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Fuel Efficiency Challenge Proves Driver Training Cuts Costs
Better driving habits can improve fuel efficiency by more than 25 percent. By Katherine Doherty

Fleet managers can dramatically reduce fuel costs, cut emissions and reduce vehicle wear and tear--simply by training their drivers better.

Isuzu Commercial Truck of America has developed a program, dubbed SEE for Safety, Economy and Environment, that helps even experienced drivers improve their fuel efficiency by more than 25 percent. The day-long program consists of seminars and test drives that teach--and reinforce--proper driving habits.

Last month, Isuzu invited a group of reporters to participate in a Fuel Economy Challenge, which was held at the Wacom Hokkaido proving ground in Japan. The goal was to give us first-hand experience as to how a little training can make a big impact on driver performance and fuel efficiency.

Before any instruction, we each drove a 13,800 pound GVW Isuzu N-series truck on a two-and-a-half mile test track that simulated various road conditions, such as stop and go and highway driving, to establish a benchmark. Our actions behind the wheel were recorded by a Mimanori telematics unit, which collects information from the computer that controls the engine, transmission and brakes. The data collected includes:

• Average speed, maximum speed and average fuel consumption during city driving and highway driving;
• Average number of times the throttle opens and closes;
• Brake deceleration;
• Vehicle idling time and idling fuel consumption;
• Frequency of the use of each gear during city and highway driving; and
• Average number of engine revolutions when shifting up.

In addition, the Mimanori system records CO2, NOx and PM emissions data, which can be used to measure the environmental impact of the vehicle.

After the test drive, we received a report from the Mimanori system that rated our driving skills and gave us pointers on how to improve our performance. For example, my report stated that I needed to shift up at a lower RPM and to use the highest gear possible--in this case, it was sixth gear, yet I never felt I was driving fast enough to have to shift into that gear.

As a group, we participated in a seminar and watched a video that reviewed the fundamentals of fuel-efficient driving, such as driving at a constant speed, avoiding hard braking, sharply depressing or releasing the accelerator pedal, and not downshifting when coming to a stop. After a question and answer session, we went back out for the second run.

This time, the overall performance dramatically improved for the entire group--and some of the reporters hold a commercial drivers' license. My fuel-efficiency improved 32 percent just by making a few changes in my driving practices. My pre-training score was an 83 and my post-training score was a 97 (out of 100) so there is still room for improvement. The key is to become aware of bad habits and to take the steps to avoid them.

Keep in mind this is for just one driver and one truck--imagine what the savings would be for an entire fleet. Another benefit from the training is that it promotes safe driving. It also helps reduce wear and tear on the trucks--extending the life of the vehicle and reducing repair costs. A reduction in emissions is also an important plus.

Isuzu is planning a Fuel Economy Challenge in the U.S. next year.

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