At 49 mph or slower, TruckWings — a product from TruckLabs that reduces aerodynamic drag — remains safely nestled behind a cab, silently waiting to go into action. Then the speedometer reaches 50 mph.
Time to come out of hiding.
Thanks to the smart sensors that minimize driver involvement, the glass-reinforced polypropylene panels automatically deploy. Two on the side, one on the top, the panels expand to close the gap between the tractor and trailer as the truck rolls down the highway.
It’s a quick — and eye-catching — process to observe, but the most significant effect isn’t immediately seen. It’s only later when you realize how much TruckWings can save money while also reducing emissions.
That’s really when “the magic happens,” said Daniel Burrows, CEO of TruckLabs.
The company offers two main products, TruckWings and TripDynamics. TripDynamics technology gamifies fuel efficiency for drivers, while TruckWings increases stability and minimizes side fairing damage.
More than 200 million highway miles in the U.S. and Canada have been logged since TruckWings became available in 2015. The 240-pound average TruckWing system can be installed in less than two hours when shipped fully assembled.
But the most attractive part appears on the bottom line. Net of all costs, Burrows said that a standard customer saves around $15,000 on fuel for each TruckWing it installs over an estimated 1 million-mile lifetime.
Pricing of TruckWings depends on the quantity, truck models and installation options. Burrows said that the average payback period for TruckWings is about 15 to 18 months depending on operating characteristics such as miles driven per year.
According to TruckLabs data, a single truck running on compressed natural gas can save 81.4 metric tons of CO2 over its lifetime by using TruckWings. The same data showed that diesel trucks can achieve lifetime savings of 50.8 metric tons of CO2 per truck using TruckWings.
Burrows said his background in climate research sparked his interest in creating TruckWings, an emission-reducing technology that provides average fuel savings of 4% to 6%.
A 2020 CFD Assessment of the TruckWings Drag Reduction Device conducted by TotalSIM U.S. concluded that when TruckWings shrinks the tractor-trailer gap from 52 inches to 18 inches, it demonstrates a 7.5% reduction in drag. The study was based on a 53-foot Class 8 truck with a driving speed of 65 mph and wind speed of 7 mph.
Burrows told FreightWaves that truck gaps are defined by axle weight, fifth-wheel position and OEM side exterior length. The 52-inch gap in the study was a good representation of a typical fleet’s setup, he added.
“Old-school aerodynamics is great because it works no matter your fuel source,” Burrows said. TruckWings work on trucks running conventional fuel as well as alternative fuels, saving energy and money across the board, he added.
Burrows mentioned a common misconception about aerodynamic technology is that it only works for interstate travel. He said that trucks making local trips often spend a lot of time on highways above 50 mph and can still get great returns on investment with 80% to 90% deployment of TruckWings.
J&R Hall expands use of TruckWings
J&R Hall began a TruckWings pilot program in February 2020 to “validate the durability and fuel savings” for themselves in Canada’s harsh winter conditions before implementing TruckWings on additional trucks, Jeff Hall, president at J&R Hall, said in a statement.
Together, the two companies confirmed that TruckWings can perform in harsh cold, ice and snow while saving fuel, the release said. The pilot project gave J&R Hall an average fuel savings of 3.9% because their trucks with sleeper berths have a smaller tractor-trailer gap.
In 2020, XStream changed its name to TruckLabs to encompass more products such as TripDynamics after establishing its ability to save companies money with TruckWings.
The goal of TripDynamics, Burrows said, is to understand all of the different things that drive fuel economy such as weather, terrain, weight, traffic and equipment. Recognizing the external factors that impact fuel efficiency, TripDynamics answers the question, “How well did a given driver do with the hand they were dealt?” Burrows said.
TruckLabs believes that TripDynamics technology can save fleets about $2,000 per truck per year on fuel, according to Burrows.
He said the technology gives context to fuel economy and provides drivers with a better understanding of their performance. The TripDynamics gamification technology allows drivers to compare their fuel efficiency with themselves and others with the same routes or conditions, Burrows added.
TripDynamics and TruckWings are only two technologies out of many in the market that can reduce emissions and provide cost-savings for companies. Burrows agreed with other industry experts that decarbonizing road freight will contain a mixture of solutions, adding that “each fleet needs to look carefully at their duty cycles to see what makes sense for them.”