Work Trucks and Fuel Consumption: 2011

The Work Truck Show – an annual must-attend event for the vocational truck market – is occurring this week in Indianapolis. I attend the first two days of the event and was able to participate in the Green Truck Summit hosted by CalStart and the NTEA.

The major topic of the summit was the coming fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for medium-and heavy-duty trucks. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland kicked off the event by highlighting the need for performance standards to push the truck market and the economic opportunities available to US manufactures who develop fuel-savings technologies.

Three major truck OEMs and suppliers, Navistar, Eaton and Freightliner Trucks, gave an overview of the draft NHTSA and EPA rules and how they would impact fleets. They were broadly optimistic that they could meet the new requirements for 2014 with existing technology. Among the solutions for meeting the 2014 standards that were commonly mentioned at the conference were targeting parasitic loses – such as installing better pumps (to move fuel, oil and water), using better lubricants to further minimize friction, outfitting low-rolling resistance tires, and setting as a factory default an automatic vehicle shutdown after 5 minutes of idling.

These steps are very much in line with what leading fleets are already doing. At the show, we heard from Verizon Communications about its efforts to cut fuel consumption by targeting idling and weight reduction. Data gained via telematics, Verizon Director of Sustainability and Supply Chain Rafael Rivero noted, was a key tool for improving efficiency today.

Coca-Cola discussed its efforts to work with 10,000 of its drivers on the adoption of fuel-smart driving techniques. In addition to achieving a reduction in fuel consumption, Steve Saltzgiver, the Director – Fleet Operations for Coca-Cola North America, mentioned that accidents have been reduced too as a result of the fuel-smart driving effort. Coca-Cola has also seen a 37% reduction in emissions from its hybrid trucks. To date, the company has deployed 634 hybrids trucks. These hybrid models now make up about 50% of its Class 7 truck purchases.

ServiceMaster also gave an overview of its fleet efforts.  Much of its focus has been targeting on-site idling by its TruGreen trucks. Jim Steffen, Director of Fleet Engineering and Technical Support at ServiceMaster, walked the crowd through his process for redesigning the standard TruGreen truck to include electric sprayers. With the recent changes to this fleet, the new trucks have the potential to cut fuel consumption by 30%.

The NTEA’s Doyle Sumrall also added some context about how fleets are reducing emissions and fuel consumption today.  In a recent NTEA survey, 61% of responding fleets acknowledged making changes to reduce fuel consumption.  Of these, 60% were reducing idling, 40% were reducing tare weight and/or making power train improvements. High-efficiency truck purchases were being made by 20% of fleets and 15% were making aerodynamic improvements to its trucks.

All of these efforts were happening today with current available technology. They highlight many of the strategies that will be used to meet the 2014 standards.  Reaching the 2017 standard is likely to require more technological improvements. As Navistar noted, the hybrid power train was “the key to real vocational ghg reductions.” Here too we heard about improvements.

Eaton, which has 4300 medium-duty hybrid systems deployed globally — 2,000 of which are in Asia, discussed opportunities to reduce the incremental cost of these systems from a 6+ year payback for a bulk purchase to a 3 year ROI. To help accomplish this, the company encouraged the industry to pool resources and purchasing orders, leveling-load buying throughout the year, and standardizing component specifications. All seemingly doable tasks.

There also were many advanced and/or new trucks announced at the show. BAE Systems has a “Freightliner M2 chassis equipped with a BAE parallel hybrid propulsion system that is designed for medium- and heavy-duty truck applications” that was being piloted by Staples. Bosch Diesel Systems promoted a Ford F-450 Super-Duty truck utilizing its diesel fuel management system. Bosch Diesel Systems claims the “system meets or exceeds all current emissions standards, while also improving fuel economy by 20% over previous Power Stroke engines.” Azure Dynamics and Ford had an electric Transit Connect on site. Freightliner also had an EV walk-in van and a hydraulic hybrid walk-in at the show. There were many other vehicles too representing different duty cycles and fuel choices.

In all, the event highlighted for me the broad support in the industry from OEMs and customers alike for improving fuel economy of these large trucks. Fleets are clearly hungry for fuel-saving solutions. Most are already taking action today. A needed breakthrough remains an economy of scale for the production of the most technologically advanced solutions, such as hybrid trucks. These trucks have been on the road for nearly a decade and have a proven ability to handle many duty-cycles. A strong truck fuel economy program would go a long way to helping the industry reach this crucial level of production.

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