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diesel prices

Roeth: Reflecting on 15 years of diesel fuel prices

May 8, 2024
Fuel is a big cost for the trucking industry, and we need to remember that, especially in light of all the discussions taking place about how expensive trucking’s future is going to be.

It’s been 15 years since NACFE was founded by a group wanting to help make the trucking industry more fuel efficient. I’ve been spending some time lately looking back not only at NACFE’s history but also at what occurred in trucking over the last 15 years. Obviously, one of the things I looked at was diesel fuel prices. Seeing what happened during those 180 months that equaled 15 years was an interesting exercise.

Here's what I found (data from the Energy Information Administration):

  • During 123 of those 180 months, diesel fuel was more than $3 a gallon.
  • For 32 of the 180 months, it was more than $4 a gallon.
  • For eight of those 180 months, diesel was more than $5 a gallon.
  • During those 180 months, never once did diesel go below $2 a gallon, although for one month it was at $2 a gallon.

Those numbers show that diesel fuel prices have never been low over the past 15 years (180 months). Considering the demand for diesel fuel and the geopolitical factors that directly and indirectly affect its costs, it is unlikely that diesel fuel prices will drop significantly in the future.

See also: After spike, diesel drops, gas prices up

Fuel is a big cost for the trucking industry, and we need to remember that, especially in light of all the discussions taking place about how expensive trucking’s future is going to be.

We are hearing numbers like $1 trillion tossed around when conversation turns to the charging infrastructure needed for battery-electric vehicles. There is no denying that a nationwide charging network is going to come with a significant price tag, but let’s take a moment to put things in perspective when it comes to cost.

If a truck travels 100,000 miles a year and gets 7 mpg from a gallon of diesel that costs $4 per gallon, the fuel cost for that one truck for one year is $57,000. If you use 1.8 million as the number of freight-hauling trucks in the U.S., that equates to $1.3 billion spent on fuel. That’s a pretty big number too, and it's a recurring number. While the charging infrastructure will incur some ongoing costs largely for maintenance, those costs are for getting the infrastructure up and running, not recurring costs that the trucking industry will have to deal with.

NACFE and fuel are intertwined, whether that fuel is diesel, electricity, or something else. There is always a cost to keep a truck “fueled” up, and I found it interesting to look back 15 years to review diesel fuel prices and reflect on just how big a factor they are.

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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