With Class 7 and 8 trucks accounting for the largest proportion (around 75%) of the heavy duty sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fuel consumption, the need to improve freight efficiency has never been greater; neither has the challenge facing fleet managers. As fuel economy and GHG targets tighten – with voluntary and mandatory targets effective in the US from MY 2014 and MY 2017 respectively – fleet managers face a plethora of solutions, each of which alone appears to make perfect sense. But add up the cost of all the solutions in a fleet manager’s inbox, and a US$170,000 tractor and trailer quickly doubles in price.
Automotive World‘s Commercial Vehicle Megatrends USA 2012 event, held recently in Dearborn, brought together leading freight industry players focused on powertrain, aerodynamics, rolling resistance, fleet management and safety in an effort to identify ways to improve freight efficiency.
Add up the cost of all the solutions in a fleet manager’s inbox, and a US$170,000 tractor and trailer quickly doubles in price.
Clearly, there’s still much that can be done to improve the performance and efficiency of conventional engine technology; those backing alternative powertrains, however, gave equally convincing arguments in favour of hybridisation and natural gas. Yet, despite ongoing discoveries of natural gas reserves in the US, infrastructure and commercial viability remain an issue; and the speed at which hybridisation is adopted is relative to a fuel price of US$4/gallon or more. Flat fuel prices could slow adoption, was the general feeling.
53% of a truck’s power is used to overcome aerodynamic resistance. A host of solutions exists, including relatively simple add-on devices like gap seals, side skirts, fairings and boattails, but it’s a shame no-one has yet found a way to use all that moving air.
Tyres play a key role too; 32% of that same truck’s useable energy goes into overcoming rolling resistance. Should fleets use new generation wide base single (NGWBS) tyres? Seemingly essential, there are pros and cons (including some stability issues), and fleet operator CR England, for example, has decided against NGWBS to focus on low-rolling resistance (LRR) tyres which, it was agreed, can only be of benefit.
Truck design has for decades been evolutionary, not revolutionary. Missing is a solution akin to the aviation industry’s wing tip – a single, simple technology which delivers massive aerodynamic and efficiency improvements. Yet despite the work that goes into refining tractor aerodynamics, OEMs cannot influence the aerodynamics of the loads hauled. Wasted effort? No – as with LRR tyres, aerodynamic improvements, which become effective above 35mph, can only help.
To date, fleets simply had to accept what OEMs offered. Now, however, dialogue between fleets and OEMs is increasing, and the voice of the driver – for whom the cab is a place of work – is becoming increasingly important. At Automotive World‘s Commercial Vehicle Megatrends India 2012, a major concern was driver retention. Yet it’s far from exclusive to India; in Dearborn, there was talk of 100% driver turnover. So what can be done to reduce that percentage? Again, the list is long, but invariably involves driver wellbeing in a job with one of the worst health records of any industry.
53% of a truck’s power is used to overcome aerodynamic resistance.
Last year, the EPA’s Margo Oge told Automotive World conference delegates that fuel costs to the tune of US$50bn could be saved over the life of trucks built in the years 2014-2018, with typical semi-truck operators standing to recoup investments in advanced technologies within a year, and further saving worth US$73,000 over an average truck’s lifetime. Attractive that may be, but before investing in technology, there’s low-hanging fruit to be picked: fuels and lubricants are ripe and ready, offering almost instant savings.
And what about safety, the issue keeping fleet operators awake at night? NHTSA’s ESC proposals are likely to lead to mandatory fitment, but a host of (non-mandatory) technologies at varying costs could make life easier and safer for fleets, drivers and other road users.
These are just some of the questions facing fleet managers on a daily basis; and once they’ve cleared their daily email inbox, the day’s work – managing a fleet – can really begin…
Martin Kahl, Editor, Automotive World
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