Gasoline plays an essential role in the lives of Americans, for better or worse. Most of us need it to get where we need to go, but we also use it to determine how the economy is doing. The price of oil by the barrel tells Americans a lot about the world situation. When the Straight of Hormuz fiasco was at its peak, the price of gas climbed to its highest rates of the summer. When the U.S. began exporting more oil than it ever had, the prices dropped. At the most basic level, the price of gas is something that affects everyone because we all use gas whether we’re driving, taking the bus, mowing the lawn or powering generators.
Perhaps even more importantly, the price of gas gets rolled into the price of every consumer product we buy, since we buy almost nothing locally. The average item of produce travelled 1,500 miles to land on your plate and as everyone knows, most of our manufactured products are made in different countries. So if you live in the Midwest, on average most manufactured items have travelled 1000 miles–and that’s the bare minimum. The pipeline for delivering these goods burns a lot of gas and all the gas that gets burned is rolled into how much cash you fork over to the clerk in the checkout aisle at Walmart.
While gas prices are evident in most facets of our economic lives, it’s especially clear on the road.
If you’ve done any road-tripping over the last year, you might have noticed some new additions on many semi truck trailers. Known as fins and trailer skirts, these aerodynamic wind deflectors attached to the sides and rear of a semi trailer can increase fuel efficiency. And while trailer skirts and fins are the most noticeable additions when charging down the highway at 70 mph, that’s not the only device truckers are using to reduce fuel costs as prices rise across the country.
Automatic tire inflation devices help maintain optimal tire balance for trucks in an effort to improve fuel efficiency. Truckers know to avoid quick increases in acceleration as this burns fuel faster. They know to decrease idle time. They know to keep their trucks in tip-top shape from the engine to the tires—everything—because, as factors in Iran and the Middle East contribute to destabilization in oil costs and the tough economy increases pressure, the trucking industry is doing everything it can to save money at the pump.
And how do those weird aerodynamic fins on the trailers concern you beyond acting as a distraction to those miles and miles of endless cornfields? Well, for one thing, your food prices change.
When the dry-cleaning shop across the street raises its prices, you go somewhere else. Maybe you drive a bit further, but you follow the deals. The problem with rising fuel costs is that no one can offer anything cheaper. Higher gas prices mean an industry-wide increase in transportation costs for semi trucks. That means your tomato from Mexico costs more. Good fleet management might mean the difference between your local tomato prices rising or falling. It might mean a lot more, too.
Despite the inclination to believe that your grocery stores and hardware stores and lumber stores generate products on the shelves as if trees shedding fruit, all that product—hundreds and hundreds of tons—travels across the country on semi trucks. So that aerodynamic fin might mean a difference in prices for the screws you need to fix the deck, the milk for biscuits and gravy, the lumber used to build that A-frame you want to purchase next year—everything. The goal here is to become aware of the situation. If it took you seeing that first trailer skirt to wonder how much gas prices have effected the trucking industry, you might want to do more research about fleet management to understand the economic ramifications of high fuel costs.
Fleet management is a great tool to help with that ever-challenging issue of rising-gas-prices. This fuel squeeze has led innovators to do more with less—to fashion cheap plastic sheets into money-saving heroes—and it’s a cool process to witness. But, in the coming years, we’ll be asked to do more. A decade ago, the current gas prices would have seemed impossible. But adjustments have been made to help deal with rising costs—fleet management one of them—and now the goal is to develop new innovations to deal with new pressures. What’s next?