Cutting down fuel bills is the holy grail for van operators and Ashwoods’ Lightfoot device offers fleets a step in the right direction, as James Dallas reports
Once operators have identified the vans they need to suit their requirements in terms of payload capacity and load space the most pressing concern is to ensure the fleet is run as economically efficiently as possible.
Most businesses would tell you the three biggest expenses involved in running a commercial vehicle are the driver’s wages, depreciation and fuel costs, with any savings to the last of these giving an instant boost to the bottom line. An added bonus is that if vans take less punishment from less aggressive driving maintenance costs are likely to go down as residual values increase.
Many larger fleets in particular are investing in telematics systems to record journey events and to encourage more frugal and efficient driving styles. However, some operators who just want to cut down on fuel bills do not require a telematics system with all its bells and whistles. Driver training is another option although this can be time consuming and expensive and there is a suspicion that the good habits drilled into the trainees do not always last very long.
Ashwoods Automotive, which is best known for installing its hybrid drivetrain into Ford Transits, believes it has come up with a simple and efficient solution for owner/drivers and fleets looking to slash their fuel consumption.
Lightfoot is an in-cab device that encourages a more fuel-efficient driving style through a mixture of visual prompts based on a traffic light sequence and audible gearshift alerts and warnings to improve driving style.
It costs £250, to install Lightfoot in a van with a subscription rate of £8 to £15 a month thereafter depending on the length of contract, which can run from 12 to 60 months. Ashwoods claims the system will deliver fuel savings of up to 15%.
Lightfoot operations manager John Poxon says: “Lightfoot is like having a driver training specialist sitting next to a driver every second they are on the road, encouraging them in real time to drive in the most efficient way possible, making sure they do not slip back into bad habits.”
Lightfoot sends an email report to the fleet manager every week or month summarising the performance of individual drivers within the fleet.
We got the chance to test Lightfoot with the system installed in a Vauxhall Corsavan.
We opted for an urban route taking about two hours covering the North and South Circular roads in London. To get an accurate idea of the fuel savings Lightfoot achieves we first drove the route without the device activated and then repeated it with the system live.
Basically the aim is to keep within the green band for as much of the journey as possible. Encroaching into amber initiates an audible warning to “improve driving style”. If Lightfoot detects no improvement it then issues a second audible slap on the wrist before shifting into red and handing out a penalty, which is logged on the driver’s record as a violation.
Ashwoods claims the system is supportive rather than heavy handed as only long-term inefficient behaviour incurs penalties.
“Warnings received by the driver are not reported,” Poxon says, “it is only the third strike penalties that are relayed to the fleet manager. This provides positive support as Lightfoot works with the driver to improve their driving style and gives them every chance to ensure their reports show them in the best possible light.”
During the “blind trial” we managed a respectable 75% in the green – better than the average of just over 60%, according to Poxon, perhaps because we were not rushing between drop-offs like a lot of delivery drivers feel pressured into doing.
We spent 18% of the journey time in amber and 7% in red, accruing 25 violations.
With Lightfoot turned on our time in the green band rose to 90% while periods in amber and red fell to 9% and just 1% respectively. Meanwhile the number of violations Lightfoot doled out to us dwindled to three.
Overall Ashwoods calculated Lightfoot increased our mpg performance by more than 7%. It can be irritating when the device barks admonishments at you, or pings to tell you to change up a gear when insufficient revs are reached but it is undeniable that Lightfoot has the potential to dramatically reduce a fleet’s fuel spend.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.