October 2, 2017 4:00 PM, EDT

Diesel Inches Up 0.4¢ to $2.792 a Gallon

Fuel delivery in Maryland Peggy Smith/Transport Topics

The U.S. average retail price of diesel crept up 0.4 cent to $2.792 a gallon, and oil dropped below $50 a barrel over concerns production was rising.

Diesel now costs 40.3 cents more than it did a year ago when it was $2.389 a gallon, the Department of Energy said Oct. 2.

Prices for trucking’s main fuel climbed in all regions except the Gulf Coast, which posted 0.9-cent decrease.

The U.S. average price for regular gasoline dropped 1.8 cents to $2.565 a gallon. It costs 32 cents more than a year ago, DOE’s Energy Information Administration said.

Gas prices fell in all regions except the Midwest, where it rose 3.5 cents a gallon.

At the same time, despite the growing attention to automated heavy-duty trucks and electrification of commercial vehicles, diesel got a strong endorsement from famed investor Warren Buffett, whose company Berkshire Hathaway agreed to acquire 38.6% of truck stop chain Pilot Flying J.

“Trucks are going to be around for a very long time. Who knows when driverless trucks are going to come along and what level of penetration they have?” Buffett said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “There is nothing that we own that doesn’t have something in the future that might affect it.”

Buffett said at the time of the announcement that Pilot Flying J “has a smart growth strategy in place and we look forward to a partnership that supports the trucking industry for years to come.”

Buffett’s share in the company is set to become 80% in 2023.

Meanwhile, three truck drivers, who each drove in the recently completed three-week Run On Less fuel efficiency roadshow, said there are simple steps all drivers could apply to improve their truck’s fuel mileage, which often leads to bonuses and other forms of recognition within fleets.

For Thomas Revell, a driver for PepsiCo Inc’s Frito-Lay division, simply paying attention to fuel economy each day is the key.

“I realized there are ways for me to do it better,” he said, “and I just stuck with it.”

Revell watches his telematics device that shows actual mileage per gallon. “It just helps you be that much more aware, and see if you’re messing up a little bit, or are doing great,” he said. “If I can see what I’m doing, that’s the big thing.”

PepsiCo ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.

Also, conducting a thorough pre-trip inspection enhances fuel efficiency, another driver said.

"Start with inspecting tire pressure. Because if you have one bad tire, you’ll lose all your [better] mpg’s,” Mesilla Valley Transportation's Roberto Sandoval said. “You can see right away if it’s flat. Don’t just trust the monitor [in the cab]. Get out.”

MVT ranks No. 72 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

“Also, never go over 60 miles per hour,” Sandoval said. “You’ll still get there, and you’ll have better mpg’s.”

Hirschbach Motor Lines driver Bradley Long said managing the time spent idling is a key to improving fuel efficiency.

“Right off the bat, one way to improve fuel mileage would be not idling whenever possible," he said. "That makes a huge difference.”

Also, staying off the pedal is important. His truck was equipped with software that coached him on the pressure he applied to the accelerator pedal relative to the fuel used to get up to speed.

Hirschbach ranks No. 8 on TT’s sector list of refrigerated carriers.

Meanwhile, West Texas Intermediate crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at $49.98 on Oct. 4, compared with $51.56 on Sept. 28.

“It looks like our strong rally of the last couple of months seems to be catching its breath,” Gene McGillian, a market research manager at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn., told Bloomberg News.

At the same time, U.S. production rose.

The weekly U.S. rig count climbed to 940 during the week of Sept. 29, five rigs more than the week before and 418 more than a year earlier, oil field services company Baker Hughes Inc. reported.

Houston-based Baker Hughes ranks No. 15 on the private TT100.