Seeing the Future through the New Trucks of Today

I was able to peer into the future of trucking the other day. Anyone who was in Louisville, Kentucky could see it. And there were a lot of us there – 75,000 people attended the Mid-America Trucking Show.

This annual event is the world’s largest heavy-duty trucking show. Over a thousand companies exhibit. Leading truck and equipment manufacturers introduce products and make major announcements. This year, a lot of the announcements and new products focused on improving fuel efficiency.


The focus on fuel-efficiency was in part because fuel costs are the single largest component of owning and operating a truck – accounting for nearly 40% of total cost-per-mile. New, federal heavy-truck efficiency and emissions regulations that went into effect January 1st sharpen the industry’s focus on fuel-efficiency.

As I’ve written about before, well-designed federal standards can foster the innovation necessary to bring more efficient and lower emitting trucks to market. This power was on full display at the truck show.

  • Volvo Trucks announced that its 2014 engines were delivering up to 3% fuel efficiency improvement over 2013 models.
  • Cummins – the world’s largest manufacturer of heavy-duty diesel engines – announced that its 2014-certified 15 liter diesel engine was “7% more fuel efficient than four years ago.” Because of this gain in efficiency, a typical truck driver will save $4000 a year operating a new truck with this more efficient engine.

These engine improvements cut harmful climate pollution and save truckers money. They were driven in part by the first ever heavy-truck fuel efficiency standards – which, as Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America noted, “are very good examples of regulations that work well.”

The 2014 and 2017 standards for the truck fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas program are important building blocks. We must develop 2020 and beyond standards that go even further. EDF has written about the environmental and economic imperative for strong “phase 2” rules. At the Mid-American Truck Show, the ability of the industry to innovate was on full display.

  • Allison Transmission unveiled a new automated transmission – the TC10 – which “has shown an average 5% fuel economy improvement over manual and automated manual transmissions in fleet testing.”
  • Michelin introduced a new generation of its X One tires which achieves “up to a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency and more than 740 lbs of weight savings per truck.”
  • Alcoa introduced a new heavy truck wheel –the Ultra ONE that can reduce tare weight by 1,400 pounds per rig.
  • Daimler’s Freightliner brand introduced day cab roof fairings that improve aerodynamics, resulting in up to a 3.7% increase in fuel economy.
  • SmartTruck announced that its UT6 trailer aerodynamics package was certified as EPA SmartWay Elite – signifying that the package achieves fuel savings of 9% or better.

These are all fuel-saving solutions that are available today and are additional to the 7% more efficient engines Cummins is manufacturing.

So what’s the future of trucking? It’s taking advantage of all of the available fuel-saving strategies and technologies.

The Peterbilt and Cummins “Super Truck,” which was on display, demonstrates the potential of this approach. While the Super Truck is a demonstration vehicle, the technologies used in it are intended to be commercially available around 2020. Among the solutions used in the truck are:

  • an advanced waste heat recovery system;
  • electronic control software that uses route information to optimize fuel use;
  • an aerodynamic tractor and trailer combination;
  • a lithium ion battery-auxiliary power unit, to reduce engine idling; and
  • various light-weighting solutions

When combined, these solutions have enabled the Peterbilt and Cummins “Super Truck” to achieve 10.7 MPG while hauling a combined gross weight of 65,000 lbs – a great improvement over the 6.0 MPG of the typical big rig on the road today.

Getting a chance to see this truck was the highlight of my trip. When sitting in its cab, it was easy to see a future where all new trucks are considered “super trucks.” Making this future a reality will be good for the trucking industry and its customers, as a “Super Truck” will save about $27,000 annually per truck. It also will be really good for you and me – as these trucks will cut climate pollution by over 40% while saving American households over $250 a year.

Throughout the show, two things were clear: 1) there is a desire among truckers for more efficient trucks, and 2) industry has the know-how and aspiration to further offer innovative, fuel saving solutions. But well-designed federal standards are also vital because they foster the innovation necessary to bring more efficient and lower emitting trucks to market – providing significant fuel cost savings to truckers. Indeed, they already have.

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