers — no matter their record or how long they have been driving for the company — are on the same page when it comes to your policies for safe and efficient road manners.

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