For 50 years, long haul tractor-trailer designs have remained fundamentally unchanged. Basically a giant box hurtling down the highway at 55 miles per hour, most trucks average only six miles to the gallon.

Their ubiquity in America is undeniable. Today the trucking industry transports about 70 percent of all the goods in the county, moving nearly $24 billion in value in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Owner-operators, at the mercy of fluctuations in fuel prices, have no choice but to pass on these costs to the consumer as higher prices at the retailer, the restaurant and the grocery store-or go out of business. (Approximately 2,500 independent operators folded in 2008.)

But the time is ripe for change. According to recent analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute the technology already exists to double the energy efficiency of long-haul trucks in the nation's fleet. Their size, speed and poor aerodynamics mean they are laden with "low-hanging fruit" in terms of cost-effective efficiency and retrofitting opportunities.

In conjunction with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, RMI will host an event in Chicago on Nov. 3 to drive the development and adoption of efficiency-enhancing, environmentally sound and cost-effective technologies, services and methodologies.

Conceived by an industry burned one too many times by "snake oil" pitches promoting easy (but ultimately ineffective) ways to keep fuel usage and operating costs down, the NACFE has several goals for developing a more profitable, safe and efficient trucking industry:

  • Define freight efficiency metrics in a way that is consistent with industry customers
  • Build and maintain an easy-to-access clearinghouse of information
  • Rate technologies or methods based on certified testing and results (according to context, and interoperability)
  • Develop new methods and gather new information as needed.
  • Evaluate and advise users on improvements about configurations and maintenance based on industry best practices
  • Educate drivers and fleets about conditions that affect efficiency
  • Predict efficiency gains for specific technology combinations


Arising out of a Transformational Trucking Charette that RMI held in Denver last April, the NACFE event will bring together freight industry stakeholders, truck OEMs, component suppliers, government experts and technology providers to establish a "brand" for trusted, industry-accepted information on trucking efficiency solutions.

Speakers include keynoters Patrick Davis, the U.S. Department of Energy's program manager of vehicle technologies; and Dimitri Kazarinoff, vice president and general manager of hybrid power systems at Eaton Corporation; and special guest Thomas Weakly, director of operations for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. (For more information, including details on how to register for NACFE's inaugural symposium, visit nacfe.org.)

Complex and regulated by a hodgepodge of national and federal laws, the trucking industry has been beset by misinformation. With many owner-operators sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a credible and profitable path to reduce their fuel consumption and become more environmentally sustainable, the NACFE will go a long way to driving effective change.

Rebecca Cole is the web content manager for Rocky Mountain Institute, she helps drive the direction, strategy and content for RMI's online presence.

Image by jorivando.