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Modern Trucking Fleets Are More Fuel Efficient Than Ever

Fuel efficiency is the name of the game for today’s advanced trucking fleets. Keeping large trucks fuel efficient becomes even more important in an environment where Congress wants to increase fuel taxes.

At some point fuel efficiency becomes a business imperative. Anyone can move goods, but in today’s hypercompetitive trucking industry, getting the goods there more efficiently separates the men from the boys.

All of the obvious changes have been made. Gone are the days of big blocky trucks. Now the roads are filled with sleek aerodynamic cabs and low rolling resistance tires.

Fleets looking to squeeze even more out of a tank of gas have cast their gaze under the hood. By mixing and matching specific components, carriers maximize efficiency without sacrificing performance.

It’s All About Automation

One of the ways fleets are aiming to increase fuel-efficiency is by utilizing automated transmissions. According to recent statistics, about 20 percent of Class 8 trucks are being ordered with automated transmissions. That number is expected to grow to 30 percent within the next three to five years.

With an automated transmission, less experienced drivers can reach a fuel economy that almost matches what more experienced drivers achieve. One of the larger fleets looking to leverage this technology is Con-Way Truckload, which recently announced a 550-truck order, of which 540 would have automated transmissions.

Another benefit to going automatic relates to the current trucking employment squeeze. Many would-be drivers might be intimidated by the prospect of learning to drive a truck with a manual transmission. Having automated transmissions mitigates this fear.

Direct Drive vs Overdrive

Fleet owners and operators who are looking to get the most out of fuel efficiency will be required to consider both direct drive and overdrive transmissions. Each technology as specific applications and while direct drive transmissions are said to be the more efficient option, the picture isn’t as clear when you look at the entire system.

Direct drive transmissions operate more efficiently when conditions are ideal, such as flat terrain at highway speeds. Once hills and off-road requirements are added, however, overdrive is often the better choice.

In today’s modern truck, the interplay between powertrain components is as complicated as it’s ever been. Including a direct drive transmission in an application that isn’t appropriate for it can result in unnecessary strain on downstream components.

With direct drive, the torque is passed through the driveline, so if there’s an adverse event such as moving from an icy road to a dry one, a lot of force can be transmitted further downstream. This could be potentially damaging to other powertrain components.

Diesel At Its Cleanest

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency established new rules that were designed to reduce emissions from on-road heavy-duty trucks by up to 97 percent. Allowable levels of sulfur in diesel fuel would be further cut by 97 percent.

As a result, by the 2007 model year, 100 percent of new trucks were required to meet the particulate emissions standards and 50 percent were required to meet the sulfur standard. As of 2010, all trucks were to meet both standards at a 100 percent level.

More than one-third of all commercial trucks registered in the United States are equipped with newer clean diesel engines, according to new data. Emissions from today’s diesel trucks are near zero. It would take 60 days of continuous use for today’s clean diesel truck to equal the emissions from a single day’s use of a truck built in 1988.

For trucks that are model year 2010 and later, the average fuel efficiency increase runs 3 to 5 percent per year. Expect additional fuel-saving strategies to include vehicle aerodynamics and expanded use of hybrid technology.

The trucking industry is the driving force behind good movement in the United States. As fuel efficiency, emissions, and global warming continue to dominate the news, the nation’s modern trucking fleets are ready.

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