Spend Management in the Home — Easing Off the Accelerator

Those who are close to me know that I've always had somewhat of an eclectic taste in German cars (e.g., old Mercedes diesels with 200,000+ miles on them, souped up 318tis, etc). But all of this changed when our second kid was born and we splurged on the new Honda Odyssey minivan (our first new car ever, in fact). The version we opted for has engine management technology that shuts down 3 cylinders when you're cruising about and only lightly tapping on the accelerator. It's a feature that I barely knew existed until last week, but man it works. As I was driving to a client in the Chicago suburbs last week, I decided to check on the economy from the last tank of gas -- mostly urban driving with my wife behind the wheel. Translation -- all right foot. The trip computer was ugly -- 16.5 MPG. I thought to myself how atrocious that was in the context of $4.50 per gallon gas in my neighborhood. So I thought I'd see just how much economy I could wring out of the family chariot after filling it up. I was shocked.

After spending over $50 on half a tank, I pulled out of the gas station with the determination of a nursing home patient running into the pharmacy for his Viagra refill (well, maybe not that determined). But I did ease off the accelerator and try to keep the "eco" gauge lit up on the dashboard -- the signal the engine management technology had kicked in. And my, did it work! Upon reaching the highway, I noticed my economy had already climbed to 22.5 MPG. And after 10 miles on it, it had exceeded 25 MPG. Even factoring in a bit of urban driving, I averaged 27.2 MPG on the trip home. Now, a few caveats. I drove 50-55 MPH on the highway (25-30 MPH under my regular speed). And when I wasn't on the highway, I was even toasted by a moped at a traffic light. In other words, I really did drive like a geriatric patient. But was it worth it? Do the math. With this type of economy, I'm saving roughly $30-40 bucks per tank of gas.

There are, of course, significant corporate Spend Management implications for what I learned in this little experiment (which I plan to continue, whenever I'm not in a rush). First, companies with significant fleets -- either trucks or company cars -- should teach driving efficiency techniques. For example, this might include lessons and examples on proper acceleration, not to mention slowing down on the highway. In addition, all companies in the transportation industries should insist that their employees ease back on the accelerator pedal (or the throttle). Just as the major US airlines are flying 5-20 MPH slower in the current environment because of jet fuel costs -- and saving millions per year as a result -- so should logistics and transportation providers as well, insisting that their professionals slow down to save fuel.

I've got one last suggestion as well -- next time a logistics provider slams an additional fuel surcharge onto their invoice, ask them what specific cost management plans for fuel they've put into place such as reducing air, rail or freight cruising speeds. If they haven't, that's grounds for finding another provider (or an immediate negotiation of surcharges and regular tariffs). If they have put in place such a program, then ask why you, the customer, are paying surcharges based on the entire amount of the fuel price when it should be a fraction of the increase because of the savings programs.

- Jason Busch

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