Today's Trucking
opinions Rolf Lockwood

Target: Fuel Economy

Posted: November 2, 2016 by Rolf Lockwood

Amidst all the talk of progressively wilder technologies, there’s one fundamental subject that comes first: fuel economy and how to maximize it.

So let’s start this newsletter with an interesting report on that challenge published a week or so ago by ATRI, otherwise known as the American Transportation Research Institute (a branch of the American Trucking Associations). Named The Survey of Fuel Economy and Fuel Usage by Heavy-Duty Truck Fleets, it was based on a survey of truck operators done by UMTRI, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. ExxonMobil was the chief sponsor.

Some 96 fleet managers were asked to offer their views on trends in fuel-saving technologies as well as alternative fuels. Collectively, they operate more than 114,500 tractors and 350,000 trailers.

Aluminum wheels, speed limiters, and low-rolling-resistance tires were the most common fuel-saving components used on tractors, while trailers were most likely to be equipped with those same wheels and tires plus other weight-saving options.

The study contained no surprises as far as I can see but it did illuminate an important reality of the trucking business: namely, what works for one fleet doing one kind of hauling won’t necessarily work for another outfit doing something different.

That’s a pretty fair example of stating the obvious but you’d do well to remember it next time you’re listening to somebody claim their gizmology will save you 10% on your fuel bill. Maybe it works that well on the prairies, for example, but how about the hilly bits of Quebec?

That’s still painfully obvious, but the point is that these days more than ever, with so many fuel-saving promises smacking you in the face, you need to put a critical-thinking cap on your noggin before you make potentially expensive spec’ing decisions. Accept nothing at face value. Ask questions. And then ask some more.

THE ATRI/UMTRI STUDY offers a perfect example of this truth. In one graphic you’ll see a summary of the fuel-saving technologies that offered the best return on their investment, according to fleet respondents.

In order, they are: aerodynamic treatments (18.8%); idle-reduction technologies or strategies (15.6%); and automated manual or automatic transmissions (13.5%).

But hold on. Perversely, other fleet managers also reported the worst return on investment came with those same aerodynamic treatments (28.1%) as well as low-rolling-resistance tires (12.5%) and idle-reduction technologies and strategies (11.5%).

This dichotomy highlights how fleet-specific the application of these technologies can be, says the report. 

PERHAPS SADLY, ONLY ABOUT 3% of respondents reported that driver training and incentives were effective fuel-savers. I say ‘sadly’ because it’s generally agreed that smart driving can cut the biggest chunk out of almost fleet’s fuel bill. I’m a bit surprised by this one.

Fleet managers, the ATRI report says, feel that the U.S. EPA heavy-duty emissions regulations will lead to higher or significantly higher new truck purchase costs (100% of them feel this way) and that these regulations will bring higher or significantly higher truck operating costs (96.9%). 

Here’s a good one to end this tale: exhaust aftertreatment (31.3%) was identified as the technology or policy that fleet managers would most like to see removed from heavy-duty trucks.

Gosh, what a shocker.

SPEAKING OF THE EPA AND ALL THAT, there’s beginning to be talk about another pre-buy in advance of the next emissions mandate that launches in 2019.

A new report says the industry will likely see a pre-emission boom in class 8 truck sales in 2019 and 2020, before a sharp drop into 2021. Others say this time around it will be different. I’m quoting here from my colleagues at Heavy Duty Trucking magazine via its website, truckinginfo.com.

The pre-buy is predicted in the new North American On-Highway Commercial Vehicle Engine Outlook report by Americas Commercial Transportation (ACT) Research and Rhein Associates.

“New and revised engine introductions over the next few years, together with emission impacts, will lead to changes in demand,” said Tom Rhein, president of Rhein Associates.

Total North American class 8 truck production peaked in 2015, ACT noted, and it’s predicting lower demand in 2016 and 2017 followed by recovery leading up to that pre-buy.

NOT EVERYONE IS CONVINCED that we’ll see the same type of pre-buy that we did ahead of the 2007 emissions regulations, which was driven by uncertainty about selective catalytic reduction technology. At the recent American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas, Martin Daum, head of Daimler Trucks North America, said the new Phase 2 greenhouse gas fuel/economy regulations offer manufacturers more flexibility to achieve the required targets, as well as a longer lead time for developing technologies that will be reliable.

“It’s not that you have to do something tomorrow. so you have time to really study, plan, test, push. Long term planning gets rewarded. And it gives us certainty, with clear targets between now and 2030 for each vehicle and engine category.”

DAUM SAID THIS SHOULD HELP AVOID the disruptive pre-buy cycles that plagued the emissions regulations of the 2000s, noting that we’re still seeing the “aftershocks” from a huge oscillation after the 2006 pre-buy.

Similarly, when asked about the likelihood of a pre-buy at an ATA press conference, Volvo Trucks North America chief Goran Nyberg explained that “2021 is also about a matter of credits and when that technology will be brought to market, so it’s not a firm date that we have to meet.”

In fact, at least one OE rep has speculated that truck buyers could be holding off buying trucks waiting for the more fuel-efficient versions that will be coming out to meet the new regulations.

Steve Gilligan, vice president, product marketing at Navistar International, told HDT recently, “We’re … really in unprecedented territory regarding emissions levels. There was anxiety and strong pre-buys before previous introductions of new emissions technology, in 2002, in 2007 and in 2010. We think what we see here is that people are pretty comfortable with emissions technology, and everybody’s telling customers there’s going to be a fuel economy improvement this time.

“So we may see another kind of purchasing habit, where customers will wait until new models come out to get the improved fuel economy,” he continued. “They are delaying some purchases. Carriers are making money and they can purchase at any point in time they choose to. We are seeing them holding back for now, and we think they will come back to get the new, more fuel-efficient models.”

NOW BACK TO GERMANY and the IAA show in Hannover this past September. I’ve been unable to fit this story in before now, but I think it’s interesting, not least because I’ve been talking here about fuel economy and little else…

It was hard to find this rig on the show grounds, but Daimler and German trailer-maker Krone showed off a single-drive-axle Mercedes-Benz Actros along with a three-axle ‘curtain side’ trailer that, the two firms say, delivers a fuel saving up to a 20% compared to the equivalent 2014 combination.

They put this thing together last year as part of a demonstration called the “Efficiency Run” in which five fleet customers tested the fuel efficiency of the combination and verified the results. It was an effort to prove that an integrated approach to tractor and trailer mating can pay dividends.

Krone’s Profi Liner Efficiency is an aerodynamically enhanced trailer fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires, a folding ‘tail’, and side skirts that cover the entire length of the trailer yet are easily removed.

Daimler and Krone laid out the various contributions that added up to the 20% efficiency gain: the trailer is good for over 5%, the tractor up to 6%, the Daimler Predictive Powertrain Control up to 5%, and the low-rolling-resistance tires from 2 to 4%. The cost can be amortized in about 18 months, says Daimler.

The trailer was a prototype at the time of the inaugural Efficiency Run in 2015 but has been further developed since then “particularly with regard to everyday practicality.” That involved reviewing handling, noise emission, robustness, loading options, and access. Following another field trial, the trailer is now in production and is on the market.

During the three months of testing, five identical combinations covered more than 150,000 km on German roads. They transported car engines, steel, paper, lumber products, and building materials over short and long distances.

According to the drivers on the run, the new trailer proved its worth in day-to-day operation. Loading is possible from all sides and from the top and it was reported that using a forklift to load from the side works as smoothly as with a conventional trailer, despite the side panels. No damage to the side panels was noticed during the testing.

The manufacturers also said the structural system for the side panels was “singled out for high praise.” It comprises five individual elements that can be removed easily by hand at the height of the trailer axles, essential when a wheel needs to be changed.

THIS NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED every two weeks. For the most part it’s a heads-up notice about what’s going on with trucking technology. I also write here about interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months, and maybe about issues that warrant attention in my occasionally humble opinion.

I should remind you that, with the odd exception, I don’t endorse any of the products I write about in this e-newsletter, nor do I have the resources to test them except on rare occasions. What you’re getting is reasonably well educated opinion based on more than 37 years in trucking.

If you have comments of whatever sort about The Lockwood Report, or maybe you’ve tried a gizmo I should know about, please contact me at rolf@newcom.ca

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