Green Operations

Fleets Embrace Green Vehicles

January 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Cover Story

by Grace Suizo and Chris Wolski

Cash-strapped organizations pressured to reduce their carbon footprints often think the only way they can possibly "go green" is by purchasing alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) — leaving many fleets feeling discouraged by their already-squeezed budgets. While AFVs are one way to go, they aren't the only way to green operations. Savvy fleets have discovered various inexpensive strategies. And, the best part about these methods: They also ultimately help save money, lower fuel consumption, and increase driver safety.

Rightsizing by Engine Downsizing

Saving money and being environmentally friendly don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, looking at the bottom line can be a gateway to operating both leaner and greener.

One of the fundamental ways to achieve this is by rightsizing the fleet. Rightsizing involves evaluating the fleet and making sure it has the right number or types of vehicles to do its job. Gaining industry momentum in 2006, downsizing to four-cylinder vehicles was probably one of the earliest ways fleets attempted to implement environmentally conscious approaches to reduce their carbon footprint and save money.

In 2010, Valero Energy Corp., a producer and supplier of gasoline and other products, rightsized to the Ford Fusion as its company car. (It operates a fleet of more than 1,800 vehicles.) The move saved its 100-car fleet 6.5 cents per mile for a lifetime savings of $574,600, compared to the V-6 Ford Taurus models that the Fusions replaced.

Valero has been committed to rightsizing for several years. By staying in touch with market trends, the company divested itself of its minivans prior to the 2008 economic crisis.

Influencing Valero’s decision to choose the Fusion was vehicle cost less incentives, rebates, resale, fuel and tire cost per mile, and preventive maintenance. The total variable cost, fixed cost, resale values, and amount of greenhouse gas emissions led to the decision to make the four-cylinder Ford Fusion Valero’s vehicle of choice.

However, rightsizing can sometimes raise eyebrows of longtime employees not convinced that a smaller vehicle can do the job. For instance, when General Parts, an automotive replacement parts, supplies, tools, and equipment distributor, found that 85 percent of its vehicle cargo loads did not need to be transported in a pickup truck, the company switched to the four-cylinder Nissan Versa.

The savings have been "tremendous," according to the company, but longtime employees weren’t as sold on the change, unconvinced that deliveries could be made in the much smaller vehicles. After showing drivers that the Nissan Versas achieved nearly 10 mpg more than the larger pickups drivers had been using — 28 mpg to 19.9 aggregate mpg — the drivers were convinced.

With operations in 48 states and annual mileage topping 23 million, keeping fuel costs under control is a high priority for The Scooter Store, a power mobility provider.

The company has been able to reduce its overall fuel use 20 percent by rightsizing many of the vehicles in its 500-unit fleet, a process that began in 2008. This involved moving to smaller vehicles for its distribution/service and sales/service vehicles than in years past. The Scooter Store is using Ford E-250 cargo vans, Transit Connect vans, and Ranger trucks. 

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