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Part 1: Green your fleet

2013-08-19 12:25

ROAD TO A GREENER FLEET: Implementing these strategies to “green” your fleet, will not only reduce your environmental impact but will also deliver improvements to bottom line profits. Image: Fleet Magazine


Transport contributes approximately 12% of South Africa's greenhouse gas emissions. Around 68% of that is produced by diesel and petrol-powered vehicles on our roads. As a result, reducing fuel consumption, which would also result in lower carbon emissions, will significantly improve a vehicle fleet’s environmental impact.

Reduced fuel consumption will also make a significant difference to the bottom line of a fleet. According to the Road Freight Association of South Africa (RFA), fuel remains the highest cost in the operating of vehicle fleets. An estimated 30% to 45% of fleet operating costs are contributed to fuel consumption.

Given the cost of fuel any reduction in fuel consumption will positively affect a fleet’s profitability and long-term sustainability.


Forward-thinking managers will understand a fleet’s reliance on fossil fuel is inherently unsustainable. Fossil fuels are a finite resource and at the current rate of consumption, supply is already under serious threat.

Supply constraints will only serve to further increase fuel prices and fleets that have not significantly reduced their reliance on fossil fuels may find themselves unable to survive.

With the introduction of carbon taxes in 2015 fleet owners and managers must consider the impact of this tax on their operations. Reducing fuel consumption and thus producing fewer emissions is now an urgent business survival strategy.


Fortunately, there are a variety of strategies that fleets can implement to reduce  fuel consumption.

Start with the strategies that require little or no investment and use the savings generated to implement those strategies that do require investment, taking a journey of never-ending improvement towards a truly sustainable fleet.
Owners can reduce the weight of vehicles by removing heavy items, such as roof racks, when not in use. Every 50kg of weight in a typical passenger car increases fuel consumption by about 2%.

Well maintained vehicles performance optimally while poorly maintained vehicles have significantly higher fuel consumption.

Consider replacing old, inefficient vehicles with more modern, fuel-efficient vehicles. The fuel economy of modern vehicles has improved significantly over the past 20 years. Modern engines are more efficient, powerful and work smarter due to sophisticated technological achievements. 


The better the wind-resistance factor of a vehicle, the higher the fuel consumption. Wind-resistance increases exponentially depending on the speed at which a vehicle travels.

Improve the aerodynamics of a vehicle by removing roof racks and other external attachments. Open windows and sunroofs also significantly increase fuel consumption at higher speeds. While air-conditioning can increase fuel consumption by 5%-10%, at speeds higher than 80km/h air-conditioning is more efficient than an open window.
Avoid running the air-conditioner continuously and use air vents instead.

The next step would be to acquire more aerodynamic vehicles. The traditional box-shaped truck creates a great amount of air or wind-resistance. Depending on the route, overcoming this resistance requires up to 37% of the total energy used by the truck.


According to MAN Truck & Bus, aerodynamic vehicles, including both the truck and trailer as a unit in commercial vehicles, can produce considerable CO2 savings. The company unveiled an aerodynamic road train, which it says can “cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 25%.”

The automaker believes manufacturers of commercial vehicles are capable of putting an aerodynamically optimised vehicle, such as the MAN Concept S, on the road as early as the next truck generation, if the European statutory regulations restricting the length of road trains are amended.


Quality fuels can improve fuel efficiency, whereas contaminated fuels can result in fuel injection equipment deterioration and increased fuel consumption.

The South African government has set 2017 as the deadline for the introduction of “cleaner fuels”, which feature, for example, a lower sulphur content. This will allow the introduction of new vehicle engine technology in the country, designed to reduce harmful vehicle emissions and promote improved fuel efficiency. 

Unfortunately, the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) estimates it will cost South Africa’s refineries R40-billion to produce cleaner petrol and diesel by 2017. Sapia says without finance mechanisms to cover this cost, a number of refineries would not meet the 2017 deadline, which could result in the introduction of cleaner fuels being postponed by several years. 


Until this unfortunate situation is resolved, fleet owners and managers will do well to give preference to the somewhat “greener” fuels already available. These are fossil fuels that contain less sulphur and are metal free. For example, diesel 50 ppm is ten-times cleaner than 500 ppm, as it contains only 50 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur compared to 500 ppm diesel.
While slightly more expensive, the cleaner diesel saves money in the long run by extending a vehicle’s engine life and service intervals.

These somewhat greener fuels also include those that improve engine performance by preventing deposits and cleaning existing deposits in the engine, thereby maximising fuel consumption and contributing to lower emissions. High-quality performance fuels further enable vehicles to run more efficiently, resulting in improved combustion quality and therefore reducing fuel consumption and lowering emissions. 

Research conducted by Michelin shows that tyres account for one fifth of fuel consumption. Start by checking tyre pressure regularly. Under-inflated tyres have a greater rolling resistance and low tyre pressures increase vehicle ‘drag’ and hence fuel consumption. Properly maintained and inflated tyres can reduce fuel bills by up to 4%.

Next, opt for fuel-efficient tyres. Look for low rolling resistance tyres and maximum efficiency. Also, consider fitting tyre pressure monitoring systems on all heavy-duty vehicles to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

Implementing these strategies to “green” your fleet’s fuel consumption will not only reduce environmental impact and carbon tax liabilities, but will also deliver significant improvements in bottom line profits and go a long way to improve the sustainability of the fleet over the medium-term.

Part 2: Eco-friendly driving

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