Diesel fuel today is 40% below 2014 prices, but the trucking industry hasn’t answered nagging fuel economy questions. Can we reduce transportation costs by making trucks more fuel efficient? Better fuel economy would soften the blow of rising fuel prices, but how do we get there from here?
NACFE study follows 14 fleets
Freight companies can improve fuel efficiency, according to a study by the North American Council for Fuel Efficiency. The first NACFE study, completed in 2011, followed 8 fleets and studied their attempts to get more out of their gas tanks. Six additional fleets have joined the annual study.
NACFE studies 68 fuel economy strategies
The study looks at 68 different fuel efficiency technologies and how the participating fleets use them. Each technology is currently available. Among the current results, fleets in the study reported an average fuel economy of 7 mpg, compared to the average fleet fuel economy of 6.1 mpg for all fleets. The .9 mpg average gain represents about $9,000 in savings per truck each year.
Fuel is largest cost-per-mile item
Even with the downward trend of fuel prices, the 2015 cost of fuel per mile is the largest single cost associated with each truck. As such, fuel economy provides the biggest target for reducing operating costs. According to the NACFE, if all fleets employed at least some fuel saving technologies, the industry could reduce annual fuel costs by $15B.
Late adopters still see fuel economy benefits
Study results show that fleets that joined the study later enjoy the same (or better) increases in fuel economy that the original study fleets do. More aggressive adoption of fuel-saving technologies can help late adopters gain the same fuel efficiency benefits.
Study fleets use a combination of technologies
No fleet in the study added all 68 fuel saving technologies. (Some technologies will not work with each other.) NACFE predicts that a maximum of 65% of all fuel-saving technologies could be combined in a single tractor-trailer. Currently, adoption rates for the 68 study technologies range from 30%-54% among the 14 participating fleets. Overall, the combined fleets represent about 4% of all Class 8 trucks in North America.
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Study groups technologies into 7 categories
NACFE grouped the 68 technologies under study into 7 broad categories. They include tractor aerodynamics; trailer aerodynamics; powertrains; tires and wheels; idle reduction; chassis; and operational practices. By looking at the results from the seven categories, truck aerodynamics and operational practices enjoyed the highest adoption rates. Technologies that addressed the chassis and trailer aerodynamics were among the solutions with the slowest adoption rates.
Some study trucks can achieve 9 mpg
Fleet data shows that some individual trucks reached a fuel efficiency of nearly 9 mpg. Most fleets in the study have a fuel economy of between 7.5 mpg and 8.5 mpg.
I average around 9 miles per gallon on my 2016 Freightliner Cascadia, if I have a trip with a light load I can get 10.5 miles per gallon on that trip, with a very heavy load might get 8.5 mpg, but around 9 on average.
Routes, seasons and road conditions played a role in overall fuel economy. In addition, changes to federal emissions regulations also affect fleet fuel economy over time. Fleet averages also changed when fleets added new trucks or retired older ones.
Most frequently adopted fuel economy technologies
The most adopted technologies included fuel operated air heaters; changing engine parameters; using light-colored paint on the tractor (to reflect heat and reduce the need for air conditioning); driver training and incentives; and updated air conditioning systems.
ECTs and AMTs are popular adoptions
Data also show that fleet operators may readily adopt electronically controlled transmissions for new vehicles, and automated manual transmissions. The move to ECTs and AMTs may meet two needs. Besides offering better fuel economy, drivers show an overwhelming preference for these transmissions. Having ECTs and AMTs in the fleet may also help with driver retention.
In a future post, we’ll look at other fuel-saving technologies and how they can contribute to improved fuel efficiency.
Photo Credit: TruckPR, via Flickr.com