Top U.S. truck fleets pave way to fuel efficiency

Editor’s Note: Run on Less is 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 2 here and part 3 here.

Since the Paris Climate Agreement was ratified in 2016, governments, business and civil society have expanded their commitments to energy transition, acknowledging that efficiency and sustainability are critical to the global economy. This surge of enthusiasm to solve our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions issue is encouraging, yet people often forget that the U.S. trucking industry has been broadly committed to efficiency for some time.

Gone are the days of black smoke belching out of the exhaust stacks of heavy-duty trucks. In fact, since 2002 heavy trucks have reduced their particulate and NOx emissions substantially. It takes about 80 trucks today to emit the same levels of these pollutants as one truck built in 2000. And in 2016, trucking fleets boosted fuel economy for the eighth year in a row.

This is thanks to both innovation and leadership. With the help of technologies such as exhaust gas recirculation, selected catalytic reduction and diesel particulate filters, diesel exhaust filters not only are trucks cleaner, but after taking a hit in fuel efficiency in the early days of EPA-regulated emissions, truck miles per gallon (MPG) metrics also continue to improve. 

And while a typical truck fleet gets less than 6 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, bold fleets not only get better miles per gallon but do so while maintaining profitability. At $2.50 per gallon diesel, each 1 percent of fuel savings helps truckers save about $400 per truck each year. That really adds up.

These incremental improvements are paving the way to a more profitable, secure trucking industry. However, this path has not been without its challenges. One of the biggest issues fleets face when selecting and purchasing efficiency technologies is a lack of confidence in their results, and limited data on the specific application to their own fleets.

Information transparency about the benefits and challenges of myriad technologies is limited, and unfortunately not all fleets are in a position to test the technologies themselves. The industry still needs real-world data and information to be able to make informed decisions when it comes to investments that impact the future of their business.

We’re seeing progress in this area. More and more, fleets are willing to share data, and GHG emissions regulations help the industry to work around common goals. At Trucking Efficiency, an initiative of Carbon War Room and the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, we believe there’s still a huge opportunity for real-world demonstrations of just how far we can go to improve MPG – it’s never been done before at a large scale. That’s why, as an initiative dedicated to profitable efficiency and reduced GHG emissions, we conceived Run on Less — a first-of-its-kind cross-country roadshow to showcase advancements in fuel efficiency.

Launching in September, the goal is to prove that achieving fuel efficiency of 9 miles per gallon is possible in a variety of terrains, weather and loads.  

Seven fleets have stepped up to take part in Run on Less. Albert Transport, PepsiCo’s Frito Lay division, Hirschbach, Messila Valley Transportation, Nussbaum Transportation Ploger Transportation and US Xpress are on board to show the world how their investments in technology have paid off in fuel economy improvements.

Even with fuel prices down from their high of $4 a gallon just a few years ago, these fleets are seeing significant cost savings as fuel is one of their biggest expenses representing 25 percent of their vehicle-based costs. In other words, a truck traveling 100,000 a year getting 6.3 mpg and paying $2.50 per gallon gas spends $40,000 per year on fuel. At 1.7 million trucks on the road, that is $68 billion in fuel costs for the industry as a whole.

These fleets represent a cross section of sizes and haul a variety of loads from light to heavy and include a private fleet as well as a mix of for-hire carriers. Altogether they operate nearly 11,000 tractors and 26,000 trailers with the largest operating 7,000 trucks and the smallest being an owner-operator with one truck.

The wide subscription for this event shows that despite questions around whether the GHG Phase 2 emissions regulations will transpire, and how the U.S. Paris Agreement withdrawal will impact the sustainability initiatives of American businesses, North American fleets across the board have an appetite for progress. After all, freight efficiency drastically helps the bottom line. It’s a win-win for business and the environment.

Each fleet is equipping its trucks with a combination of technologies it has chosen and uses in day-to-day operations. The only caveat is that all the technologies must be commercially available. Technologies will range from powertrain management and automated transmissions to aerodynamics, low-rolling resistance tires, idle reduction devices and other technologies that assist with improved freight efficiency. The goal is to prove that there is more than one way to operate efficiency. There is no one size fits all when it comes to a fleet reducing its fuel consumption.

Fleets also will select their own drivers and likely will choose ones who have proven through their driving habits that they are committed to contributing to the overall fuel efficiency of the fleet. It is estimated that the driver can have as much as a 30 percent influence on fuel economy.

Devices that measure fuel usage, idle time, time in cruise and more will be installed on each truck. Fuel economy and freight efficiency as well as dollars and carbon saved will be tracked and reported throughout the run at runonless.com.

For many of these fleets, saving fuel is just one piece in their larger commitment to reduce their impact on the environment and to reducing their carbon footprint.

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