what's new in: Wheels

Oct. 1, 2006
Not surprisingly, fuel prices and the impact of '07 emissions regulations are the two biggest concerns wheel manufacturers say they are hearing about

Not surprisingly, fuel prices and the impact of '07 emissions regulations are the two biggest concerns wheel manufacturers say they are hearing about from their OEM and fleet customers. And the message is ringing loud and clear.

Alcoa Wheel Products reports it has introduced several new and enhanced products in the past few years that can help motor carriers offset the additional costs of being compliant with the new federal regulations, while also dealing with the high price of diesel.

Victor H. Marquez, Alcoa's director of marketing for the Americas, says the company is addressing those two issues head on. “The 14-in.-wide wheel product we first introduced in 2002-2003 has been a smashing success for us. In fact that area of Alcoa's wheel business has doubled for the last three years straight.

With the wide-based wheel, customers can replace their duals either on the drive portion of the tractor and/or on the trailer with one single wheel-and-tire combination. This configuration gives them a tremendous weight savings potential — close to 1200 pounds for an entire truck-trailer combination,” which translates into improved fuel economy.

Marquez notes that fleets that have never considered aluminum wheels before are now becoming interested in them. He says fleets have reported between 3% and 7% fuel savings by switching to a 14-in. aluminum wheel-and-tire combination.

Alcoa has also experienced great success with its DuraBright wheel, a patented Alcoa process that Marquez says is engineered into the metal itself. The benefit to fleet operators is the elimination of ever having to polish the wheel again. And because it is not a coating, it will not crack, chip, peel or corrode.

“Since we introduced DuraBright wheels in 2003, the product line has grown over 500%,” Marquez points out. “At the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas last month we introduced an enhanced version — DuraBright wheels with XBR technology. The new wheel treatment is 53% more reflective and 74% clearer than the first generation of DuraBright wheels.”

Accuride Corp. also says it has seen a move by fleet operators toward lighter weight components partly due to high fuel costs but also in anticipation of the heavier trucks coming into the market to meet '07 emissions stipulations. It's estimated that with the new '07 emissions regulations, equipment added to the new trucks will increase their weight by about 110 lb.

A few years ago, Accuride introduced a lightweight steel wheel that weighs just 66 lb. According to Mike Blacker, manager of product marketing at Accuride, the product appeals to fleets that don't want to pay the premium price of an aluminum wheel, yet desire significant weight savings over a traditional steel wheel, which weighs about 76-78 lb.

“Another important trend has been the use of our DupleX-One, wide-base aluminum wheel,” Blacker states. “The 14-in. wheel replaces dual sets of wheels on the drive axle and trailer with a single one. When combined with wide-based tires, fleets save a considerable amount of weight on their tractor-trailers. There's also the potential for less rolling resistance as well with this combination, so fuel economy is improved.”

Blacker says Accuride is now expanding the DupleX-One family of wheels with a second 14-in. wheel product that will be available with a different off-size. It has also added two new steel wheels to the lineup. “We want to provide customers with products that cut across the whole market,” he notes. “We understand different fleets have different needs.”

One of those needs is for products that appeal to drivers' sense of aesthetics. For this group, Accuride offers AccuShield aluminum wheels. The finish on the wheels, Blacker explains, enables them to retain the highly polished look of brand new aluminum wheels just by cleaning them with soap and water, so another advantage of AccuShield wheels is that they are practically maintenance-free.

Earlier this year Hayes Lemmerz also expanded its line of commercial highway products to include custom-styled aluminum wheels manufactured using a proprietary casting process. CentruStyle wheels, the company explains, offers OE and fleet customers creative and distinctive styling with numerous design possibilities for brand and vehicle differentiation. CentruStyle wheels can be used on all 22.5×8.25-in. hub-piloted mountings.






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