For the average motorist who owns one car, being able to go further on each litre of fuel may mean savings of some money each month. But if you have a fleet of 100 vehicles which travel long distances every day, reducing fuel consumption can make a significant impact on operating costs. Companies like UPS, the world’s biggest package delivery company, have thousands of vehicles and it’s a certainty that in these times of ever-increasing fuel costs, their fleet managers are looking for ways to spend less on fuel – especially when the vehicles clock a total distance of over 4.8 billion kms a year worldwide.
The extent to which they are willing to reduce fuel consumption can be seen by the R&D project to develop a lightweight delivery truck which can be 40% more fuel-efficient than the current diesel-powered models in the fleet. The company already has a ‘green fleet’ of almost 2,000 vehicles globally but these are hybrids or electrically-powered, and are not cheap to acquire. For this new project, UPS is looking at conventional diesel fuel for its trucks.

It is now testing five prototype vehicles developed in collaboration with Utilimaster and Isuzu in a program which will run till the end of 2011. During this period, the vehicles will be driven in the different conditions in various American cities to see if they can withstand the demands of daily UPS operations.

Each truck, designated CV-23, has an Isuzu 4-cylinder diesel engine producing 150 bhp and is mated to a 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission. While the engine capacity is smaller and 50 bhp less powerful than those in present UPS trucks, enabling a reduction in consumption, what is expected to make an even more significant contribution to reducing consumption will be the much lower weight of the vehicle.
The CV-23 is about 455 kgs lighter than a normal UPS truck and while its cargo space is 10% less, the major weight-saving factor is the use of body panels made of composite materials rather than steel and aluminium. Because the vehicle is significantly lighter, it is possible to use a smaller engine which is also lighter.
The design team approached the vehicle design holistically, examining how one change affected others. For example, switching all of the vehicle’s lights – except the headlamps – to more efficient LEDs further cut demands on the engine.

The plastic body panels also offer maintenance savings; rather than coating them with a layer of brown paint, the composite material is coloured all the way through. This saves the weight of paint which, on a UPS truck – which can total 45 kgs or more – and minor scratches won’t be so apparent, making it less necessary to repaint or repair the bodywork. For damage that is greater, the panels are easy to replace without having to go to a service centre.

Thus, besides reducing fuel costs, overall maintenance costs can also be lowered and the vehicle does not have to spend time in a service centre being repaired – that time being a waste as it should be out making deliveries and making money.
The environmental footprint in manufacturing is lower as well. "Composite materials use less energy to produce than aluminium," said Mike Britt, Director of Vehicle Engineering at UPS, adding that the elimination of body paints removes a particularly toxic waste stream from the factory process.
UPS won’t reveal how much such a vehicle will cost but says that the up-front costs of such a lightweight redesign ‘are very affordable’. If the project shows that the vehicles can cope with the tough operating conditions, UPS may use the design concept for perhaps a third of its vehicles over time. It’s likely to play a leading role in higher-mileage urban and suburban routes, where its efficiency will deliver the biggest returns. By one calculation, the company could save as much as 318 million litres of fuel annually but that would be based on the entire global fleet being redesigned.
"It may not be the most exciting technology that you read about," said Dale Spencer, Director of Automotive Engineering at UPS, "but for a traditional vehicle, we found a big opportunity to give us a big difference for a conventional fleet, without changing our existing fuel infrastructure."
While the CV-23’s upgrades all use available-today technology to deliver green benefits as soon as possible, they also fit well with alternative fuel technologies that UPS is developing. "In the future, you’ll see multiple platforms on multiple fuel sources in our fleet," said Mr. Britt. In the long race to save energy, the company has cultivated a test fleet that has done well over 160 million kilometres.

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