FleetOwner has asked us all to make a few predictions for 2015. I am terrible about predicting the future and quite frankly tend to live in the present, taking advantage of opportunities to make a difference in the here and now. But of course, we all plan for the future and prepare ourselves for what is coming. So here goes…
I am asked quite a lot these days about how the drop in fuel prices affect trucking and the work of Trucking Efficiency here at NACFE and the Carbon War Room and I have boiled my answers down to a few.
Yes, they have dropped but still represent a major expense for truckers to operate a tractor trailer across our highways, from maybe $70,000 to around $50,000 annually. A one percent reduction even at $2.85/gal can save $500 in fuel, per truck per year!
We’ve been here before and the price of diesel returned to $4/gal in six months. In 2009, diesel dropped all the way to $2.02/gal and then climbed back up to about $4, for four consecutive years. It’s human nature to see trends as inertia and that they will continue. I am not so sure about fuel prices.
Traditionally, when fuel prices are lower we change our behaviors. For personal travel, we drive more miles, carpool less and buy bigger personal vehicles, like large SUVs. In 30 years of trucking, when fuel prices have fallen I’ve witnessed fleets put less emphasis on the known fuel saving technologies and practices only to wish they had them on their trucks and trailers when fuel prices returned to higher levels. Component manufacturers and truck builders stop developing and offering new products to save fuel, again wishing they had them available only a few years or even months later.
So to my predictions. I expect…
- Many leading fleets to stay the course on their purchasing plans for significant fuel savings opportunities such as trailer aerodynamics, tires and tire pressure systems, 6x2 axles, idle reduction an automated manual transmissions, in order to save fuel now and more if prices increase.
- Component manufacturers and truck and trailer builders, will consider prioritizing other product development opportunities above fuel economy ones, but will stay the course designing, testing and offering new features to move us closer to 8 or 9 mpg.
- Other emerging alternative fuels, infrastructure and operating practices, such as electrification, platooning, intelligent powertrain management, etc. will continue to move along with interest from fleets, engineering and testing firms, the DOE and manufacturers.
This is important to maintain the excellent momentum the industry has now in order to improve freight and fuel efficiency in heavy trucks. I remember some of our trucking professional predecessors, when they explained to me that the oil embargo of the early 1970s created an incredible amount of new product development to save fuel on heavy trucks. Aerodynamics, low rolling resistance tires and many powertrain initiates had their original inventions and patents started then, most all to be abandoned when fuel prices dropped. Let’s not let that part of our history repeat itself this time!