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Fleets using more fuel-efficiency tech as average fuel economy inches up

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Michael Rivera )

Certain technologies, though, see lower adoption rates

After seeing the fleet-wide fuel economy average climb 3% in 2015, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) says that the increase reported in its Annual Fleet Fuel Study was not as dramatic for 2016.

In a conference call yesterday, NACFE said the fleetwide average increased only 1% over the prior year, but that the adoption rate of technologies designed to reduce fuel increased. Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE and the operation lead of Trucking Efficiency, a joint effort of NACFE and the Carbon War Room, said that the 19 reporting fleets utilized 85 different technologies, all currently available. That number was 69 in 2015.

Among the fleets participating are NFI, UPS, C.R. England, Frito-Lay, Ryder, U.S. Xpress, Werner and Mesilla Valley Transportation. Combined, the 19 fleets operate 71,000 tractors and 234,000 trailers. The fleets have participated each year, which allows NACFE to track adoption rates of technologies and fuel efficiency gains. Even though the same represents just 4% of the industry, Roeth says that “it represents a pretty strong group of truckers and fleets out there.”

The fleet-wide fuel economy average for the study groups’ trucks (which feature a range of equipment years) was 7.11 mpg in 2016. It is the 10th consecutive year mpg has improved. The national fuel economy average is 5.89 mpg. NACFE says that the fleets saved an average of $7,020 per vehicle at an average cost of diesel of $2.31 per gallon, which was the EIA average for 2016. All told, the 19 fleets saved nearly $500 million in fuel costs in 2016 compared to the average trucks on the road, the organization says.

Roeth says NACFE believes the smaller gain in fuel efficiency for 2016 for several reasons. “Factors included decisions to lower adoption of some high fuel saving devices such as 6x2s and back of trailer aerodynamics, increased CNG tractors by two fleets, a somewhat diminished focus on fuel economy, increased truck speeds, the longer amount of time fleets are keeping trucks, the decreased mpg of new trucks that replace older ones, and the hot summer of 2016, which caused increased use of energy for air conditioning for drivers sleeping in their cabs,” the report says.

Overall, the fleets continue to invest in fuel saving technologies, with adoption rates up to 42% in 2016. In 2003, the adoption rate was just 17%. NACFE also says that because some of the 85 technologies are competing technologies, no fleet could adopt all 85 on single tractor-trailer, however, all 19 have adopted at least 28% of the solutions with the top fleet adopting 65%.

Surprisingly, Roeth notes that two technologies that provide a positive return on investment declined in popularity in 2016: back-of-trailer devices such as trailer tails and 6×2 axle configurations.

“Six-by-two axles can provide one of the largest fuel savings on the list at 2.5% as shown in NACFE’s 2014 Confidence Report and updated in the group’s 2017 Confidence Report,” NACFE says. “However, other challenges of traction, increased tire wear, and resale value have reduced the uptake from 16% in 2014 to 8.3% in 2016.”

The group notes that the industry remains interested in 6x2s, as evidenced by the large amount of traffic NACFE’s information page on the configuration receives each month. It also says that improvements to 6×2 axles continue to be made.

Back-of-trailer aerodynamic devices declined from a 16% adoption rate in 2015 to just 9% in 2016 even though they provide a 5% fuel economy boost. “Issues with driver use and damage are commonly cited as reasons for fleets to stop buying these features,” NACFE says. “Obviously, suppliers have noted this challenge as several product introductions made in 2017 were focused on making the deployment and stowing of the devices more automatic for the drivers.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.