Photo: Imageegami/Dreamstime
Semi Truck Weigh Station Imageegami Dreamstime

How lightweighting improves truck efficiency

March 3, 2021
With electric trucks weighing significantly more than their diesel counterparts, the trucking industry has to figure out how to lighten the load.

“The benefits of lightweighting are centered on payload — to carry more freight, or to offset the weight of other features added to the tractor and trailer,” said Andrew Halonen, president Mayflower Consulting LLC, and one of NACFE’s subject matter experts.

Halonen, a long-time advocate of lightweighting, was the study team leader on NACFE’s recent update to our Confidence Report on lightweighting.

One interesting point from the team’s research is that current lightweighting activities are largely aligned with those of the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck program and mainly are focused on the cab, chassis components, and the frame. I think too often people believe that government projects are like science projects with no practical applicability. This report showed alignment between the science and the market. And truck OEMs are releasing and producing these features as we found the weight of tractors has decreased since our prior report. That is a good thing because we need these theoretical ideas to work in the real world.

When we first conducted the study five years ago, aluminum frame rails were showing some promise. That is no longer they case, and that product is no longer available. However, lightweight frame cross members are becoming popular with even more new developments on the horizon.

One area where there has been a lot of progress is with wheels. Manufacturers of both steel and aluminum wheels have reduced wheel weight by 5 lbs. We think that is a significant development.

We also found that there are several new products in development that are focused on reducing vehicle weight. This includes a film to replace paint, new frame processing and composite cab structures.  The industry is working hard to come up with a variety of lightweight options.

Because of NACFE’s belief that the future of commercial vehicles is electric, as part of the report we looked at lightweighting and electric vehicles. Electric trucks are 2,500 to 5,000 lbs. heavier than their diesel counterparts for the same duty cycle. That is a significant amount of extra weight and the industry is going to have to figure out ways to offset that weight or sacrifice payload, which will negatively impact freight ton efficiency.

We fully expect the industry to rise to the challenge and continue to innovate on “big ticket” weight reduction items like frame rails and the battery boxes needed for electric vehicles.

And given the creativity of folks in the trucking industry, I have every reason to believe we will figure out ways to lightweight all commercial trucks, including those EVs, in order to maximize efficiency.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

Sponsored Recommendations

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...

80% Fewer Towable Accidents - 10 Key Strategies

After installing grille guards on all of their Class 8 trucks, a major Midwest fleet reported they had reduced their number of towable accidents by 80% post installation – including...

Proactive Fleet Safety: A Guide to Improved Efficiency and Profitability

Each year, carriers lose around 32.6 billion vehicle hours as a result of weather-related congestion. Discover how to shift from reactive to proactive, improve efficiency, and...

Tackling the Tech Shortage: Lessons in Recruiting Talent and Reducing Turnover

Discover innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining tech talent in the trucking industry during this informative webinar, where experts will share insights on competitive...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!