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The Latest News On Truck Tire Treads

Consider that 20 years ago we were using tires that today wouldn’t come close to making the grade. The stark evolution in trucking has been nothing short of amazing.

In the 90s, tread designs had stagnated. There were basically two designs – rib or block. Today, tread designs are far more complex and sophisticated. You can even order them tailor-made for whatever application or wheel position your work requires.

Tread geometry has also changed dramatically in the past 20 years. The available size and weight variation among tire types have also become more specific and developed. Blading, as one example, has evolved to a point where traction is the focus not just when the tire is new, but throughout its life.

New manufacturing processes have allowed rapid advancement in siping and low rolling resistance design. Casings are far more retreadable and the savings across a tire’s lifecycle have expanded beyond where they were even in recent years.

One of the biggest improvements comes in the area of rubber compounding. Rubber chemistry has become so advanced that OEMs can now blend compounds together to create near-perfectly optimized tire designs.

“Dual Energy” is another term used to describe certain compounds that provide superior removal mileage. The bottom layers allow standard tread to run cool, which minimizes the external casing temperatures. All of this adds up to longer casing life. So what’s next?

Fuel Efficiency

Ask anyone in the long-haul sector and they will tell you fuel efficiency is the number one agenda item. Often times the measure of a low rolling resistance tire’s value is taken in how well the tire optimizes fuel savings.

Since both the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay tire system and OEMs both use a rolling resistance index to measure tire performance, standards can be judged across the board (even though those numbers are not made publicly available).

So what can you, as an intrepid fleet manager, do to ensure you’re using the right tires for the job? Perhaps you should begin by evaluating what’s on the market.

The Value of Retreads

Retreads provide affordable and dependable performance over their lifetime. You can expect a smooth and continuous shoulder to ensure uniform wear across the surface. Advanced compounds also contribute to long life and wear.

Circumferential grooves and diagonal tread blocks help to evacuate water and promote traction on either wet or dry surfaces. So when you are looking for a healthy mixture of performance and technology, give retreads a look.

Hybrid Tires

The “hybrid” tire market remains squarely aimed at long-haul and regional operations. These tires are designed with five-rib patterns and effectively equalize pressure across the tire’s footprint. Some models even come with specialized bumpers to prevent the trapping of rocks and stones.

In order to address the inherent conflict between fuel efficiency and removal mileage, casings are now engineered to exacting specifications. New designs minimize heat build-up and rolling resistance without sacrificing fuel economy.

Advanced Designs

As fuel economy becomes the main focus, advances tire designs are increasingly finding their way into the market. New designs include a more robust, wider shoulder rib design specifically designed to minimize curb impact resistance.

Other models provide a stiffer tread and deliver on higher mileage without sacrificing on their low rolling resistance quotient. Biting sipes also help with snow traction. After all, the more edges you that are in contact with the road, the more traction you have.

Look for other advanced applications, from optimized blade geometry to precise siping sequences designed to enhance grip in wet conditions. Deeper tread depths also deliver on better fuel efficiency.

No matter the application, new tire designs are effectively meeting the challenge of improved performance and enhanced fuel efficiency. No matter what your need, always look for a proper measure of durability that doesn’t impact performance.

Have You Heard Of The California-Compliant Trailer For Trucking?

In the last five years it’s likely you’ve seen an explosion of trailers sporting side skirts and tail fairings. In large part, the vast increase is a result of regulatory changes in the state of California. While there was some hand-flapping when it was introduced by the California Air Resources Board in 2009, it didn’t take long for motor carriers to realize that this is one regulation that would actually help save them money.

Although many at first thought the regulation unnecessary, it served in large part to help increase the focus on aerodynamics and fuel cost savings. Under the rule, 25-foot box-type trailers – whether dry or reefer – must be equipped with SmartWay-approved side skirts or tail fairings. It requires a 4 to 5 percent fuel economy savings when combined with low-rolling-resistance tires.

There Will Be Exemptions

Since the rule was implemented, however, there have been a host of exemptions that allow for varying degrees of compliance dates depending on fleet size and operational engagement (I.E. Long-haul or regional).

This presents a challenge for smaller fleets. It becomes difficult for them to figure out which exemptions apply to them and whether or not their fleet meets the requirements. As a result, some fleet owners are getting hit with citations merely for not knowing the exemption date for their fleet.

And as many of the exemptions reach their sunset period, the certainty surrounding these accessories remains. As Phase 2 of the federal greenhouse gas regulation hits the national stage following the conclusion of the comment period, using items like side skirts and tail fairings will certainly become nearly ubiquitous.

A Rule For All Trucks

If the Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase 2 rule remains largely unchanged following the end of the comment period, fleets nationwide should get prepared to start spec’ing their trailers to help aid in tractor fuel economy.

And the proposal governs more than just side skirts and fairings. It also contains language on LRR tires, automatic tire inflation systems and other lightweight components. Non-box trailers are not left out. While they may not require certain aerodynamic components, they will still need LRR tires and automatic tire inflation systems.

What To Consider

If the rule goes nationwide, expect many of the same problems faced by California drivers. If you are operating in one of these fleet types, pay extra care to how closely these compliance measures apply to you:

  • Fleets with high concentrations of regional or local work.
  • Parts of the country/region with lower speed limits.
  • Fleets with high trailer-to-tractor ratios.
  • If you are a leasing company or non-owner of a trailer.

Also keep in mind that the aerodynamic challenges of the day will be met by new technologies tomorrow. Our understanding of fuel economy and performance engineering will continue to evolve. Still, some say there is a finite number of ways that you can treat a trailer before there’s no more tht can be done.

There are limitations at play, after all. How effective a side fairing is, for example, is limited by its dimensions. Try to design taller or longer skirts and then you have to worry about ground strikes or trailer access for maintenance purposes.

As seen when the EPA unveiled their SuperTruck Project, these problems can be overcome. Even today, aero research technicians are testing out advances new designs, aided by such innovations as geometric shaping, vortex generators and longitudinal grooves.

As new nano-materials come online, expect new advances in the way air flows around the trailer, as well. Air-flow separation and wake management are exciting new areas of research in materials science. But the question remains, how much will you see of this technology?

Well, if the government has anything to say about it, you might be seeing a lot more. And while it’s easy to dismiss government regulations as overly onerous and burdensome, in this case, it might not be such a bad thing.

Trucking Braces for New Environmental Protection Agency Regulations

As the administration continues to focus on efforts to combat climate change, President Obama has added emission rules for big-rigs to the agenda.

Some time ago, the president gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the go-ahead to develop new rules designed to improve fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions for heavy-duty trucks. Now the industry is looking to see whether smaller fleets can meet the standard without going out of business.

The New York Times has come out saying they already know what the proposed rule will be, although it has not yet been published to the agency’s register. According to their report an official notice could come any day now. Although the exact number may not yet be known, let’s take a look at the signals we’ve been getting from the agency to date.

New Governmental Regulations

Although many at first assumed these regulations governed only the truck and the engine, the EPA has also added emission regulations for trailers, fairings and rolling resistance. According to one administration official, the unveiling will be a “big rule” that contains so many different components, it easily could be broken down into separate regulations by themselves.

While there is much anticipation of this new rule, it won’t actually go into effect for another four years. In 2011, the EPA outlined rules for vehicle model years 2014 – 2018. This new rule will govern vehicle model years “post-2018,” likely through 2027.

The government has reported that these changes will reduce petroleum consumption by more than 530 million barrels of oil and reduce carbon emissions by 270 million metric tons.

Current long-haul truck fuel economy averages are in the neighborhood of 5.5 to 6 miles per gallon (mpg). The 2011 rule pegged the standard to a 20 percent savings. The final number for later years is set to have heavy-duty commercial trucks increase their fuel economy by as much as 40 percent through 2027, when compared to 2010 levels.

These new heavy-duty truck rules are in addition to a bevy of hotly contested emissions rules the government is instituting for power plants, dubbed the Clean Power Plan. The president is using emissions reductions as a key final part to his second-term legacy-building efforts.

From Trucking’s Perspective

Fleets have been moving to greater efficiency for some time now. One truck from the 1970s belched out more carbon emissions than 67 of today’s trucks running at full throttle. While more can always be done, trucking wants to make sure jobs and commerce aren’t threatened by regulation.

As Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) Representative Scott Grenerth pointed out, there are two main concerns that industry has regarding the rule. “The cost of the truck, and reliability of the truck – that’s the bottom line,” he stated.

After traveling to Washington, D.C. last month to meet with the White House budget office, Grenerth came away saying reliability and downtime for truck repairs were the focus. They also discussed a cost-benefit rule and how to mesh emissions goals with fuel economy standards.

Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Truck Associations (ATA), while saying he has no idea what the eventual rule will be, conceded that the EPA has done an extreme amount of outreach to win over industry insiders. In his own words it has been “a lot more than I have ever seen on a rule.”

Even so, Kedzie is not without reservation. These regulations are broad in their scope and carry major implications for the trucking industry.

“A truck is a mobile office,” he went on to say. “It’s a cog to keep this economy moving along. The EPA is dealing with this economic aspect here. They have to be careful not to make the standards cost prohibitive.”

Observers are suggesting that the EPA will take a bit longer than The New York Times posited to issue the new truck standards. As the trucking industry holds its breath, only time will tell what the final rule will be. When it hits, you can be sure we’ll report on it.

What’s Next for the Fuel Efficiency Standard?

The environment is back in the news this week as the new Republican majorities in the house and senate seek to undo what they can of President Obama’s environmental agenda. The most recent battleground has been around coal fired power plants. Will the fuel efficiency standard be next?

A Complicated Relationship

The trucking industry and environmental groups and government agencies have long had a strained relationship. Thanks to new technologies, large trucks continue to make gains in fuel efficiency, but some think there’s still more progress to be made.

Last year President Obama ordered the development of new fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks. These new standards were part of a larger push by the president to take executive action in the fight over climate change.

Here’s a brief recap of what the new draft rule will be requiring:

  • It would direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to set the next round of fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The fact sheet states that this would save vehicle owners and operators an estimated $50 billion in fuel costs and save 530 million barrels of oil.

  • It would require the aforementioned agencies to also partner with private-sector companies to deploy advanced vehicles and technologies. The DOT specifically would be required to provide each company with specialized resources, technical know-how and support in developing fuel efficiency and cost saving strategies.
  • It seeks to expand fuel choices for American drivers. Specifically it looks to establish an Energy Security Trust Fund. This fund would provide grants to research and development for advanced vehicle technologies. Finally, it would require investment in new infrastructure through a tax credit. These tax credits would directly support cellulosic biofuels.

This new executive action was immediately followed by a large publicity push to drum up support. In a speech Mr. Obama gave at a Safeway grocery distribution center he said that “improving gas mileage for these trucks is going to drive down our oil imports even further. That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on business’ fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers. So it’s not just a win, it’s a win-win-win. We got three wins.”

Like so many before it, this has become a polarized debate. The conversation itself has become just as complicated as the relationships between the parties.

A Complicated Debate

For obvious, reasons some car and truck manufacturers have lobbied heavily against the increase. The vehicle manufacturing industry has always sought to pursue efficiency at their own pace, without government intervention.

Conversely, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) have been advocating for better fuel efficiency standards since 2007, when they endorsed a study that requested both better fuel efficiency and electronic device governance for large trucks.

Soon after Mr. Obama’s speech, ATA president and CEO Bill Graves came out stating that “today’s announcement by President Obama is welcome news to the trucking industry. Our members have been pushing for the setting of fuel efficiency standards for some time and today mark the culmination of those efforts.”

With industry having taken sides in the debate, it was time for the other side of the political aisle to weigh in. Not soon after the president’s speech did then house majority leader Eric Canter come out blasting the plan, saying that the “result of these regulations means increased costs for businesses and families, and fewer jobs for workers. Rather than placing additional burdens on working families and small businesses, Washington should be focused on removing barriers to growth.”

The EPA, industry, and other groups have a big year ahead. Beyond fuel efficiency, a new fuel tax is also on the legislative table. Will the fuel efficiency standard survive a divided government? With the new rule set to be finally drafted by March of this year, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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