What's new in: Wheels

14-in. wheels have really taken off with fleets looking to control costs and improve fuel efficiency by replacing dual tire and wheel assemblies on their tractor-trailer fleets with wide-base singles

Since first introduced a few years ago, 14-in. wheels have really taken off with fleets looking to control costs and improve fuel efficiency by replacing dual tire and wheel assemblies on their tractor-trailer fleets with wide-base singles.

Alcoa Wheels says it's been very successful with its 14-in. aluminum wheels. A fleet that outfits a truck with its wide-base wheels in place of duals can save 318 lbs. per axle, the manufacturer reports, or a total savings of up to 1,272 lbs. for a whole rig. Alcoa aluminum wheels weigh just 71 lbs. and are load-rated up to 12,800 lbs. They also feature a one-piece forged design for maximum strength, and since the wheels run cool, brakes last longer, too, Alcoa reports.

Other maintenance benefits of Alcoa's 14-in. wide-base wheels include less labor time and costs because technicians need only mount four wheels versus eight. In addition, tire inflation and inspection is quicker without an inner wheel to worry about. The all-aluminum wheels resist corrosion and require no painting. They are available with Aloca's Dura-Bright finish as well.

“Our wheels can be easily cleaned with just soap and water when spec'd with the Dura-Bright patented surface treatment that eliminates the need for polishing,” says Sharon Levine, marketing communications associate for Alcoa. According to Levine, Alcoa wheels are also environmentally friendly since they are a sustainable product. Nearly 70% of the aluminum produced to make Alcoa products is still in use, equaling 529 million out of 761 million tons manufactured since 1886.

Levine notes that Alcoa introduced two new products this year. The M-Series (medium-duty) forged aluminum wheel is designed for the Sprinter 3500 chassis and was showcased at the Mid-America Trucking Show in the spring. It weighs 16.9 lbs., a reduction of about 12 lbs. compared to a steel wheel with an identical load rating of 2,337 lbs. The second product unveiled this year for the aftermarket was a forged aluminum wheel with a “retro” look that incorporates styling from the late 1940s with innovations from today's technology.

Accuride Corp. also launched two new products this year. The most recent, introduced in October, was a new product line of small-diameter forged aluminum wheels. The wheels are available in four sizes and are geared for smaller trailer applications. As opposed to a cast design, the company says forged aluminum wheels provide greater strength and eliminate porosity, which can lead to cracks or corrosion.

The wheel manufacturer also introduced a third version of its Accu-Lite steel wheel earlier this year. The new 10 hand-hole Accu-Lite steel wheel weighs 4 lbs. less than Accuride's standard two hand-hole steel wheels. “It's made out of a high-strength, low-alloy steel that allows us to take the weight out,” says Bob Flynn, director of product management for Accuride's wheel group. “At just 66 lbs., in fact, it's the industry low for a steel wheel.”

According to Flynn, Accuride has seen a growing interest in lightweight wheels by fleets in this challenging economy. “Taking weight out of the wheels, as well as other areas of a tractor-trailer combination, can really help truck operators improve their fuel economy. That's been a key driver for us over the past year as diesel fuel prices reached the stratosphere and only just recently started to go down. We anticipate the trend toward lightweight wheels to continue going forward.”

Greater acceptance of wide-base wheels by fleet customers is another area related to the improvement of fuel economy that Flynn says his company has seen this year. Accuride's Duplex branded line of 14-in.-dia. wheels is available either in steel or aluminum versions. “Our ability to offer fleets a wide-based wheel solution in either steel or aluminum is one of the things that gives us an advantage in the marketplace,” Flynn states.

“The trend in wide-based wheels is toward aluminum,” he adds, “which together with wide-based tires, have the potential of saving 900 lbs. on a tractor-trailer. But for fleets with particularly heavy-duty applications, aluminum doesn't work well. That's why we offer steel Duplex wheels as well, which stand up to abuse a little better.”





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