The primary technologies discussed included telematics, hybrid and electric vehicles, and alternative fuels.
Telematics was discussed as a method to retrofit conventional fuel vehicles with technology in order to monitor driver habits. The primary poor driving habits that emit excessive carbons and waste fuel include speeding, idling, hard braking, and unnecessary acceleration. GPS fleet tracking systems have been monitoring these activities for years, but our opinion was that it is also important to emphasize the costs associated with these activities and provide some level of driver training and feedback. By focusing on the costs and emissions associated with idling and speeding, fleet managers are much more motivated to take action to correct these habits. By providing driver training and feedback, drivers are much more aware of their impact on the environment and their employer’s bottom line. The use of telematics is a relatively inexpensive method to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Electric vehicles were discussed as an option to eliminate fuel consumption. However, there are several challenges associated with electric vehicles. Most of these vehicles require a charge time of 30 minutes to 12 hours. Vehicles that are charged at home, will take 12 hours to charge on a 120 volt electrical supply and 6 hours to charge on a 210 volt system. They can be charged in as quickly as 30 minutes from a power supply that draws power directly from the electrical grid. Even in the San Francisco bay area, which is one of the most environmentally-conscious regions in the world, public electric charging stations are not readily available. Electric vehicles with the longest range can travel up to 40 miles on a single charge. These type of vehicles do not appear to be very practical for many fleets due to the recharge time and driving range. A conventional fuel vehicle will take approximately 5 minutes to re-fuel and can provide the driver with a range of 200 to 300 miles. An electric vehicle will take approximately 6 to 12 hours to re-fuel and will provide the driver with a range of up to 40 miles. The cost of the time required to continuously recharge these vehicles will significantly eclipse any potential fuel savings.
Hybrids were in use by a local county government that was represented on the panel. Not only had they experienced significant fuel savings, but their vehicles required significantly less maintenance. The only challenge with hybrid vehicles is the 15% to 25% premium that the buyer must pay for these vehicles. Due to the higher upfront costs for the vehicles, the net savings could take several years to realize.
Bio-fuels were discussed as a method to reduce fuel costs. These fuels are typically made from agricultural products such as corn, sugar, and waste by bi-products. Bio-fuels fuels are occasionally subject to shortages and require costly conversions to vehicle fuel systems, and require on-site fueling stations. While significant ongoing fuel savings can be experienced, the users must consider the high upfront costs.