There's $24 billion worth of potential in North America's truck fleet

Run on Less, Trucks, Freight Efficiency, Fuel Efficiency
North American Council for Freight Efficiency

Editor’s Note: Run on Less was a first-of-its-kind cross-country roadshow to showcase advancements in fuel efficiency, organized by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and Carbon War Room. Read part 1part 2 and part 3.

Over the course of 99 truck days — 17 actual days — seven trucks and seven drivers clearly demonstrated that it is possible to get at least 10 miles from a gallon of diesel fuel in a Class 8 Heavy Duty Tractor. If the 1.7 million trucks on North American highways today achieved the same level of efficiency as the trucks in the Run on Less initiative, they would save 9.7 billion gallons of diesel fuel — about $24.3 billion based on today's fuel costs — alongside 98 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

All of the drivers averaged 10.1 mpg during the roadshow. The participants were: Henry Albert in a Freightliner Cascadia driving for Albert Transport; Brad Long in an International ProStar driving for Hirschbach; Tommy Revell in a Volvo VNM driving for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay Division; Roberto Sandoval driving an International LT for Mesilla Valley Transportation; Joel Morrow driving a Volvo VNM for Ploger Transportation; Clark Reed driving a Freightliner Cascadia for Nussbaum; and Mark Risien driving a Freightliner Cascadia for US Xpress. The trucks used unique combinations of data-gathering technologies and retrofits meant to improve their efficiency.

During the press conference to present the results, Mike O’Connell, senior director of supply chain for PepsiCo, an event sponsor, said, "When the idea for Run on Less first came about, we knew we needed to be part of the experience. Through the road show we have demonstrated best practices in attaining better miles per gallon, providing a platform to encourage widespread adoption of fuel efficiency."

Annie Peter, fleet sector marketing manager for Shell Lubricants, another sponsor, added: "Throughout the event Shell has received inquiries as to why an energy company would sponsor an initiative such as  Run on Less. We at Shell are committed to raising awareness about the energy challenge that is facing us today. We felt Run on Less was a great way to demonstrate that commitment and raise awareness about the energy challenges within the transport space."

The seven participating trucks delivered real freight on real routes across the United States, and some of them had to contend with the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The average gross combination weight over the course of the run was 55,527 pounds. For 31 of the 99 days, that average was up to 65,000 pounds.

Compared against the national average of 6.4 MPG, these seven trucks saved 2,877 gallons of fuel and $7,193 over the three-week period.

One of the most impressive one-day totals, given the challenging conditions, was when one participating truck encountered a 3,270-feet elevation gain with a 72,960 GCW load, while experiencing a 2.7-MPG headwind. It still achieved 9.7 MPG. 

Even the lowest daily MPG recorded for a single truck, at 7.1, was better than the national average. The average of all the lowest days was 8.8 MPG, which was close to the 9 MPG goal that the Run on Less organizers — the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and Carbon War Room — hoped for during the planning stage.

One of the most interesting findings is that while the trucks had some similar specifications, they also each had some differences. Broadly speaking, similarities included the use of low-rolling resistance tires, extensive aerodynamic technology on both the tractor and the trailer, automated transmission and idle reduction technology.

But the specs varied in some significant ways including engines, engine ratings, engine parameters, axle configurations and axle ratios.

Another key factor in achieving consistently high MPG results is the drivers themselves. Industry estimates suggest that drivers can have as much as a 30 percent impact on fuel efficiency, based on how they handle the vehicle. The seven participating drivers were all high MPG fanatics who engage in driving practices that ensure they get the most out of a gallon of fuel.

So what are the takeaways from the first Run on Less roadshow?

Fleets of all sizes should be encouraged that it's possible to find a combination of fuel-saving technologies that work best for them based on their duty cycle, geography, etc. They can use the specs of the Run on Less trucks — late model tractors with commercially available technologies on them — as a starting point of what has been proven to work and can make modifications from there.

Truck manufacturers and components suppliers must continue developing and modifying products that push the MPG envelope farther. Enough fleet operators have demonstrated that even with today’s lower fuel prices, they are willing to make the necessary investments to achieve more miles to the gallon.

While 10.1 MPG may seem like a good number, it was the average of all seven trucks over the course of the run. On any given day there were trucks that performed beyond 10.1 MPG. In fact, the highest daily MPG was 12.8 and three trucks achieved daily MPGs over 12.5.

High miles per gallon is possible with trucks on the road today operating in the real world, delivering real freight and dealing with the effects of weather, terrain and congestion. There is no reason for the national average to stay at 6.4 MPG. And there is no reason to think that 12 MPG or more is out of reach.

Technology being used as part of EPA’s SuperTruck II initiative — the federal government's innovation program intended to help develop and demonstrate cost-effective technologies for doubling the freight efficiency of Class 8 trucks (aka 18-wheelers) — eventually will find its way into real world use, as did technology from SuperTruck I.

In the meantime, manufacturers and suppliers must keep improving their products, fleets must continue to spec fuel efficient technologies on their trucks, drivers should drive in a fuel-efficient manner, shippers need to seek out fuel efficient fleets to haul their goods, and other industry stakeholders need to share unbiased information and best practices.

As Peter pointed out, "Transport accounts for one-quarter of the world’s energy use and one-fifth of the global energy related to carbon dioxide emissions. This means that the transport sector has a fundamental role to play in helping global efforts to reduce emissions."

We’re thrilled to see major fleets such as PepsiCo and Shell take this into account. In fact, during the Run on Less finale press conference, O’Connell shared that PepsiCo has a goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions across the value chain by 20 percent by 2030. Annie Peter said Shell will continue to seek ways to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.

If the trucking industry commits to using less fuel and reducing its carbon footprint, who knows how high that MPG number could go? Of course, it will be critical for government, the NGO community, energy suppliers, manufacturers, fleet owners, businesses and associations of all types to continue to work together.

If seven trucks and seven drivers can get to 10.1 MPG, think of what the industry can achieve through a collective effort.