DHL drives fuel efficiency with driver, vehicle tracking

Logistics giant in midst of trial that tracks driving habits to up fuel efficiency of its delivery vehicles in Singapore, reveal execs, who note an initial 5 percent improvement.

SINGAPORE--DHL Express Singapore has put its foot on the green accelerator, with a new pilot initiative to improve fuel efficiency by tracking the driving habits of its delivery staff.

The logistics company's Vehicle Energy Reduction Program (VERP) trial, which commenced in March this year, is DHL's first in the Asia-Pacific region and involves 16 of DHL's 158 delivery trucks. While the VERP is a way for DHL to measure consumed energy of its fleet, it is more than a vehicle tracking mechanism, said Christopher Ong, vice president for business development at DHL Asia-Pacific.

Speaking Friday at a media briefing, Ong explained that under the program, the diesel-powered vehicles are fitted with tracking devices that relays data relating to fuel usage and driving behavior to a hosted service known as GeoManager. The software analyzes driving behaviors, generates daily or weekly reports and provides fuel data trends.

According to the company, the first 16 weeks of the trial only involved data collection. One learning based on the data captured, noted Ong, was that many drivers left their vehicles idle for more than 3 minutes, which resulted in greater fuel consumption.

"When drivers drive very fast, they have harsh acceleration and braking which results in wasted energy. Looking at our vehicle charts, there is an optimal point where fuel efficiency drops and starts going down," Ong explained. "It is important that we educate our drivers on appropriate turning and driving."

From week 17, DHL introduced measures such as presenting weekly scorecards to the participating drivers and coaching them on fuel-efficient driving techniques.

In the subsequent nine weeks, the company recorded a 5 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, including 8 percent reduction in vehicle idle time of over 3 minutes and a 41 percent drop in speeding occurrences, Herbert Vongpusanachai, managing director of DHL Express Singapore added.

Vongpusanachai, however, declined to reveal the actual cost savings resulting from the changes in driving behavior.

Trial originated in Europe
While the pilot is the company's first in the region, DHL had carried out a similar trial in Europe in 2009, Ong said, noting that the European project had reaped 5 to 12 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. DHL, he added, is currently in the midst of rolling the program out to some countries within Europe.

Singapore had been chosen because of its controlled environment and availability of GPS (global positioning system) coverage to transmit information, said Ong. "We felt that Singapore is a very good lab. It is an urban location and if we run into issues, we can get technical support easily."

According to Ong, DHL did not invest "a whole lot" in the system and its expenditure amounted to less than S$20,000 (US$16,546). Both the tracking devices and customized system were provided by U.K.-based Trimble.

Ong acknowledged that vehicle tracking was not new in the logistics business, but pointed out that GeoManager had been "tailored to focus on carbon efficiency".

Whether VERP will be rolled out outside of Singapore to rest the Asia-Pacific region when the trial ends in December would depend on the trial results and whether there is sufficient evidence of fuel efficiency to present to the various DHL country managers, he said.

Going green starts with employees
At the sidelines of the press conference, Vongpusanachai told ZDNet Asia that employee engagement in DHL's carbon emission and fuel efficiency policies is an important element in its green efforts.

"You start by informing them, and empowering them with the information on how their actions contribute to carbon emissions and fuel inefficiency," he said. "Then, you enable them with the technology so they can lower emissions and improve fuel efficiency."

Vongpusanachai noted that as a businessman, he was not as concerned with devices or technology and instead more focused on returns. DHL, he observed, has been able to use the VERP information to empower its employees to act and change, and the benefit of the initiative is that employees better understood better what they were doing.