Today's Trucking
news Fuel/Emissions

Medium-duty delivery trucks? Meet $4-a-gallon diesel

Posted: October 30, 2014 by Peter Carter


ATLANTA, GA – Time was, fuel efficiency simply didn’t matter much to fleets that mostly ran around town.

Stopping and starting -whether you were delivering flowers, Pepsi or magazines – always drank a lot of fuel. Many smaller operators didn’t even bother to track miles per gallons or liters per 100 km.

Not no more.

Medium-duty delivery trucks? Meet $4-a-gallon diesel.

One fleet with tons of experience in this field is UPS. You would be hard pressed to find a company more enthusiastically pursuing efficiency than Big Brown. After all, this is a company that has determined that its no-left turns policy across North America has saved almost 40 million liters of gasoline and diesel over the last 10 years.

Running more than 3,000 vehicles of all sizes -34 percent of them are propane powered, UPS Canada operates what it calls a “rolling laboratory.”

UPS is constantly monitoring its fleet to find new ways of using alternative fuel/advanced technology to learn about how new technologies and advancements can be adapted. One result: At last count, Big Brown was running more than 3,150 alternative-fuel and advanced technology vehicles in nine different countries.

Today’s Trucking asked UPS to distill its fuel-saving philosophy into three bite-sized ideas:

  • Plan your route and track performance. When planning any trip, consider the best way to get to the locations without backtracking. UPS has created a proprietary system of telematics that combines information about the behavioral with mechanical variables that affect fuel efficiency. UPS matches routes to vehicles that get better mileage at the speeds the route requires. Routes are also designed to have the minimum number of stops and starts and still be on time. UPS also uses package-flow technologies designed to load the vans more effectively, again minimizing the time it takes a driver to find the right package and be ready to deliver it quickly. In effect, fuel efficiency starts even before the engine is turned on. This translates into fewer miles traveled, which conserves fuel and reduces emissions.
  • Avoid left turns. For decades, UPS route planners have designed routes based on a loop of predominantly right-hand turns. Avoiding left turns conserves fuel and reduces emissions because it reduces the amount of time spent idling waiting to turn left. It is also a lot safer. (UPS actually encourages employees and other road users to avoid lefts, too.).
  • Use the vehicle with the best mileage. Through UPS’s own modal shifting, UPS tries to match the vehicle to the needs of the routes.

And it’s that last one-choosing the right truck-that is the jumping-in point for medium-duty truck manufacturers. Like Big Brown, they’re all racing each other toward more fuel-efficient and application-specific technologies.

When it comes to fuel-efficiencies, one of the advantages medium-duty trucks have over their larger brethren is that they don’t go too far from home. And neither do they have to go very fast.

What that means is, the medium-duty field is often a fertile ground for hybrid technologies or new fuels. Trucks that come back to base every night can more easily adopt alt fuels that face infrastructure barriers such as LNG or propane. Down the road, fleets will be looking at electric trucks that will need overnight recharging.

In the meantime, one example of how a medium-duty builder is embracing fuel efficiency is Hino’s new 195h, a diesel-electric hybrid. They’re calling this cabover a “Canadian” spec. It combines a 5.1-liter, 210-hp., turbo-charged diesel with a battery-powered electric traction motor that helps the diesel along during acceleration. The diesel also shuts down when the truck is stopped.

Hino says its new diesel-electric hybrid-system power-control unit is the world’s first hybrid-control system that continuously communicates with the ECU to evaluate driving and road conditions, and thus optimizing fuel economy and preference.

And right there in front of the driver sits a little green eco- lamp that tells the operator when he’s running as efficiently as possible.

Going grille-to-grille with Hino is Isuzu, which has launched a similarly fuel-miserly NPR ECO-MAX. The 12,000-lb. GVWR low-cab-forward is powered by Isuzu’s 150-hp, 282 lbs-ft torque 4JJ1-TC diesel.

Isuzu asserts that the ECO-MAX achieves up to 20-percent better fuel economy than its predecessor.

The OEM also claims that their new N-Series truck spec’d with the 4HK1-TC engines will attain eight-percent better fuel economy than previous generation models.

Another way to improve fuel economy is with a bigger payload. As Navistar’s Elissa Maurer points out, “a truck is more profitable the more cargo it carries, which is why spec’ing a truck to reduce vehicle weight in order to maximize payload capacity can optimize fuel economy.”

Mitsubishi-Fuso’s new Canter FE130 model boosts gross vehicle weight rating and body/payload capacity by 700 lbs over the previous FE125 model.

The higher capacity is the OEM’s response to customers who said they liked the fact that last year, Mitsubishi-Fuso increased the FE125’s wheelbase but now wanted more payload.

Says Mitsubishi-Fuso President and CEO Todd Bloom, “Engineers looked at the chassis and determined that no changes were needed to approve the higher GVW and payload. So they approved a higher rating and named it FE130, for its 13,200-pound rating.”

“That 700 additional pounds,” Bloom said, “means two more zero-turn landscaper mowers or 700 lbs more mulch. Or 560 loaves of bread.”

Bloom said that in spite of an improving economy, “businesses are still struggling today, and greater productivity and fuel economy of their trucks gives them an efficiency edge.”

Mitsubishi’s big American-born cousin Freightliner (both companies are owned by Daimler) flies high the fuel-efficiency flag on its new M2 106 medium-duty trucks. One option is Allison’s new FuelSense technology that comes packed with a Cummins ISB6.7, a 220 hp 600 lb-ft torque power plant.

“When packaged together, our new options result in a smart business solution that contributes to fuel efficiency, as well as driver satisfaction,” Mary Aufdemberg, director of product marketing for Freightliner Trucks said when the truck was introduced at the NTEA conference in Indianapolis in March.

“FuelSense is a package of transmission programming that automatically adapts to engine duty cycles and specific working conditions, significantly enhancing overall vehicle fuel efficiency. Freightliner has packaged this powertrain combination with additional fuel economy enhancing options like low friction axle lube, an optimized drive axle ratio, and Michelin SmartWay tires designed for pickup and delivery applications.”

Another take on hybrids comes from the Peterbilt labs in Denton, TX. The medium-duty model 330, for example, is available as an electric hybrid with the Eaton Hybrid Electric System. This system features a hybrid drive unit, which includes a 340-volt motor/generator, an Eaton UltraShift transmission and an automatic linear clutch actuator. When the diesel engine is combined with the hybrid drive unit, the power is boosted to 320 hp and a torque limited 860 lb-ft of torque.

Peterbilt’s stable of medium duty is broad, ranging from the low-cab-forward models 210 to 348 and they’re all powered by Paccar’s PX-7 or PX-9 diesels. One of the ways efficiency is maintained is via the engine’s Electronic Control Module, which delivers optimum performance by carefully controlling air, fuel and aftertreatments so your technicians don’t have to do unnecessary work and your trucks can burn fuel only when they’re earning.

A common-rail fuel system also means more precise fuel-delivery and decreased consumption.

The PX-7 is available in Peterbilt’s entire medium duty product line including Models 330, 325, and Models 210 / 220, which are ideal for pickup and delivery, towing, refrigerated van, roll-off and landscaping applications.
Likewise, PACCAR’s other offspring, Kenworth, is constantly tweaking its popular T270 and T370 marques. One Kenworth devotee, Kevin Barbour, Senior Vice President of Operations of a 1-800-PACK-RAT moving service (which recently opened its first Canadian franchise in Toronto), runs 114 T370s.

He calls the new iteration of the T370 a “game changer.”

The Kenworth T370s are powered by PACCAR’s PX-7 engines rated at 280 hp and matched to an Allison automatic five-speed transmission.

“The trucks have been ultra-reliable and we’ve been getting up to two mpg better fuel economy with the T370s versus our old trucks. When you consider we drive about 60,000 miles per unit annually, going from six miles per gallon to eight means an extra $10,000 a year in fuel savings per unit.”

When it comes to saving fuel, automatic transmissions figure large. Navistar is offering its TerraStar with an Allison Optimized 1000 Series transmission that has an optional sixth speed.

With the addition of the 6th speed, the close ratio, fully-automatic transmission offers lower engine noise, smoother optimized performance and better fuel economy.

Navistar’s Maurer says Navistar designers and engineers keep fuel economy in their crosshairs, regardless of which application a truck is being used for.

“Looking forward, technologies that address downspeeding, acceleration management and idle-time management along with the electrification of such things as AC compressors and steering pumps will likely increase vehicle efficiency and drive improvements in medium-duty fuel economy.”

All the manufacturers say that the key to fuel economy is application-specific truck buying.

Says Maurer: “Improvements in medium-duty fuel economy can be achieved by selecting the right engine, transmission and tires to best support the vehicle’s unique application. Spec’ing a vehicle with the right components can help customers maximize fuel economy in medium applications where lower mileage accumulation extends the payback period of fuel efficient technologies more commonly used in heavy-duty applications.

Another consideration is rolling resistance. The energy generated by this friction does not contribute to the actual movement of the vehicle, so by reducing rolling resistance, you can increase overall fuel economy.

And finally, Maurer adds, there’s the bane of the P&D world, engines running when the truck’s not moving: “When a truck is stopped and idling, it is achieving zero miles per gallon.”


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