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More Truck Fleets Tracking Emissions, But Long Road Ahead

Nearly half of all truck fleets are measuring their emissions, according to a new industry survey from the fleet management and leasing services company PHH Arval. So is the glass half empty or half full?

On the gloomy side, having just 49 percent of truck fleets tracking emissions leaves a whole lot of trucks on the road spewing greenhouse gases and other pollutants without the most basic tool for emission reduction in place: measurement. As the adage reminds us, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

From a more optimistic perspective, however, more and more fleet managers are starting to pay attention to what’s coming out of their vehicles’ tailpipes (often by tracking fuel data), and cost barriers are slowly beginning to drop. According to PHH, 40 percent of respondents said they were measuring their emissions in 2009, and just 28 percent of fleets surveyed had taken this step when the firm started asking about it back in 2008. When it comes to cost, the number of respondents identifying cost as a barrier has dropped slightly to 42 percent this year, from 46 percent in 2008.

As for the companies hoping to supply fleets with electric, plug-in hybrid, diesel hybrid, biodiesel and other alternative fuel vehicles (such as Smith Electric Vehicles, working on electric trucks for commercial fleets), PHH found fleets remain quite cautious about adopting these technologies. Even compressed natural gas (CNG) — advocated by energy baron T. Boone Pickens as the way to go for commercial fleet vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, and just about “any vehicle which returns to the ‘barn each night where refueling is a simple matter” — faces hurdles for integration into fleets. According to PHH, “Conventional gasoline hybrids had the most acceptance, with every other technology trailing significantly.”

Other factors besides refueling will likley have to be sorted out in order for fleet managers to warm up to next-gen vehicles, notably costs and confidence in the long-term performance of new technologies. As Smith Electric Vehicles CEO Bryan Hansel has explained to us, Smith needs “advocates, not customers” at this point — fleets that foresee long-term benefits of electric vehicles (lower maintenance costs, stable fuel prices), but realize “there’s a distance to travel to get there.” If a glitch comes up, he wants the early adopters to help Smith solve the problem rather than saying, “This isn’t a diesel truck, take it back.”

That said, as much as 68 percent of fleet managers in PHH Arval’s survey said they do have an “environmental goal” for their fleets. Plenty of companies are hoping to help them meet those goals without taking the leap with a new fuel or powertrain. For example, 7-year-old GreenRoad Technologies offers a tool for improving driver behavior through real-time feedback. Eric Weiss, the company’s marketing chief, told me earlier this year that the system had been installed in “two of the country’s largest truck fleets, primarily because of fuel saving.”

For some time to come, these types of tools may be the best bet for reducing truck fleet emissions, as Today’s Trucking notes fleets increasingly are “focusing on driver behavior as a way to reduce emissions,” commonly seeking to teach drivers about the links between behavior and fuel economy. Changing driver habits is a fine place to start — it’s low hanging fruit that can deliver up to 15 percent savings in fuel consumption, and it might as well be picked. But this doesn’t go far enough by a long shot for the transportation sector, which has been the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country since 1990, and also one of the largest.

Photo courtesy of Electric Vehicles International

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