Eco-Drive: It's all in your right foot

Between June 2008 and June 2009, the lorry drivers of Migros Cooperative Basel saved 38'000 litres of fuel. We hitched a ride with one of them to find out how.

The path to paradise is forbiddingly  steep and narrow, and so is the access ramp to the Migros Paradies branch. It brings even Jürg Ochsner out in a sweat – and he has 30 years' experience handling lorries in cities and overland. This Migros branch with its enticing if misleading name is located in Allschwil (canton of Basel-Country); negotiating its access ramp demands the full attention of our seasoned driver. He has even, sometimes, had to parallel park his vehicle – an articulated lorry over 16 metres long – in the branch's extremely narrow underground car park. That's when driving starts feeling more like walking a tightrope. In manoeuvres of this sort, fuel economy doesn’t come into it. That’s not Jürg Ochsner’s way at all, because, ever since he took the Eco-Drive course, he has driven with an eye to fuel economy and the environment.

Driving with a light touch and looking ahead

Ochsner is carefully checking his on-board computer; it tells him the engine's revolutions per minute (RPM) and diesel consumption, and of course how fast he is driving: «It's all in your right foot. Go easy on the gas. And always look to see what’s further ahead,» he explains. Ochsner's articulated lorry is still fairly new and of the latest generation, commanding 360 HP and operating at its most efficient at 1,100 to 1,200 RPM. Cruising along the highway at a leisurely 80 km/h, this vehicle with its integrated air-conditioning unit averages a mere 28 to 29 litres per 100 km (about 3.5 km per litre). However, once it needs to unleash its full 360 HP to climb an incline with own weight of 18 tonnes along with tonnes of payload, the lorry starts burning as much as 50 to 60 litres (2 km or less per litre).

Today is just such a day: traffic is backed up on the Schönthal highway offramp, which, to make matters worse, runs uphill. «Same story every morning here,» says Ochsner, who takes this route every day. «It's lethal; stop, start, stop, start, – and the Eco-Driving technique is no help here. Luckily, though, this'll just take a few minutes.»

How to accelerate optimally, and at what moment looking ahead tells one to take one's foot off the accelerator, was part of the Migros drivers' curriculum in special Eco-Drive courses . And it is paying off, not only for the environment but also for Migros Cooperative Basel. This is because optimal driving lowered fuel consumption  from an average of 34 litres per 100 km (yielding 3.13 km/l up from 2.94 km/l), a total savings of 38'000 litres. An impressive achievement, meticulously logged by the head of transport, Thomas Meierhans, for all drivers and vehicles between June 2008 and June 2009.

A «green wave» of traffic lights makes for a big windfall in Eco-Drive accounting, and we happen to catch one all the way through town. This is saving us lots of «juice», unlike the guzzling involved in stopping and starting at traffic lights. And another stroke of positively heavenly luck is that today turns out to be one of those rare days when there is a guard on duty to open the access gate to Migros Paradies. «Whenever he's not in I have to climb off and open it manually,» Ochsner points out. That may sound like a minor inconvenience, but it is a drain on time and fuel and also poses a potential risk. This steep sloping terrain has the 16-metre vehicle sitting at an angle that raises its tail lights several metres above its front end. Any slippage at this point would create a problem: when optimally loaded this lorry holds 33 pallets of food stacked high in the back. «Yoghurt, for instance, has a life of its own. I have to secure it with crossbars and longitudinal bars,» Ochsner explains. «There is the occasional breakage but we do our best to keep them to a minimum. Mopping up yoghurt’s rather a chore, you know,» he adds, laughing.


Footnote fuel consumption
Migros Cooperative Basel consumes much more fuel than its nine fellow units. This is because the region it serves is mainly urban, so driving at constant speeds is often difficult. Fuel consumption across all Migros Cooperatives averaged below 30 litres per 100 km in 2008.