Life in the slow lane
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Zeta Automotive has developed a speed limiting device that could cut van operators’ fuel consumption by forcing drivers to ease off the gas. James Dallas reports
If Zeta Automotive’s fuel saving Econospeed device catches on, the days of high powered panel vans taking on all-comers in the fast lane of motorways could be numbered.
Developed in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, which brands it Excelarate, the device suppresses the speed of unladen vans and makes them drive as they would when lugging a 60% load.
Gordon Anderson, Zeta’s operations director, reckons Excelarate can squeeze 25% savings on fuel from a “hooligan driver” and trim a steady driver’s consumption by 7%.
Parcel Force, which has eight Sprinter vans fitted with Excelarate for six months, has reported fuel savings of 10%.
The device works by fitting between the throttle pedal and the engine ECU. It enables a vehicle’s road speed, RPM and acceleration to be limited to any customer defined criteria.
Anderson explains: “By electronically limiting a vehicle’s maximum rate of acceleration to simulate that of a fully laden vehicle and forcing earlier gear changes by limiting the RPM, together with limiting the top speed to suit the routes, we can mimic the behaviour of a careful, economical driver. “
He says the speed limiter can be fitted in under an hour and, because it does not “re-write” the vehicle’s ECU, it does not invalidate the warranty. He describes Econospeed as “fit and forget” because it requires no ongoing training to operate. For a lot of fleet managers, he says, that is the “holy grail”.
While he says vehicle tracking systems and driver training can be effective in cutting down fuel consumption, they suffer in comparison through being time consuming and management intensive.”
Although the driver is prevented from red lining the engine with Econospeed, when required – for example on a steep hill or when fully laden – full power is available.
Anderson reasons that if excess power is on tap, most drivers will use it. Econospeed, as he puts it, “stops them from ragging it”.
“Most vehicles use most fuel under acceleration, we can restrict it.”
Cutting fuel consumption also has a direct correlation with reducing emissions and feedback from Parcel Force also suggests Excelarate could lead to savings on tyre and clutch wear and tear.
To date 30 Sprinters fitted with Excelarate are in operation. As well as Parcel Force, Sainsbury’s and home shopping business Ocado are trialing vans and Cornish pasty company Ginsters has also taken on one model.
Anderson says the early adopters are treading cautiously, rigorously putting the device through its paces but he is confident it will take off in a big way.
“Parcel Force is putting a business case to its board to get up to 1800 vans with Excelarate,” he claims.
Anderson admits some of the first drivers to test the device thought it could be dangerous because it restricts acceleration. But he insists this is a misapprehension because it makes the van behave as if it is fully laden and in a fully laden van one does not try to speed out of junctions.
Mercedes says the system suits the brand because it does not overwrite data or modify diagnostic codes and so does not affect warranties.
While Mercedes enjoyed a six month exclusive deal to use Econospeed under its own brand name Excelarate, Zeta is now talking to other manufacturers, including Ford, which has arranged a demonstration of the system.
Anderson points out that most van drivers have received no training in driving economically and so Econospeed is effective in cutting out the traits that drive up fuel consumption.
Mercedes agrees: “You can do all the work on Euro5 for instance, but you get a heavy footed driver and he’ll only get 20mpg.”
While the brand’s Eco Start stop/start system works in cities, it is redundant on motorways, which is where Excelarate comes in.
With the device new to market, Anderson says Zeta is currently targeting larger fleets.
“They have the budgets to adopt new technology and are in the public eye for making fuel savings.”
He predicts multi-drop operations will benefit from the biggest savings and also expects interest from utility companies.
Econospeed costs £477.50 plus VAT, including fitting and a three year guarantee and will pay for itself within 10 months, says Anderson. Alternatively it can be taken on a lease payback of £18 a month per vehicle, meaning the operator owns the device after three years.
After the first 12 months, he claims the system will deliver savings of up to £600 a year per vehicle on 30,000 miles.