When you hear the term Eco Driving, what comes to mind? Be honest - are you picturing the Prius holding up traffic on your way home. Or how about the guy who never has the air conditioning on and the windows rolled up?
We all know it saves money to drive more efficiently, but in your business, time IS money. If your employees are on a schedule to deliver, chances are their priority is getting to the next destination as quickly as possible. How do you find the right balance between saving on costly fuel expenses and keeping your drivers happy?
Here are some fundamental tips that can make a difference. Many of these, I learned while piloting a solar-powered car for the North American Solar Challenge. Believe me, when the sun is your only power source for 2500 miles worth of driving, you have to be smart with energy consumption.
Develop Your “Downroad Vision”
Just like a running back in football, downfield vision is essential to being an efficient driver. Anticipation is the name of the game. Unless you have regenerative brakes (which still do not fully recover lost energy), tapping the brake pedal unnecessarily is going to hurt your fuel economy. There are, of course, those unavoidable times where one must stop or slow down. Staying aware of what is happening well ahead of you will allow you to respond accordingly, and well in advance. As an extra bonus, you extend the life of your brakes with more thoughtful stops.
Even when driving through city traffic in the solar car, we rarely had to stop, because we were off the throttle as soon as a light changed or traffic backed up ahead. I like to think of this as “outsmarting” the majority of the driving public who respond only to what happens immediately in front of them and torment their vehicles in the process.
Know Your Route Ahead of Time
Since it is topical, we can look to the Tour de France for inspiration here. If you only had a limited amount of resources (whether human or vehicle power) to cover a course, how would you optimize your performance? Answer: you would plan out a strategy from start to end. It’s no secret that best finishers on the Alpe D'huez have often ridden the mountain many times, learning exactly where to apply their efforts and where to conserve.
For those of you who cover familiar territory on a regular basis, planning out a route probably comes as second nature. You know the shortcuts, the congested areas to avoid, and can visualize every turn. If you are trucking into uncharted territory on a regular basis, GPS guidance certainly comes in handy, but more than that - you should have a reasonable idea of what lies ahead before taking to the road. Take advantage of other resources, like Google Maps Street View and “route simulation” that comes with many navigation units these days. A minute or two of pre-trip research could save you from experiencing any headaches or unforeseen circumstances down the road.
Fortunately, in our race across North America, our team was given a 4-inch-thick notebook that outlined not only the directions, but what to watch out for - whether it be a potentially hazardous situation or a tricky turn that was often missed. If nothing else, ask your customer if there is anything worth knowing about the route to their location.
Drive Like There is an Egg Under your Foot
If you have seen the movie Days of Thunder you undoubtedly remember the scene where Cole learned the benefits of driving smooth. In an effort to prove this point, his crew chief, Harry, puts him on the clock - allowing Cole to run 50 laps the way he wanted, and then 50 laps under his guidance. In the end, Cole’s second stint was not only faster, but his equipment was in better shape.
Of course this scene is entirely fiction, but, as someone who has been around several different racing series, I can tell you that the sentiment is entirely true. My father, who raced stock cars for a number of years, used to tell me to imagine that there was an egg between my foot and the gas pedal. This visual was supposed to be a reminder that the throttle (and the brake) should be applied gradually - giving the vehicle time to build momentum proportionally. Smooth driving will burn a lot less fuel over time while saving your company on maintenance.
Fleet managers who monitor driver behavior with onboard devices can see the acceleration and deceleration (negative acceleration) g-forces under operation. It’s no coincidence that drivers who have high numbers (0.6g or higher, depending on the vehicle) in these categories typically get worse gas mileage than those who pull fewer g’s.
There you have it - simple steps that can make a big difference in overall fuel economy for your fleet.