Can “EcoDriving” Really Improve Fleet Efficiency?

By Pankaj Arora

The concept of Ecodriving has been around for some time now. But has it managed to deliver any concrete and measurable gains in the business? I recently listened to a number of podcasts from variety of sources like the Stanford Social Conversations, Aspen Insitute, MIT, and Greenbiz and came across some real quantifiable examples of companies efforts on Ecodriving in the past years.

UPS found out over their thousands of truck fleets, that by not waiting and idling to take left turns but instead taking 3 right turns to reach the same place – they saved about 3 million gallons of fuel annually.

Walmart found out that by separating the engine and the generator to run the air conditioning was a good idea – shutting down the engine while the driver slept at night on long distances, they saved $25 million/year on fuel costs. Putting spoilers/fins at the back of the trucks also proved useful – at highway speeds they reduced 5-8% fuel usage.

Stonyfield farm got a 40% reduction of CO2 from trucks on the road by ensuring they are packed to capacity and by separating coolers to cool the food from the engine.

Xerox, by driver training and reducing the miles traveled by their field service technicians through better scheduling, routing, GPS and remote diagnostic services, made substantial savings.

Simple, yet ingenious. All of the above examples are classic cases of savings through good ecodriving practices. According to EcoWill, a European Commission’s endorsed website, Ecodriving is about driving in a style suited to modern engine technology: smart, smooth and safe driving techniques that lead to average fuel savings of 5-10%.

The Alliance of Automobiles Manufacturers, USA, lists down comprehensive list of good ecodriving practices like avoiding rapid starts and stops, using air conditioning only at higher speeds, using navigation and avoiding idling among many other useful pointers.

Technology in aid

Automakers are using technology to help spread the message. Not only the premium car makers like BMW and Audi have vehicles that come installed with ecodriving assisted technology but small mass cars from Suzuki also have Idling stop systems that enable engine to stop automatically while waiting at traffic lights. 

Suzuki's entry level Alto and SUV Escudo

There’s Ecodrive indicator that lights up if you’re actually ecodriving. A Fuel efficiency indicator shows how far your car will take you on a gallon of fuel. Then, there are changes in transmission and reduction in vehicle weight and air resistance done to assist ecodriving practices.

Fight from EV’s

When we’ve got hybrids and EV’s proliferating into the eco-space, would ecodriving still be an advantage and pose a significant savings potential? Probably not. Eco-driving is an end-of-pipe solution that tries to minimize the damage already done. At best, it inculcates good habits in the society – it delivers change that is hard to come by. And this change makes good sense, regardless.

Ecodriving can also be uncomfortable at times. It can mean giving up convenience and comfort – the reason for the car. I’ll not drive with a baby in my car in the 44 degree celsius summer heat and wait till I hit a high enough speed to put on the air conditioner. Rather, I’d turn on the A.C and let it run for 5 minutes till the temperature reaches a comfortable level before stepping in. Fuel saved may not justify the inconvenience.

Individual behavior though an important component – is not enough. Highest impact, as always is driven by the business sector. It makes absolute sense when tiny savings multiplied over thousands of truck fleets scouring all over the country everyday, add up to humungous earnings leading to an overall reduction in the carbon footprint. Ecodriving has certainly driven business costs in the south direction – but permeating deep into individual behaviors is still a tough ask.

Pankaj Arora is an Engineer and has worked in the automotive styling for 12 years. To expand his understanding of Sustainability he is studying online MBA in Sustainable Management from Anaheim University. He writes for his blog at http://environz.org/

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