It might seem that the rising fuel costs would cripple a company with a massive fleet of trucks. United Parcel Service (UPS), however, remains profitable. It does so by:
- Using innovative solutions
- Relying on alternative fuel technologies to offset gas price fluctuations
- Modifying its delivery trucks as a way to increase fuel efficiency
Increasing fuel efficiency is a constant priority and challenge for UPS, a company that operates one of the largest private alternative-fuel fleets in the courier services industry—more than 1,900 vehicles. UPS uses a “rolling laboratory” philosophy to learn if these alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) can be adapted and used more widely throughout its fleet of more than 92,000 trucks. Over the years, the company has invested millions of dollars in its AFV fleet, which includes:
- Hybrid electric vehicles
- Compressed natural gas
- Liquefied natural gas
- Propane autogas
- All-electric vehicles
Eventually, UPS hopes to take the price of fossil fuels out of the equation.
Every UPS truck is equipped with GPS, allowing drivers to know the shortest routes to their destinations and, in turn, use less fuel to get there. Additionally, UPS eliminated all left turns from delivery routes, reducing vehicle idling time, and saving 30 million miles and 3 million gallons of fuel. It also incorporated wider, fuel-efficient tires that create less friction and allow for more miles per gallon.
Changing the Truck Body
The iconic brown trucks of UPS are getting a little greener, too. The company has begun testing delivery trucks built with a lighter composite material—one that reduces the truck’s weight by 1,000 pounds- and a new aerodynamic design. This decrease in weight allows for the use of smaller diesel engines and gives an improvement in fuel efficiency of about 40 percent. Using lighter materials for fuel efficiency is a less-risky tactic than the incorporation of hybrid and electric vehicles because it doesn’t require changes in the company’s fueling infrastructure.
Substituting Diesel on Long Hauls
On February 22, 2011, Matthew L. Wald posted “U.P.S. Finds a Substitute for Diesel: Natural Gas, at 260 Degrees Below Zero” on The Green Blog of The New York Times. Wald states, “Burdened by diesel prices that topped out at over $5 a gallon in 2008 and mindful of the sustained collapse of natural gas prices, trucking companies are expressing new interest in liquefied natural gas for their thirstiest trucks, the over-the-road 18-wheelers.”
UPS is adding 48 liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks to its fleet of tractor-trailers that travel from California to Nevada. The trucks will cut diesel use by 95%, only relying on it to start the trucks and lubricate engines when necessary. UPS would like to switch 1,000 of their 17,000 trucks to LNG as natural gas infrastructure improves and as truck production volume rises enough to bring down costs. As a result, UPS is working closely with the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program to construct an LNG fueling station in Las Vegas, scheduled for completion in 2011.
UPS is testing hybrid-electric vehicles in urban areas where there are predominantly stop-start routes. These vehicles promise a 35 percent improvement on fuel economy.
Cost vs. Reward
On April 1, 2011, Erica Werner posted “Obama showcases fuel-saving vehicles” in the Huffington Post. Werner states, “While saying a shift to fuel efficiency will result in long-term cost savings, the higher tech vehicles do cost companies more money up front.” According to UPS, a hybrid truck costs twice as much as a conventional one, but uses one-third of the gas.
UPS will continue to partner with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Division to test new technologies. Currently, the shipping giant has not committed to any one innovation. Instead, it plans to continue testing and using a variety of choices in order to place the right vehicle in the right market—where it provides the most cost savings.