May 06, 2010
Big Truck Fuel Efficiency Improvements Possible

A report by the US National Research Council finds large truck fuel efficiency increases are technologically possible and cost effective.

The report also estimates the costs and maximum fuel savings that could be achieved for each type of vehicle by 2020 if a combination of technologies were used. The best cost-benefit ratio was offered by tractor-trailers, whose fuel use could be cut by about 50 percent for about $84,600 per truck; the improvements would be cost-effective over ten years provided gas prices are at least $1.10 per gallon. The fuel use of motor coaches could be lowered by 32 percent for an estimated $36,350 per bus, which would be cost-effective if the price of fuel is $1.70 per gallon or higher. For other vehicle classes, the financial investments in making improvements would be cost-effective at higher prices of fuel.

For tractor-trailers I am surprised such a large improvement in efficiency is possible. Unlike, say, a large SUV which includes lots of unused space a long distance truck and trailer are designed with cost effectiveness as a top priority. So I would expect new truck efficiency would be close to optimal for return on investment. Would a halving of fuel consumption be done mostly with new or existing technologies? Anyone know?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 May 06 11:23 PM  Energy Transportation

jp straley said at May 7, 2010 5:10 AM:

The efficiency improvements are not called out in the article, but I would like to think that such modifications or redesigns might also be applicable to railroad diesels. RR trains use a surprisingly large proportion of diesel fuel in the US.

JP Straley

Black Death said at May 7, 2010 7:23 AM:

We're going to need all the efficiency we can get. In 1998, average US annual per capita disposable income could buy almost 2000 barrels of oil. Now it's less than 500 and still heading south.

Brian said at May 7, 2010 12:11 PM:

Here's a recent article talking about some of the freight companies including UPS, US Post Office, and FedEX

bbartlog said at May 7, 2010 1:08 PM:

The fact that these improvements have not actually been adopted should make you skeptical of the claims. Not that I'm a believer in the strong efficient markets hypothesis - I'm quite ready to believe that corporations can behave in a totally retarded way - but passing up easily realized efficiency improvements is not the sort of mistake that I would expect them to make en masse.
One possible clue: I see they say
'the improvements would be cost-effective over ten years provided gas prices are at least $1.10 per gallon.'

People who do capital investments for large corporations expect payback a lot faster than that. 18 months breakeven in some cases. That may sound like excessive focus on a quick buck; but if you assume that at any given time there are lots of possible things you can try to do, and only a limited amount of organizational will and focus to do them, then it may be that at any given point in time a company will have a whole list of possible initiatives. And that there will always be stuff on that list that offers a better ROI than these ten year payback improvements.

Nick G said at May 7, 2010 3:59 PM:

Walmart has made public promises to achieve 50% improvements in truck fuel efficiency.

Some of the improvements are low cost, like retrofitting various appliances on the cab that reduce wind resistance. Others take a bit more, like bigger batteries to reduce idling to run refrigerators, etc ("hotel load").

Why such low-hanging fruit? Basically because truck operators are very conservative; many don't have much operating capital (and are in the process of gradually running out of money...); and because expensive fuel is pretty new. bbartlog has a point: it's not so easy to make these kinds of investments, even if they're calling out to be done.

mike shupp said at May 7, 2010 6:15 PM:

There's a good sized gap between that hood over most truck cabs and the cargo compartment behind;
I'd be surprised if there isn't considerable wind buffetting. I don't know that redesign would
actually cut fuel usage in half, but a fair amount of savings ought to be possible.

FWIW, back in the 1970's aerodynamicists argued truck fuel usage could be cut 30%. Truck shapes
haven't changed much since then, and truck loads seem to have climbed. So that 50% seems
optimistic, but it's probably in the right ball park.

PacRim Jim said at May 7, 2010 10:29 PM:

Why don't freight trucks have trailers whose walls can be collapsed when dead-heading? It would cut wind resistance.

jack spahns said at May 8, 2010 5:43 AM:

i once had sex with a hot college coed in the sleeper cabin of a freight truck. it was awesome!

Dowlan Smith said at May 8, 2010 6:27 AM:

But jack did you achieve a 50% increase in efficiency?

LaoK said at May 8, 2010 4:28 PM:

It seems like I've seen this story somewhere before...
It seems like I've seen this story somewhere before...

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