“Optimizing engine parameters is well worth the effort—it enhances fuel economy and saves fleets a lot of money. But the complexity of optimization is preventing many fleets from enjoying the benefits.”
Dave Schaller, North American Council for Freight Efficiency Program Manager
Trucking Efficiency has a high degree of confidence that optimizing engine parameters improves fuel economy and is well worth the effort. Depending on a fleet’s current operations, the payback can be rapid and significant. However, optimal fuel performance does not happen without a concentrated effort.
Fleets that are already managing their electronic engine parameters can see fuel economy gains of around 0.5 mpg from optimizing the parameters, but gains can be even higher if the fleet employs drivers with poor driving habits. Fleets that previously have not used parameters to optimize for fuel economy—often due to confusion surrounding terminology—can see fuel economy improvements in the 5-8% range. No testing was done, although fleets and engine manufacturers provided insights into the fuel economy benefits offered by optimizing parameters.
While engine parameters have been around since the advent of electronically-controlled diesel engines in the mid-1980s, not all fleets are using them to optimize their vehicles for fuel efficiency. Today there are more than 100 different parameters available for fleets to set, many of which can benefit fuel economy. In our study, we organized parameters into six categories: vehicle speed limits, vehicle configuration information, engine speed limits, idle reduction, driver rewards and miscellaneous MPG-related.
Fuel economy improvements in the 5-8% range are possible for fleets when they optimize all parameters for fuel economy. Meanwhile, improvements of 3-5% above the defaults may be available to fleets who simply set the parameters of their new trucks in a few key areas such as vehicle speed and idle reduction.
Since they are an integral part of the engine control software, engine parameters add no weight or cost.
Substantial effort is required to fully understand the many parameters available on today’s engines. In addition, new parameters to further improve fuel economy are being created on a regular basis.
Changing one parameter often means having to change other parameters. All parameters must be tailored based on the overall truck specification.
Each engine manufacturer uses its own terminology and/or brand names for its parameters. Parameters may even be called different things from one engine model to the next.
Procedures and tools for setting parameters vary widely by manufacturer and in some cases require intervention by the manufacturer. No single tool can be used to set parameters on all brands of engines.
There have been persistent issues with parameters being set incorrectly or incompletely at the factory, modification center or dealership, even after the fleet has chosen and communicated its parameter settings.
When a fleet wants to change parameters, someone has to physically connect to the truck to make the changes. Current telematics technology does not allow changes to be made remotely.
It can be difficult to get buy-in from drivers who may feel the fleet is trying to restrict the way they drive.
Maintaining records for different models of engines and vehicle specifications can require a lot of work. It may be difficult to keep track of all the changes to parameters especially in a mixed fleet.
Fleets of all sizes commonly use the accelerators vehicle speed, cruise control speed and idle shutdown parameters. Other parameters may be set depending on the goals of the fleets and their understanding of what those parameters can do for them.
The following are some of the best practices fleets are using with their electronic engine parameters:
Executives from nine large fleets, were interviewed to find out about their experience with engine parameters
Parameter settings varied considerably within each fleet given different drivetrain gear ratios, transmission types, idle-reduction systems and other operational features.
The fleets indicated there is confusion surrounding parameter terminology and feature availability between engine manufacturers because there is no standard language to describe parameters.
Seven of the fleets found that making desired changes to their settings was either difficult or extremely difficult.
When asked about the challenges related to mergers and acquisitions, there was general agreement that it was extremely difficult to get the newly-acquired vehicles programmed to match the rest of the fleet.
All nine fleets were positive in their desire to have a telematics system that could report on parameter settings and ideally be able to reprogram parameters remotely.
Michelin Fleet Forum
In conjunction with Michelin, the study team received feedback from 45 members of Michelin’s Fleet Forum about their opinions of engine parameters.
More than half the fleets responding to the survey said they have never been given assistance in optimizing engine parameters.
The majority of fleets said their parameters are set identically across their entire fleet.
A vast majority of these fleets indicated that they never make changes to the parameters once they are initially set.
Dealership Sales Staff
Sales personnel said they felt that fleets understood some of the more common parameters like accelerators, vehicle speed, cruise control speed and idle shutdown parameters, but were less well informed about others, especially those dealing with progressive shifting, engine speed and other settings.
When completing new vehicle orders, half the salespeople said they contact the customer to make sure they have the most recent parameter settings. Others said they simply use the parameter settings from the last truck order.
Salespeople who worked with fleets to optimize engine parameters for fuel economy saw fuel economy gains from 0.2 mpg to as much as 2.5 mpg. The higher mpg improvement resulted from a driver not being in the highest gear at highway speeds.
The study team developed several tools to help fleets in making their decision about electronic engine parameters.
The Manufacturer Parameter Name Comparison Chart shows the various names engine manufacturers use to describe key engine parameters.
The Engine Manufacturer Information Tool provides manufacturer contact information for fleets needing assistance with optimizing parameters.
The Confidence Matrix informs fleets of the study team’s confidence in the technology being studied versus the payback a fleet should expect to receive from the technology.