Green Operations

6 Ideas for Spec'ing Greener Trucks Without Breaking the Bank

March 2013, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Sean Lyden - Also by this author

Using a lightweight material, such as a composite, to spec a service truck can help a fleet do more with a smaller, more efficient truck.Photo: BrandFX
Using a lightweight material, such as a composite, to spec a service truck can help a fleet do more with a smaller, more efficient truck.Photo: BrandFX

While there are compelling PR benefits for organizations to “green” their truck and van fleets, many companies hold back.

That’s because conventional wisdom says that what’s good for the environment is often bad for business, due to high costs of implementing new technologies and revamping a fleet’s operations. Senior executives and fleet managers just beginning to evaluate their green fleet options often feel overwhelmed by the process, wrestling with what they perceive as an unpalatable trade-off: Be friendly to the environment at the expense of profits.

But, greening a fleet doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be win-win. Here are six possible strategies to save money while going green:

1 Lightweighting Truck Bodies
One strategy is to strip weight out of the vehicle by selecting truck bodies manufactured with lightweight materials, such as aluminum, fiber composites, and plastic composites. These materials offer a weight savings ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent relative to comparable steel upfits, presenting fleets with these opportunities to reduce fuel consumption and harmful CO2 emissions.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), reducing a vehicle’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by 6 percent to 8 percent. So, how much of a difference does this make in the real world?

Using a ¾-ton pickup truck chassis (such as a Chevrolet Silverado or a Ford F-250) as an example, assuming a 10-mpg average with the truck fully loaded, 10-percent overall weight savings, and 8-percent fuel economy improvement, the result is a 0.8-mpg increase, from 10 mpg to 10.8.
While on the face of it that’s not much of a difference, depending on the truck’s annual miles, the impact on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and fuel costs can be significant.

If the truck travels 30,000 miles annually, that 0.8-mpg improvement translates into an annual savings of 222 gallons. At $3.30 per gallon (the average cost of gasoline in the Southern U.S., as of press time), that’s $733 saved for the year.

Multiply that savings over a six-year truck lifecycle, and a 0.8-mpg improvement at 30,000 miles per year ($733 annual savings) yields 1,332 fewer gallons consumed and $4,398 savings over the life of the truck.

That’s just one vehicle. The impact is multiplied if that 0.8-mpg savings is applied to the entire truck fleet.

Another option when lightweighting the upfit is to boost the legal payload of the vehicle without having to move up to a larger truck.

For example, according to Eric Paul, vice president, sales and marketing at Fort Worth, Texas-based BrandFX Body Company, a standard eight-foot fiber composite BrandFX service body for a single-rear wheel 56-inch cab-to-axle (CA) chassis weighs approximately 590 lbs., compared to 1,250 lbs. with a similarly spec’d steel body. That translates into 660 lbs. of extra payload capacity without having to jump to a bigger, less fuel-efficient, and more expensive truck. 

What could a fleet do with 660 lbs. of increased payload? It could mean fewer trips back to the warehouse because the truck could haul more inventory in one load, resulting in fewer gallons consumed — and fewer harmful GHGs emitted into the atmosphere.

Suppose that extra 660-lb. payload capacity allowed the fleet to cut 15 miles per day out of a truck’s route by carrying 500-lbs. more parts and equipment. If the truck operates five days per week, 50 weeks per year, at an average of 12 mpg, here’s what the potential savings would look like:
● 3,750 fewer miles traveled per year.
● 312.5 fewer gallons of fuel consumed.
● At $3.30 per gallon, an annual fuel
savings of $1,031.25 per vehicle.

Examine how existing trucks are spec’d and being used. If the truck could legally haul a few hundred pounds of extra payload, would that realistically help reduce daily miles? If so, about how many miles? Then run the numbers to determine whether the fleet would benefit.  

Paul with BrandFX pointed to one large telecom customer that was able to move from a Ford F-450 down to a Chevrolet Silverado 3500 because of the weight savings achieved by the lighter-weight body.

“The customer saved more than $4,500 per unit on the chassis, which more than recouped the 15-percent premium of the fiber composite body over steel,” Paul said. 

Rightsizing to a smaller chassis also often means the opportunity to spec smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, which has considerable implications on reducing both GHGs and fuel spend.

Suppose a truck’s payload requirements and weight savings achieved by an aluminum or fiber composite 8-foot service body allows the ability to spec a ½-ton chassis, instead of ¾-ton. This means a $3,500 to $5,000 lower acquisition cost per truck, plus potential fuel savings by as much as 5 mpg (assuming an average 17 mpg for the ½-ton versus 12 mpg for the ¾-ton). If the truck operates 25,000 miles per year, this translates into annual fuel savings of 612.75 gallons, or $2,022 at $3.30 per gallon.

In this case, “going green” pays off  quickly.

2 Blending Lightweight With Conventional Materials
Fleets that prefer steel bodies don’t have to go “all in” with lightweight materials to still take advantage of incremental weight savings. One example is The Reading Group’s composite landscape body, which combines a steel frame (for structural strength and rigidity) with a plastic composite floor, rear doors, and other areas of the body to achieve substantial weight savings.

“Steel is the supporting mechanism and the reason why our product still uses steel as a spine,” said Craig Bonham, director of business development for The Reading Group, a truck body manufacturer based in Reading, Pa., that builds steel, aluminum, and plastic composite truck bodies. “The composite material is the component of our product that can take the abuse, because it can handle a substantially higher amount of stress before it experiences deformation, but it is also up to 68-percent lighter than steel.”

A wide range of upfitters also offer aluminum tool boxes, ladder racks, liftgates, and other lightweight body-mounted equipment to help strip weight out of the completed truck, while retaining the steel construction of the body itself.

“There are a few basic ways to decrease the weight of the current upfit specs to increase fuel efficiency — by either using lighter material or alternate products that still fit the need,” said Corey Stanley, director of fleet operations with the Auto Truck Group, which specializes in the design, manufacture, and installation of truck equipment for a wide range of fleet applications. “In some cases, it may be appropriate to spec fiberglass or aluminum toppers [that enclose the cargo bed of a pickup truck] in lieu of service bodies for some lighter-duty applications where the customer doesn’t necessarily need a full service body, which helps reduce overall weight and upfit cost.”

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