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Technology Is Great, But Drivers Still Control Fuel Economy

FreightWaves

While the spotlight for the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) Run on Less Regional demonstration was on the 10 trucks' performance over the 18-day event, it was the drivers who were ultimately responsible for the overall 8.3 miles per gallon (mpg) the vehicles achieved.

"You can give me [all the aerodynamics] and special paint, but if I put my foot to the floor, it's not going to matter," Mark Casey, a driver with Hirschbach, told FreightWaves. "It's about that [butt] in the seat."

One of the interesting aspects of the run, and which made comparing the 10 vehicles more difficult for NACFE, was the varying applications the vehicles were used in. While the run was for regional haul, defined as less than 300 miles, Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE, said there was a wide variety of uses for those vehicles, and that is why the organization didn't release mpg numbers for individual trucks.

Casey, for instance, makes daily runs from Monterrey, Tennessee, to Lebanon, Tennessee. He said each run is 65 miles out loaded, and 65 miles back empty. He does that three times a day. "I consider myself the most spoiled driver in the world [because of my run]," Casey said. He said he was surprised to have been chosen by Hirschbach for the assignment, since he only joined the company in March. But in that short time, he's consistently been among the top performing drivers when it comes to mpg in the company's regional fleet.

The route Casey runs includes plenty of hills, and he's learned to dial back the truck to 45 mph going up the hill rather that speeding up the hill. "My foot going to the floor didn't happen," he said.

The fleets that contributed vehicles to the Run on Less Regional event included C&S Wholesale Grocers, Hirschbach, Hogan Transportation, J.B. Hunt (NYSE: JBHT), Meijer, PepsiCo's (NASDAQ: PEP) snacks and beverages division, Ploger Transportation, Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), Southeastern Freight Lines, and UPS Inc (NYSE: UPS).

Rita Bare, who hauls for Meijer around the Detroit area, said she learned how better to drive the truck for fuel efficiency as a result of the event.

"I wanted to do as well as I could," she told FreightWaves. "I learned to be more careful about acceleration."

Bare, who hauls full loads for Meijer to stores, making multiple stops on each run, noted that she received a new truck about six weeks before the event kicked off on Oct. 8, and it included a device inside the cab that identified how she was driving in terms of mpg. Watching that, she learned, allowed her to adjust her style to maximize fuel efficiency. She compared the style to "winter driving" when she traditionally drives a little slower due to inclement weather.

Southeastern Freight Lines driver Beau White said he finally understood how driving factors into the cost of fuel.

"When we first started, they talked about the cost of fuel ... and I had never thought about it," he said. "When we fill up our cars, we think about it."

He said one of the changes he's made is to ensure he turns off the truck at all his stops. White also pointed out the role that seeing around the vehicle plays. "Vision is very important because vision can affect your driving style," he said.

White has achieved 3.7 million miles of accident-free driving. Most of this driving is hauling pup trailers from Atlanta to Livingston, Alabama, where he meets up with another set of drivers who swap trailers with him for the 270-mile return trip to Atlanta.

When people think of regional haul equipment, the automatic thought is these are day cabs. While most are, both Casey and J.B. Hunt's Dustin Whitener run sleeper cabs. In Casey's case, it is because he sometimes fills in for other drivers and must stop overnight. Whitener serves as a driver trainer.

Whitener said he drove "just like any other day," during the demonstration, but J.B. Hunt officials are excited to get the individual numbers to see how cruise control played a role, and how that may be able to be used going forward.

Data on each truck is available on the Run on Less website, but Roeth said he is excited to dig through the thousands of data points that were collected through LinkeDrive and Geotab devices included in all the cabs.

"There is so much data here that we are going to dive into," he said. That deeper dive will be released in early 2020, Roeth said.

According to Roeth, the trucks saved 2,750 gallons of fuel, equivalent to $8,249 in savings, and eliminated 27.9 tons of carbon dioxide, compared to industry average regional vehicles. The entire run took 18 days to complete. Roeth noted that the fleetwide average for regional trucks is 6 mpg, but if all regional carriers were able to reach the 8.3 the Run on Less trucks achieved, the industry could save over $9 billion, he said.

Average payload was 22,198 pounds, with the Pepsi truck running many of its miles over 41,000 pounds and another fleet consistently running 13,000-pound loads. The average speed was 55 mph. In all, the trucks ran 58,633 miles over the cost of 135 days. On about 42 of those days, the trucks averaged over 9 mpg.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

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