Nowadays, efficiency is crucial in nearly every industry. Logistics professionals focus on their fleet’s performance because it directly affects the global supply chain.
Drivers on a deadline must follow through to keep things running smoothly, but how can they maintain performance and fuel efficiency simultaneously?
This guide discusses what affects a fleet’s performance and how supply chain professionals can enhance efficiency.
What Affects Fleet Performance?
Fuel efficiency is a critical topic — especially for fleet managers with tight budgets. Numerous factors influence a fleet’s fuel economy, with some supply chain professionals overlooking tiny details. These five elements are ones to watch out for regarding fleet performance.
1. Inefficient Vehicles
Fuel efficiency starts with the vehicles themselves. Newer fleets have the advantage of more efficient engines with lower compression ratios. Better fuel injection systems and emission controls also contribute to better performance inside the vehicle.
Older vehicles are typically less aerodynamically efficient because they have suboptimal body designs and higher rooflines, creating more drag. Thus, older fleets typically get fewer miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and on the highway.
Fuel costs are volatile, so supply chain professionals should aim to keep the pain at the pump to a minimum. Data show fuel costs sharply increased in early 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine. Gas prices have remained higher than they’ve been since the summer of 2014. Constant fueling is the last thing fleet owners want to do.
2. Driver Practices
Driver behavior is another significant factor affecting fuel efficiency. Their habits can make trucks last longer on the highway, but erratic driving can harm fuel economy. For example, some operators may drive too aggressively by speeding and rapidly accelerating. Research shows aggressive driving hurts gas mileage between 15% and 30% on the highway.
Another inefficient practice occurs when the operator is not actively driving. Idle time can significantly compromise fuel economy during break time, loading and unloading or sitting in traffic. The driver may require idle time if they are performing maintenance, but they should avoid idling at all costs.
3. Inadequate Maintenance
Fleets will naturally wear over time and become less efficient, so supply chain managers must allocate resources toward maintenance. The engine, transmission, chassis and other systems need attention to make the vehicle function as good as it did when it came from the factory. Ignoring the vehicle leads to trouble.
For example, the air filter is one of the critical components of fleet efficiency. Air filters capture dirt and debris and prevent them from harming the engine. The driver must remember to change the air filter because it reduces fuel efficiency once it becomes dirty. Poorly maintained machines may also be more prone to overheating.
4. Overweight Vehicles
The modern supply chain demands being as efficient as possible, leading many businesses to push their vehicles’ limits. Most manufacturers set vehicle weight limits, but some fleet managers ignore these recommendations to load as much inventory as possible. Disregarding this rule ends up compromising fuel efficiency.
Manufacturers design cars to perform efficiently up to a certain weight. Operators crossing this threshold force their vehicles to work harder than they have to. The engine risks overheating, and the fuel economy takes a hit. Overweight vehicles increase fuel consumption, wear pavement faster and reduce a vehicle’s life span.
5. Tire Wear
Many logistics professionals pay close attention to the engine because this system controls much of a vehicle’s fuel economy. The air filter, spark plugs, exhaust system, transmission and other components play a critical role. However, other mechanisms have just as big of an impact, and supply chain managers should pay close attention to them. For example, the tires contribute more fuel efficiency than most people think.
Tires are integral to fuel economy through pressure and wear. Drivers should adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations on pounds per square inch (psi) because flatter tires endure more friction. They also must watch their tire wear because it affects fuel efficiency by up to 3%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).
How Can Supply Chain Managers Improve Fleet Performance?
Fuel inefficiency can stem from anywhere, so monitoring is essential for supply chain managers today. How can they improve fleet performance? These three tactics make fleets more efficient.
1. Properly Training Drivers
Fleet managers can fine-tune their vehicles to be fuel efficient, but their drivers must uphold company standards and practice excellent habits. Logistics professionals should enforce efficient methods from the beginning. Some companies monitor their drivers and reward those who drive the safest each month or quarter.
Fleet owners should preach careful driving to new employees and seasoned veterans. Some of these good habits include:
- Cruise control: Acceleration and deceleration hurt fuel mileage when drivers do them often. Instead, fleet drivers should use highway cruise control to maintain constant speed and avoid burning unnecessary fuel.
- Easy braking: Large vehicles are harder to brake, so truck drivers must be wary of braking even more. Hard braking wears the brake system more than expected, forcing the engine to use more fuel.
- Patience and focus: Patience is a virtue, and it’s something drivers might not employ. Fleet operators should be patient on the road and always maintain the speed limit. They also must focus and practice distracted-free driving on the highway, remaining mindful of their speed and driving habits.
2. Employing Telematics
Teaching good habits displays good leadership skills, but how can supply chain managers ensure their drivers abide by company standards? While the honor system may work for some, tracking software is best for obtaining concrete data on performance. For example, fleet owners can install telematics devices in their vehicles.
Telematics tracks fleet performance by monitoring driver behavior, such as speed, acceleration and cell phone usage. These devices also optimize routes to find the best roads throughout the day and night. Some highways could have wrecks or other roadblocks that lead to idling and unwanted downtime.
3. Acquiring Efficient Vehicles
Fuel-efficient habits are commendable and save money for fleet owners, but they only go so far on old machines. Newer vehicles have much better fuel economy, making it easier for drivers to save gas. DoE data show the average car in 2020 had over 25 mpg, whereas the mean in 2005 was under 20 mpg. Fleet owners can take a big step forward by upgrading their vehicles.
How can supply chain managers maximize efficiency with their fleet? Electric vehicles (EVs) are rising in the automotive industry. Logistics professionals are even taking advantage of electric semi-trucks as they improve their range. All-electric machines require no fuel and are more efficient than vehicles with internal combustion (IC) engines. Drivers still must practice good habits, but being efficient is much easier with an EV.
Improving Efficiency and Seeing Results
Super fuel efficiency sets up companies well by reducing costs, complying with regulations and caring for the environment. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores are becoming a higher priority, so supply chain managers can do their part by ensuring fuel efficiency in their fleets.
Some factors negatively impact fuel mileage, but proper maintenance and enforcing good habits improve fuel economy.