Companies cut corners to save on fuel as gas prices rise

It also cut idle speeds in half so that engines turn half as fast.

Kerns Trucking bought battery-powered units for drivers to run air conditioners and heaters. Typically, they'd idle engines instead.

Last year, UPS tested technology that included sensors to track everything from vehicle speeds to idle times. The data helped UPS cut idle times by 24 minutes a day per vehicle by reminding drivers to idle less. UPS deployed the technology from 200 to 1,400 more drivers within three months — a faster rollout than normal because of rapidly escalating fuel costs, says automotive manager Mike Hance.

The ins and outs of conservation

Many of the changes require trade-offs.

Truck drivers like to stay in the flow of traffic. Limiting speeds makes that harder. When goods spend more time in transit, inventory costs rise.

Audiovox is waiting longer for goods from Asia not only because it's shipping more over water, but because it's also using more rail, which is at least three times more fuel-efficient than trucks, within the USA.

As fuel assumes a greater share of companies' expenses, fuel savings also produce bigger payoffs.

Waste Connections has cut fuel consumption by 8% to 10% over the past three years, Mittelstaedt says. That's about 2 million gallons a year. That helps to offset rising prices. The company has recouped about 75% of its higher fuel costs through price increases and surcharges, Mittelstaedt says.

Like many, he doesn't expect fuel prices to drop, given strong demand from huge, rapidly growing countries such as China and India. But he expects conservation efforts to pay off even more if they ever do.

"There can be a silver lining in time," he says.

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