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Removing tractor aerodynamics can be costly: NACFE


LONG BEACH, Calif. — Don’t mess with the OEM spec’. That’s the best advice for fleets looking to deploy fuel-efficient aerodynamic tractors, according to a new report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).

The organization concluded that removing aerodynamic features from the tractor spec’ can result in fuel economy degradation of 10%. Another 10% fuel economy penalty can be incurred when a tractor is mismatched with a trailer of a different height (ie. mid-roof tractors pulling a dry van). At today’s low US fuel prices, a 10% penalty can equate to about US$3,500 per year in additional costs, NACFE reports.

The report also found classic-styled tractors are about 30% less fuel-efficient than today’s aerodynamic tractor designs.

NACFE concluded aerodynamic tractors provide an immediate benefit.

“Tractor aerodynamics pay for themselves. Don’t buy a tractor without them. If you do, you’ll regret it,” said Mike Roeth, operation lead, Trucking Efficiency. The latest NACFE report was released at ACT Expo in Long beach, Calif.

Truck manufacturers have improved tractor aerodynamics through changes to hood, fender, bumper, mirror and roof fairing designs. Fifth wheel settings, the relocation of certain parts such as horizontal exhausts, wheel covers, vented mud flaps, chassis fairings and cab and roof extenders are a few other examples of how OEMs have improved fuel economy.

Challenges in implementing the technologies, identified in the NACFE Confidence Report, include: cost, uncertainty about payback periods, additional weight and the need for additional maintenance and repairs. Still, NACFE says the benefits are worth the trouble. It advises spec’ing the most aerodynamic tractor models available.

“The OEM model is the first option in aerodynamics for on-highway van haulers that a fleet will encounter and many fleets should look no further in optimizing their aerodynamics, as the aerodynamic OEM models will have already been extensively optimized at the complete vehicle level to provide the best performance for a significant portion of their customer base,” NACFE reported.

The organization also warned against removing aerodynamic options from the spec’, to avoid a 10% fuel economy penalty. Fleets are also advised to discuss any changes to the spec’ with their OEM, to ensure non-aero changes don’t have an effect on the aerodynamic performance of the vehicle.

NACFE suggested matching roof heights of tractors and trailers to avoid another 10% fuel economy reduction. It also suggested day cab operators should look at aerodynamic options, noting it’s a myth that fuel-saving options only have an impact at highway speeds.

“Even day cabs operating in start-stop city driving will see savings from certain aerodynamic technologies,” NACFE concluded.

You can download the full report, and other NACFE Confidence Reports, here.