Fuel expenses constitute a substantial portion of the total cost of operation for commercial vehicles. Quite simply, reducing fuel consumption increases profits. At the same time, fossil fuel consumption releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, which is believed to be causing global warming. So there’s no shortage of good reasons to look for improved efficiency.
Automobile and truck makers are acutely aware that persistently high oil prices and increased environmental awareness lead to changes in the demands of vehicle buyers. One response is hybrid technology, often combining in the same vehicle an internal combustion engine and a battery-driven electric motor that can be charged by the engine or by connecting to power mains. Hybrids are now well established for passenger cars and are beginning to make inroads among trucks. Electric vehicles are particularly suitable when there is a need for repeated starts and stops, making them an effective complement to diesel engines for distribution services.
Electronic fuel systems have also become more effective at injecting precisely the right amount of fuel into the cylinders at the right time, improving combustion efficiency. And during “engine braking”—using the energy-requiring compression phase of the engine to dissipate energy and slow down a vehicle—fuel injection is completely cut off, further reducing unnecessary fuel consumption.
But even with the many improvements in engine technology that manufacturers have introduced, there is a great deal still under the control of the driver. A new vehicle computer developed by 2MA Technology AB, based in the northern Swedish city of Härnösand, is designed to give drivers more tools that help hold down fuel consumption. The company calls it 2MA-5X, or simply the “Green Box”.
A GPS receiver measures the vehicle’s speed and lets the driver know when he or she is exceeding the legal speed limit. The box can, when desired, be connected to the vehicle’s service port to include engine control data in the calculations. All the data is uploaded to 2MA Technology’s servers via the mobile phone network for use in a variety of analysis tools.
The energy savings are significant. “We have conducted a large number of tests all over the country, with
both passenger cars and busses, and the results are excellent”, says Mathias Johansson, founder of 2MA Technology. “With the 2MA-5X, fuel consumption can be reduced by 15% to 25%.”
The economic value of the savings can be illustrated with a simple calculation based on a mid-sized transportation firm operating 20 lorries, each driven 15,000 kilometres per month and using an average of 0.4 litres of fuel per kilometre.
In Sweden, fuel currently retails for about SEK 9.10 ($1.21) per litre, for a total fleet fuel cost of SEK 13.1 million ($1.75 million) per year. Our example company would save between SEK 1.96 million ($261,200) and SEK 3.28 million ($437,000) each year.
At SEK 7,500 ($1,000) per unit, the cost of the Green Box is quickly amortised in commercial vehicles on the fuel savings alone, but there are other functions that give the product added value. It can find the location of stolen vehicles, and it collects and analyses tachograph data to produce a detailed driving journal at the push of a button.
The technology also offers important safety improvements. It encourages drivers to observe speed limits, reducing the risk of accidents, and in the event of a collision it can be programmed to send an alarm.
But the essential function of the 2MA-5X is to help drivers to utilise their vehicles more effectively and cut fuel costs. The real-time support provided by the system makes clear the relationship between speed and fuel consumption, allowing drivers to see precise data for different routes and compare their consumption with colleagues. Simply knowing that the system is in place encourages awareness of driving behaviour.
Now, after three years of development and testing, the system is available for installation. The first-phase production of 200 units is already virtually sold out. “Sweden is a natural first market for this product, because we have a comprehensive national highway database,” says Johansson. “But the global market is of course the target.”
Article published in June 2009