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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management

Green Trucking Has to Pay For Itself - Wal-Mart Reports

Truck strategies to cut costs by 25% - Wal-Mart demonstrates greener fleet management

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trailer truck with auxiliary power unit Wal-Mart’s fleet regularly ranks among the top 10 private fleets in corporate America, alongside company-owned lines such as Pepsi, Tyson Foods and Sysco Corp. Its trucks will drive about 900 million miles this year shipping and redistributing goods to about 4,000 U.S. stores.

Chief Executive Lee Scott laid out ambitious environmental goals in late 2005 and is compiling a major report on how far it has come with the program overall, including reducing waste, using more renewable energy and stocking more green products.

But the fleet division says it is already well under way to meet its goals. Wal-Mart’s fleet of about 7,200 semitractor-trailer trucks is already about 15 percent more fuel efficient and the company knows what changes it needs to make to meet a target of 25 percent by late next year.

The 15 percent gain has come mainly from three changes:
  • A fuel additive mix,
  • More fuel-efficient tires
  • Small diesel generators called Alternate Power Units added to tractors to provide power for things like heating and air conditioning in the cab, allowing the big truck engine to be turned off rather than idling when the truck is parked.

As the retailer continues to look for fuel gains in components, driving practices, tires, fuel and other areas, the total effect could be a savings of 28 or 30 percent from the 2005 base by the time the entire fleet is updated.

Yatsko says the biggest piece of the solution will come from future hybrid diesel-electric engines. Wal-Mart is pitching in $2 million a year for research and development by two teams of national truck manufactures — International Truck with ArvinMeritor Inc. and Peterbilt with Eaton — and has agreed to buy the prototypes.

New hybrid engines will deliver about a 50 percent efficiency increase on top of the 25 percent set for next year, Yatsko said.

Wal-Mart is also working with Great Dane on prototype trailers that would cut fuel use with the help of aerodynamic designs, including adding a cover or skirting down the sides at the bottom of the truck and crimping the back end of the trailer so that the sides and top turn in. The effect of that back end design could add 5-6 percent to fuel efficiency by cutting wind drag.

The annual savings in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, would be equal to taking 67,744 cars off the road.

Industry experts and environmentalists say Wal-Mart is ahead of other trucking operations. The Sierra Club, an ally of Wal-Mart’s union-backed critics, says the retailer’s demand for vehicles could prompt truck makers to bring more efficient models to market faster.

Great Dane Trailers, which is developing a more aerodynamic trailer for Wal-Mart, says the retailer is more involved than any other carrier in developing fuel efficient trucks, says Charles Fetz, vice president of research and development at Great Dane.

Company-owned truck lines have more incentive to save fuel because they cannot easily impose a surcharge on customers for higher diesel prices, as many for-hire carriers do. Wal-Mart needs to keep fuel costs capped to avoid raising prices on its shelves.

Wal-Mart’s Yatsko said the fleet is already running about 15 percent more efficiently at an average of about 7 miles per gallon compared to a 2005 base of about 6 mpg.

Cutting the average mpg by one gallon saves Wal-Mart between $35 million and $50 million a year, according to a Wal-Mart spokesperson.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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