Fleet Ops: Fuel Efficiency
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Truckers peer into their crystal balls

WINNIPEG -- Imagine a truck smart enough to tell you that up the road, about 500 feet, another vehicle is approaching the intersection, on your right, and not slowing down fast enough to come to a complete stop in time.

So, you take your foot off the accelerator, cruise up to the intersection a little slower and a few seconds later than you would have, and sure enough that vehicle you were warned about obliviously blows through their stop sign.

How far off in the future is technology like that, 10, 20, 30 years?

Implementation of these Intelligent Transportation Systems in the trucking industry may be years away, but that kind of technology has been developed.

That was just one of the insights discussed during the Future of Trucking Symposium in Winnipeg last week. The University of Manitoba Transport Institute hosted the event and brought together a number of speakers who provided a glimpse of what the future has in store for trucking.

As well as technology advancements, economic conditions and environmental concerns will play a big role in changing the landscape trucking operates in.

According to Antonio Benecchi, partner with Roland Berger Strategic Consultants, there will be five million more people in Canada by 2030. More people means more people using goods, which means more freight needs to be moved.

“Energy consumption is going up and will continue to grow,” says Benecchi. We’ll see more and stronger policies to reduce CO2 emissions. There is no expectation of further emission standards in the U.S. after EPA 2010. “The technology will be used to reduce fuel consumption and there are many ways to do this. Right now people are focused on the powertrain.”

Representatives from Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack, Navistar, PACCAR, and Volvo, all took a turn to speak during the symposium and the general consensus was that Benecchi was right, fuel efficiency would be a top priority.

OEMs in North America have spent billions of dollars in research and development to prepare for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emission standards and the engines they’ve developed will likely be around for years to come.

“We don’t foresee an engine platform change for many years,” says Steven de Sousa, manager of powertrain sales with Mack. “The platform we retired had been around for 30 years.”

“In the future there will be no great revolutions, just small changes that continue to evolve that make the process more efficient,” says Tim Tindall, director of sales with Detroit Diesel/Daimler Trucks. “Trucks will be around for a long time and powered by diesel engines for a long time.”

While there’s potential to burn different fuels – like natural gas, biodiesel, or one of seven combinations of fuel that Volvo has developed engines for – the primary focus in increasing fuel efficiency among engine makers seems to lie in hybrid technology.

The focus of hybrid technology has mainly been in the vocational market, but further developing hybrid engines for launch assist in the long-haul sector is expected to improve fuel economy by using smaller engines, reducing idling, utilizing electric power takeoffs, quieter engines, and essentially using less fuel.

As well as improving fuel efficiency in truck engines, further efficiencies are expected to be gained by continued advancements in operational technology.

Claudia Milicevic, senior director and general manager of TransCore Link Logistics, says advancements are continuing to be made in dispatch, operations and in-cab technology to better maximize productivity, which in turn will help improve fuel efficiency of a fleet’s trucks.

Truckstop electrification could also play a role in the future of trucking, and Alan Bates of Shorepower Technologies notes his company recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand their network to 50 locations across the States. And Canada is a good market for possible future expansion.

But as many presenters pointed out, there is no silver bullet. As Bill Van Amburg, senior vice-president of CALSTART, put it, “there needs to be a silver buckshot.”

Dr. Paul Larsen, director of the Transport Institute, summed it up by noting, “we need a melding of public policy and innovation to move things.”

Perhaps the biggest wildcard in how the future of trucking will look might not have anything to do with the physicality of trucks at all.

“More importantly, what is the future of our lives going to look like? What is this life going to look like for people? As we contemplate this future of trucking it behoves us to think about what lifestyles will be?” asks Don Streuber, president and CEO of Bison Transport.

“Our lifestyle changes and the number of trucks changes. We’ll look for ways to change the way everything is packaged because we want less waste,” he adds. “We have to be adaptable to what we haul. We don’t know what the future will be but our lifestyles will mandate it.”

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