To make a real impact on cutting carbon emissions, a fleet needs to make huge investments in new clean-fuel technologies, right?
Take Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC), for example. The telecommunications giant is on track to cut fleet-wide fuel consumption by nearly 1 million gallons in 2016, with only a modest investment in green technologies, such as plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles. The bulk of the fuel savings is coming from TWC’s vehicle replacement strategy; the company has recently changed its bucket and pickup truck specifications to generate substantial gains in fuel economy.
And it’s this progress in cutting fuel consumption and carbon emissions that has led TWC to become one of the first 10 companies in the U.S. to be named an accredited sustainable fleet as part of a new accreditation program launched by the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) in 2015.
According to NAFA, the Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program (www.nafasustainable.org) recognizes fleets for “their commitment to sustainability with levels of recognition based on actual reductions in net environmental impacts,” including improving air quality through emissions reduction, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing fuel usage.
Utility Fleet Professional recently spoke with longtime fleet professional George Survant, senior fleet director at TWC, to learn more about how the company has been able to make significant progress toward sustainability in a way that’s also financially sustainable for the company. Here are three strategies that emerged from the conversation.
Bucket Trucks: Switch to Diesel, Reduce Weight and Cut Idle
For years, TWC spec’d its Ford F-450 35-foot bucket trucks with V-10 gasoline engines. But a couple years ago, Survant began replacing the gas trucks with ones equipped with diesel engines, lighter-weight bodies and idle reduction technologies.
The impact? In 2014, TWC cut fuel consumption by 700,000 gallons in its bucket truck fleet alone. Last year, after replacing about half as many vehicles as they did in 2014, the company still reduced fuel consumption by 256,000 gallons.
How did the change in specs achieve these results?
First, consider the use of lightweight materials in the truck body and equipment specs. The lighter the truck, the less power – or fuel – it requires to propel the vehicle. “We incorporate aluminum and fiberglass wherever possible in our body designs, which has taken our rolling weight down between 700 and 800 pounds per truck,” Survant said.
Then there’s the idle mitigation technology, including electric power take-off, which eliminates hours of engine idle while service technicians operate the aerial boom.
Finally, take into account the switch to the more fuel-efficient diesel engine. How much of a difference has that made? “Excluding the impact of our idle mitigation systems, we went from about 5.6 mpg with our gas bucket trucks to getting 8.7 mpg with the new lighter-weight diesel-powered buckets,” Survant said.
That’s a 55 percent bump in fuel economy.
Pickups: Right-Size Trucks and Powertrains
In 2014, Survant began replacing TWC’s Ford F-250 pickups powered by a V-8 with the redesigned F-150s equipped with the fuel-sipping V-6 EcoBoost engine.
“For years we bought F-250s on the operating premise that it took the big V-8 engine to haul around the loads we were hauling,” Survant said. “But today we're doing exactly the same job with remarkably good performance with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost [V-6].”
According to Ford, the lightweight aluminum body design for the new F-150 sheds about 700 pounds from the previous model, which has enabled fleets like TWC to consider downsizing to a lighter truck, without sacrificing payload requirements.
What has been the impact on fuel economy?
“What we're seeing with the new trucks fully loaded and fully burdened, month in and month out, is about 15.7 mpg, compared to about 10 mpg with the legacy trucks,” Survant said.
Going to a smaller engine was just one factor in the equation in reducing fuel use, Survant explained. “One of the most amazing things for us is the stop-start technology with the new engines. In New York City, some of our best-performing vehicles are actually these full-sized F-150 pickups because they turn off at stop signs and stoplights.”
But how has this change to trucks with smaller engines impacted driver acceptance? Has TWC experienced any sort of complaints or resistance from drivers?
Not so far. “Our acceptance of these vehicles has been so good that we've had a little bit of a dispute among drivers over who gets a new vehicle,” Survant said. “They're keyed up to argue, ‘I need this truck more than you need it.’”
Expand Biodiesel Use and Electrification
What is TWC doing with alternative fuels to cut carbon emissions?
“Our focus has been on [alternative] fuels in a few aspects of our fleet,” Survant said. “One, with our shift to diesel, we're trying to structure a program where we can access biodiesel on a broader scale than we do today. Almost all diesel products have some percentage of biodiesel through the public distribution systems today. But we really want to ramp that up. We want to get our drivers to use, on average, a higher concentration of biodiesel. The second point is that we have hybridized all of our passenger car fleet. And third, we’re engaging an action plan where we're putting motor pools with electric vehicles into places where we have high concentrations of employees who don't have assigned vehicles.”
In terms of the EV motor pools, Survant offered this example: “We have 1,600 vehicles in 16 square miles in Manhattan. There's a lot of opportunity for us to have pools used there. We're embarking on a program this year to partner with Ford to put some Ford Focus electrics in place, and we're working through permitting for the installation of recharging facilities as we speak.”
Survant said the company is looking to roll out similar EV programs in other urban areas, such as Los Angeles and Kansas City, Mo., in the near future.
What about propane autogas and natural gas vehicles?
“Right now, we're really not spending any money in propane and natural gas,” Survant said. “That’s because our trucks are domiciled at our drivers’ homes at night, and they're not accessible to centralized fueling. We don't have much control over where our technicians live for us to be able to take real good advantage of a public-accessible alt-fuel station. So, there are only a handful of co-located places in the country where we even have a remote opportunity to do that.”
The Bottom Line
For Survant and TWC, any fleet sustainability initiative needs to keep the overall business in mind. “We have not been as far out on the leading edge as some fleets have been with alt-fuel development or hybridization of service vans or trucks,” Survant said. “Instead we tie fuel reduction goals into our vehicle replacement strategy so that it's not disruptive to our business and doesn't require external funding. Our objective is that everywhere we operate, we're going to make continuous and steady, if somewhat modest, improvements."