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Fuel management: 10 methods for tackling rising fuel costs

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Fuel is at the top of most fleet managers’ agendas at the moment, so it is vital to employ a toolbox of techniques to ensure that costs are kept under control while staff are kept mobile.

1 Monitoring

Fleets need to monitor their fuel costs closely to manage them.

This is easier said than done when a pay and reclaim system is used, because fuel costs claims are spread throughout the company and may not be recorded under a specific heading.

With fuel cards, there should be an accurate figure for total fuel use and its cost, although the problem then is working out the business mileage element.

Fuel card companies can help and also provide digital billing so all transactions appear in one place, with electronic alerts and exception reporting and even provide solutions for electronically recording business mileage.

Leasing giant Lex says when you have the data, monitor areas such as the best and worst fuel economy for the same vehicle and promote techniques that get the best results.

It also recommends spot checks of fuel data to weed out fraudsters.

A Lex spokesman says: “Fuel is a significant element of the cost of running a vehicle and needs careful management. It is one of the few fleet cost areas where savings can be almost immediate, and with the cost of fuel predicted to continue to increase, there has never been a better time to focus on fuel.”

2 Vehicle choice

Although a driver has the most significant impact on a vehicle’s fuel economy, it still pays to provide the most fuel-efficient vehicles.

Compare and contrast the claims of manufacturers about their vehicles and search the available models according to their fuel economy and CO2 emissions, using data services such as running costs on www.fleetnews.co.uk.

With some of the cleanest upper-medium cars now offering fuel economy figures of more than 50mpg, it will pay to review your fleet with fuel economy in mind.

Inchcape Fleet Solutions has gone one step further, with a ‘Well to Wheel’ initiative, with all vehicles listed according to CO2 emissions instead of by list price or monthly rental and incentives offered for choosing cars producing less than 130g/km of CO2.

It is also working with manufacturers to create an index of vehicles which are more efficient taking into account manufacturing and end-of-life product management, such as Renault’s eco2 range.

Europcar is reminding fleets not to forget about fuel costs in rental vehicles, as these need to be monitored and managed just as they would be in the ‘normal’ fleet.

3 Speed

Scientists have estimated that 2.1 million tonnes of CO2 would be saved each year if UK drivers obeyed the speed limit on motorways and dual carriageways, saving 800 million litres of road fuel.

The savings for fleets that insist every driver observes the speed limit would be substantial.

According to Northgate Vehicle Hire, which is providing customers with fuel economy advice, driving at 85mph rather than 70mph uses 25% more fuel and driving at 70mph instead of 60mph uses up to 9% more fuel.

It also recommends avoiding short journeys – a cold engine uses almost twice as much fuel – and using air-conditioning sparingly, as it can increase fuel use by more than 10%.

4 Tyres and oil and fuel

Research by Kwik-Fit found that 12 million motorists could cut costs at the pump by a combined £1.4bn in the next year alone, simply by keeping their tyres inflated to the correct pressure.

Mike Wise, head of Kwik-Fit Fleet, says: “The wrong pressure could reduce tyre life by about 25% and incorrectly inflated tyres can increase fuel consumption by up to 10%.”

But fleets don’t just need to keep their tyres inflated, they also need to buy the right ones.

Real world tests of Michelin Energy low rolling resistance tyres showed tyre life increased by 25% and fuel economy improved by 2.5%.

In addition, choosing the right oil and fuel can also have an impact.

For example, Total claims its Excellium premium fuel can improve a car’s fuel economy by 4%, while Total Lubricants says its Quartz Ineo ECS oil can improve fuel economy by up to 6% in the starting phase.

5 Technology

Tracking technology can make fleets more efficient and economical by allowing employers to see exactly how their vehicles are being used.

UCS Plant dramatically cut operational costs and reduced its fleet’s carbon footprint when it introduced a tracking system which helped identify and eliminate duplicate journeys and improve routing.

Making the fleet more efficient also significantly lowered fuel costs across the operation, reduced the size of the fleet by six vehicles and cut mileage by up to 1,000 miles a week – while still maintaining the same high levels of service.

The Fleetstar-Online system was installed by Cybit. Its system has also helped identify opportunities for vehicle sharing.

6 Aftermarket equipment

Some fleets may run a mile at the idea of tinkering with the engine bay of their vehicles, but Diesel Power Tuning claims it can pay dividends.

The DPT system, of which Randstad is the UK distributor, is aimed at all diesel-engined cars and offers claimed savings in both fuel used and emissions generated of between 5% and 10% on any diesel engine.
DPT has been being fitted to Titan Travel’s fleet of 180 Volkswagen T5 minibuses.

Their target of 8% savings in fuel and emissions is already being reached.

DPT was invented by a Dutch ex-Formula One engineer and each unit is programmed to the individual type of diesel car engine, making more efficient use of the air inside the cylinders during ignition to achieve greater efficiency and/or more power.

7 Shop around

Shopping around for fuel has become easier with the arrival of the internet. Sites such as Petrolprices.com allow users to search for the cheapest petrol in their area quickly and, if they choose, receive regular e-mail alerts so they will always be the first to know when the prices change.

The prices for 10,000 stations are listed, with about 8,000 daily updates, using data from Catalist in association with leading fuel management and fuel card provider Arval.

Catalist collects and maintains detailed information for over 130,000 retail petrol stations worldwide.

The petrol price data is collected from the hundreds of thousands of fuel card transactions that are processed at petrol stations across the country each day.

8 Reduce mileage

Home working is rocketing in popularity as employers aim to beat rapidly spiralling petrol and diesel prices.

A GE Capital Solutions, Fleet Services, survey showed that 96.3% of fleet decision-makers say fuel costs are reducing business mileage.

In addition, 94.5% say home working is also reducing the number of business miles travelled.

According to Cybit, if businesses can cut the distance that their employees travel by just two miles each day, every single vehicle will reduce its fuel costs by £13 per week or £676 per year.

According to the AA, 300 of its employees are saving 90,000 litres of fuel or 620,000 miles commuting each year by working from home.

9 Driver training

Putting your drivers through their paces and showing them the green way to drive can have a dramatic impact.

Even the most frugal driver may have something to gain from the techniques offered by experts behind the wheel. For example, accelerating hard from a standstill uses 60% more fuel.

One of the biggest driver training schemes focused on fuel economy has been carried out by the Government-funded SAFED (Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving) programme, which found average economy improvements after half-a-day’s training of 16%.

If you drive 20,000 miles a year, this equates to 3,200 ‘free’ miles. SAFED estimates that among drivers training so far, fuel savings of more than £1 million will be achieved.

For tips on driving efficiently, log on to www.dft.gov.uk/actonco2 or www.energysavingtrust.co.uk/fleet.

10 Communicate

To make a real difference you have to get drivers on board.

Successful initiatives to persuade them to use less fuel and shop around can include fuel economy league tables, listing the most frugal drivers on the fleet.

Include incentives for the best drivers and it can soon have a positive effect on mileage.

Inform them about the cheapest fuel prices in the area and provide regular updates and tips on how to manage mileage and improve fuel economy.

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