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Making diesel even more efficient

April 28, 2021
Diesel-powered trucks have served us well for years. What can the trucking industry be doing to improve their efficiency?

It seems lately, I’ve been talking a lot about battery-electric vehicles in my blog posts. I suppose it is understandable because we were in the thick of finalizing the participants for Run on Less – Electric. And while a lot of NACFE’s time, energy and focus went into making that announcement, we have not forgotten about the fuel and freight efficiency gains that still are possible from diesel-powered vehicles.

While we are excited about developments in battery-electric trucks, we are realists here at NACFE and we know that diesel-powered trucks will be around for a while. And since they are, we want to see them continue to get more efficient. While in our previous Run on Less demonstrations we showed what the best of the best could do, the reality is that the national average MPG is still only in 6.05, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, not the 10.1 and 8.3 MPG the Run on Less fleets achieved.

Here’s an interesting thing, the truck makers themselves are doing their part because the trucks coming off the production lines today are pretty darn aerodynamic. This means fleets buying a new truck today are way ahead in the good fuel efficiency game. Add on aero devices would be a good next step for fleets looking to improve MPG. And while I know that aero might not make sense for all fleets for a variety of reasons — trailer type, ground clearance, extra weight of the devices to name a few — I continue to be surprised not to see more trailer skirts, wheel covers and gap closure devices on the trucks I see on the highway.

Tire pressure systems be it monitoring or automatic inflation is another fuel efficiency investment that makes sense to me. We have known for years the impact of improperly inflated tires on fuel economy. Tire pressure monitoring systems make it easier to know if tires are at their proper inflation pressure.

Idle reduction and its underlying importance — driver comfort and convenience — is another good investment. Not only will investments in idle reduction technologies help improve fuel efficiency, they also can help with driver retention as drivers want more and more creature comforts in their trucks and many idle-reduction solutions also provide power for things like laptops, gaming systems, refrigerators, etc. I just read somewhere that the driver shortage is back with a vengeance, so anything that can boost fuel economy while also benefiting drivers is a big win in my book.

And of course, no discussion of improving freight efficiency would be complete if I did not talk about the little things; even some that don't cost a dime. This includes things like driving slower if you have the time, optimizing engine parameters for fuel economy, eliminating empty miles and empty backhauls, optimizing routes, training drivers in fuel-efficient driving techniques, etc.

While we are excited about our work with electric trucks, we are still firmly planted in the realities of today’s market and will continue to offer advice and have conversations about all the things that can be done to improve the freight efficiency of the diesel-powered trucks that have served us so well for all these years.

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.

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