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How are commercial fleets planning for a greener future?

To put the brakes on climate change, it is paramount that the fleet owners and OEMs take decisive action to reduce their carbon footprint. Erez Lorber explores a handful of ways to do that

 A greener future is coming to commercial trucking fleets.

Why? First, corporate responsibility in the face of climate change is changing. Second, there is strong demand to increase efficiency as a result of today’s supply chain and inflation crises. And lastly, government-mandated sustainability guidelines such as those proposed earlier this year in the US that require public companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions are shaking up a formerly conservative industry.

The bottom line is that fleets now have powerful incentives to lower their carbon footprints. But how should they go about this? There’s no panacea; rather, a multifaceted approach is required. Here are five ways fleets can plan for a more environmentally friendlier future.

Electrification and hybridisation

The private sector is rapidly transitioning from gasoline to electric vehicles (EVs). The Biden Administration has set a goal that half of all passenger car sales in the US will be electric by 2030, along with the creation of a network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers in the same timeframe. General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra announced that by 2035, her company will no longer manufacture internal combustion engine (ICE) cars at all, with GM slated to become entirely carbon-neutral by 2040.

Fleet operators are now working hard to electrify, either fully or partially. However, there are a number of considerations that those fleet operators must keep in mind during fleet electrification. First, owners must decide which of their vehicles can go “full EV,” which are better suited to become hybrid vehicles, and which should stay with diesel – at least for the time being. Despite the EV hype, hybrid vehicle fleets have gained prominence recently, as seen with recent developments at XL Fleet and US Hybrid.

US Hybrid
US Hybrid provides near-zero-emission, natural gas-powered (CNG/RNG) parallel hybrid technology for drayage and long-haul trucks

Going fully EV, however, is not for every use case. It works best with vehicles that operate in urban corridors where charge spots are plentiful and distances are relatively short—consider the range anxiety that comes with today’s impressive but still constricted 300-mile EV limits. Fleets that operate in more rural areas will need to be conscious of the distance between charging stations; hybrid vehicles may still be the safer bet (at least for the time being).

In addition, “green” regulations diverge depending on location. What’s acceptable on intercity or interstate highways may differ from what can operate on inner-city roads. To enter London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, for example, a vehicle must meet the area’s standards—otherwise drivers are required to pay a £12.50 (US$15.18) daily charge.

Cost also remains a consideration as EVs still carry a hefty price tag. An example of this at scale is the U.S. Postal Service: if USPS were to fully upgrade to EVs, it would cost some US$3.3bn.

Better planning

Fleet operators must learn to plan their routes for optimal efficiency. Not only will this help in minimising fuel consumption—whether that’s for an EV or one that (at least partially) relies on an ICE—but it will also help keep each vehicle in optimal shape by reducing unnecessary wear-and-tear brought about by extra driving.

Optimal route planning will be a two-pronged approach, with both fleet operators and software playing critical roles. Dispatchers who stay on top of news reports about road conditions and detours can help ensure that truck drivers don’t have to double back, wasting precious fuel, when confronted by a road closure, while software that supports trucking routes can help drivers avoid roads that prohibit trucks from driving on them.

Better training

Class-8 trucks travel an average of more than 60,000 miles a year. according to the US Department of Energy. This means that that avoiding aggressive driving (like rapid acceleration and sudden braking), which can lower gas mileage by roughly 15% to 30% at highway speeds and 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic,. will have a massive impact on a fleet’s fuel efficiency. Driver training can minimise these behaviours, directly leading to a greener fleet.

It’s not just drivers who benefit from better training; vehicles do, too. But maintenance of EV and hybrid fleet vehicles will require extensive training of internal teams to be able to work with new vehicle technology. This includes planning, operations, and repairs. The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has called for the training of 75,000 new technicians in the UK alone to prepare for greater EV adoption. That’s critical, says Steve Nash, Chief Executive of the IMI, since “just 6.5% of the automotive workforce is currently qualified to work on electric vehicles.”

Better maintenance practices

Worn out engines and exhaust systems increase emissions. To go greener, fleets must make the vehicle parts they have last longer. This has become increasingly critical as in the wake of supply chain shortages, some trucking fleets have reported that up to 10% of their vehicles have been forced to stay off the road due to a shortage of parts. This, in turn, puts more strain on the trucks that are still on the roads, leading to increased wear and tear, which can ultimately lead to fuel inefficiencies if specific parts are not operating optimally.

One need look no further than tyre maintenance for a striking example: for every 1% decrease in tyre pressure, there is a 0.3% reduction in fuel economy due to the accompanying increase in friction. Ensuring that all of their vehicles’ parts are “up to snuff” is a simple yet common-sense way for operators to green their fleets.

Questar’s AI engine makes accurate and timely judgements about the problems that a vehicle faces and knows when they need maintenance before it’s too late

Better data analysis

No one likes to be micromanaged. But when it comes to fleets, analysing data on driving skills is a major way to go green. For example, analysis of in-vehicle sensors can spotlight inefficient or unsafe driving, as well as track a vehicle’s location, helping fleet managers optimise routes and avoid congestion (saving fuel in the process).

The high cost of charging station deployment is often a limiting factor for EV penetration into fleets. Mission analytics, optimised driving skills and route optimisation can help reduce the number of needed charging station and promote faster migration of fleets to EVs. Fleets may be best served here by deploying a data analytics platform that can address the unique needs of fleets’ move to sustainability. Such a platform must support the needs of a heterogenous fleet composed of electric, hybrid, and ICE vehicles.

A holistic approach

In the move towards greener operations, fleets should implement a multi-pronged programme, including electrification, planning, training, maintenance, and the proper collection and analysis of data. With deadlines for dramatically reducing the sale of carbon-generating vehicles around the bend, there’s no time—or fuel—to waste.

About the author: Erez Lorber is Chief Executive of Questar


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