Driving down fuel costs with EconoSpeed Connect
Cutting fuel consumption is the Holy Grail of the transport industry, not only helping save pounds, but saving the environment too. Everyone in the sector is striving for it and there are many companies out there promising to help achieve the goal. One that certainly will help is Zeta Automotive, which is launching EconoSpeed Connect, a device that should prove a worthwhile tool in not only reducing fuel bills, but also ensuring a smooth and safe ride for passengers too. Chris Peat visited the business’ Bicester headquarters to find out more about this intelligent acceleration and speed limiting system.
Zeta’s new MD is John Lawrence. Despite being new to the company, John is by no means a stranger to commercial vehicle technology, having joined from a well known telematics firm.
Joining Zeta Automotive means John is now effectively an Arriva employee. The company was acquired by Arriva, the Deutsche Bahn owned transport giant, at the end of 2013 and this backing was one of the factors that attracted John to the role. Showing its confidence in the business, Arriva has already commenced roll out of EconoSpeed across its Milton Keynes fleet.
Arriva’s investment in Zeta has allowed it to develop its EconoSpeed product to the next level. The new EconoSpeed Connect device not only monitors and manages acceleration and speed, it also provides fuel data reporting to the back office.
Unlike other systems on the market that are intended to encourage drivers to save fuel (many of which simply monitor driving behaviour), Zeta’s EconoSpeed Connect actually limits acceleration for optimum engine performance. By limiting the acceleration through simulating a half or fully laden vehicle, the device removes the ability of the driver to waste fuel with excessive use of the throttle. It is a more proactive device, physically restricting unsafe and wasteful acceleration. The company gives the figure of between 6% to 8% fuel savings on regular commercial fleets when EconoSpeed is used, but there have been recorded instances of 15%.
Not only does it create fuel savings, other benefits include improved passenger comfort, with less jerking and harsh pulling away associated with a heavy right foot. It also means a safer drive and with less fuel being used, less CO2 and other harmful emissions are given off.
It works automatically, adjusting acceleration for optimum engine performance. The level of allowed acceleration is dependant on the weight being carried and the gradient being climbed. For instance, if going uphill or with full capacity, more power is allowed than if on flat ground. Helping lower fuel consumption and improve the ride for
passengers, the system should also help reduce engine wear and tear. Another advantage listed by Zeta on its marketing material is that no driver training is required.
EconoSpeed Connect is fitted between the accelerator pedal and the Engine Control Unit (ECU), with custom made harnesses provided for bus and coach applications. The device constantly monitors the acceleration demand from the driver and the throttle pedal, as well as monitoring the engine and road speed via the CAN bus. It only ‘listens’ to the CAN, allowing it to gather the information without interfering with other systems on the vehicle. Although the same hardware is fitted on a bus or a coach as it would be to a car or refuse truck, the company will calibrate the device to the particular vehicle make and model. The rate of acceleration being limited can be set by the fleet manager or whoever else is given authority over this.
The ‘Connect’ part of EconoSpeed Connect relates to the remote connectivity it provides. Data from the device can be delivered wirelessly to back office computers for analysis and monitoring.
On the road
I was given a demonstration of EconoSpeed Connect by Alan Cox, Chief Technology Officer. He had the system fitted to a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, a common minibus conversion base, which he drove around Bicester to show me it working on an actual vehicle in real conditions. With the device switched on, he demonstrated how the van smoothly tackled junctions, roads and roundabouts. A tablet displaying a graph representing the signal from the pedal, the signal to the vehicle and the CAN pedal percentage was on the dashboard during the demonstration. Whenever Alan pushed hard on the throttle, the signal from the pedal rose dramatically, yet the signal to the vehicle remained low in relation. The rate at which the wheels were moving also stayed down despite the driver’s demand on the accelerator, leading to a smoother and more efficient drive.
To demonstrate its intelligent adjustment abilities, Alan drove a way out of Bicester and into some countryside where he found some steeper ground. He drove uphill from a standing start and EconoSpeed, sensing the wheels were not turning so fast on the incline, allowed more power through to enable a more comfortable climb. The vehicle did not struggle at any point. Once over the rise and on the way down, the power was again limited to ensure no over acceleration. Alan was keen to get across that it does not completely hobble the engine’s power, saying, ‘If you need full power, you’ll get full power.’
After being shown EconoSpeed in action, Alan then demonstrated what it was like with it switched off. Making approximately the same demands on the throttle as he had done previously with the system on, the difference in the drive was dramatic. Although his manoeuvres were all safe, it was clear more power was being put into the engine, increasing fuel consumption and leading to a less comfortable ride for passengers.
On the way back to Zeta’s headquarters, Alan explained that EconoSpeed is based on basic mathematical principles. If the wheels start to slow despite the same acceleration being processed, then it will work out the amount of extra power needed for the vehicle to run at an optimum level.
I asked Alan about how drivers have reacted to EconoSpeed being installed. He said, ‘There was a feeling amongst some of them that they would loose some of their engine power taken off them. The power is still there when it’s needed. Drivers that have had the system installed on their vehicle since day one do not know any different anyway’
Later on, John commented on drivers’ reactions to EconoSpeed, saying, ‘Communication is important with this, you need to help drivers become familiar with the changes and what it’s for.’
On the subject of whether there are any geographic areas the system is more suited to, Alan said, ‘EconoSpeed is probably at its absolute best in more rural areas’. He explained that, early on in its development, it had been trialled on supermarket delivery vans in Birmingham and Coventry. With more traffic in the former city and less stretches of open road, it was found there were more savings recorded in Coventry than Birmingham.
Fitting EconoSpeed Connect takes under an hour, according to the company’s marketing material. Alan said that once they have been shown how, a depot’s technicians should be able to install it without any problem. Zeta Automotive is capable of managing the roll out of this technology to any size fleet across the UK, with John giving the example of Arriva. The payback period depends on the size and type of the operation, but was estimated to be between six to 12 months.
One of the more unexpected vehicles EconoSpeed has been fitted to is a hearse. Alan said over-accelerating in these vehicles may not be a problem during funerals, obviously, but it can be when they are on their way back to the parlour.
Alan said the product was originally aimed at the white van market. However, it soon became clear that it was probably just as, if not even more, applicable to the PCV sector. He said that the turn over in white van drivers is high and there is a plentiful supply of them; after all, often the only thing required to do the job is a Category B licence. So if a driver turns out to be abusing the accelerator, they can be sacked and replaced relatively easily, whereas, in bus and coach operations, he finds that when an operator takes on a driver it can mean a lot more training to acquire the necessary licence, and with that considerable investment. With a greater reluctance to fire bus drivers and replacements harder to come by, there is more emphasis on trying to improve any deficiencies or train them to be better.
EconoSpeed Connect is not all Zeta Automotive works on. The business is involved with creating various technologies, often working in partnership with OEMs. For example, for the waste management sector it has developed a reverse gear speed limiting device covering health and safety concerns for this application. It has developed a system that automatically stops the engine after a predetermined period of time. Another product is ‘Key Out’, which enables an engine to keep running with the key out of the ignition. This is beneficial for vehicles with a number of applications that require power even when the vehicle is parked.
However, when it comes to the bus and coach industry, EconoSpeed Connect is its main product. This sector is an area John is keen for the company to grow further into. He says it already has the skills, experience and know how needed to roll it our further into the area, having already done so with Arriva. John said, ‘We have worked closely with operations teams to set up the system. We have the expertise to conduct field trials for operators.’
Being assembled in the UK means Zeta can ensure it keeps control over the quality of its products.
The company is keen to hear what other applications and facilities potential customers would like to see built into EconoSpeed Connect. One possible future development is the incorporation of GPS into the system. John said, ‘We are asking people, “What would you like to see happen to EconoSpeed?” Feedback is key.’
With EconoSpeed now on its way to market, Zeta is preparing to promote it even further, making people even more aware of what it can do for them. Its representatives are now looking for ways it can get the word out, showcasing the device to the industry at trade shows and expos. Not only is it growing interest in its product, it will also be expanding its workforce, ‘recruiting bright people’ to enhance its technical and service delivery operations. John said, ‘We will continue to have a development road map. It’s a really exciting time.’
Spearheading the team behind this proposed growth and development into the bus and coach market, John is highly enthusiastic about the prospects for the company and its products. He said, ‘Since I’ve been here, I’ve found the team to be highly motivated, proud to be part of Zeta and proud to be a part of Arriva. I get a real buzz out of doing something that is actually helping people save fuel.’