SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A fleet-wide order for 1,200 units has given aerodynamic wheel cover manufacturer FlowBelow a boost; and it’s not just the volume but also the customer that makes the deal significant.
Mesilla Valley Transportation, known for its highly technical fuel economy testing and adoption of leading fuel-saving products has tested the FlowBelow wheel cover system using the SAE J1321 standard, and achieved fuel savings of 2.23%, FlowBelow announced at the American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition. The carrier will be equipping all 1,200 of its tractors with the wheel covers, which feature additional fairings between the wheels and aft of the rear axle to further improve aerodynamics.
Bren Marshell, vice-president of sales for Flow Below, said the company expects to sell 18,000-20,000 units next year. Some Canadian carriers are among its existing customers, according to Josh Butler, president of FlowBelow.
What makes the system different from other aerodynamic wheel covers is its push-button removal mechanism, which allows for easy access to the wheels for tire pressure checks and wheel-end servicing. The wheel cover also sits slightly away from the wheel so it won’t cause any damage.
“There are other wheel covers out there that touch the wheels and there are carriers out there that have tractors two to three months old where already the wheel covers are grinding into the aluminum wheels,” Marshell said.
He added more fleets are looking for aerodynamic products to help with fuel economy and also with driver retention. Providing fuel-efficient vehicles to drivers makes it easier for them to attain their fuel bonuses.
“There are very few places to cut costs, so to come after aerodynamics becomes very important,” he explained.
The wheel covers can be attached to the trailer too, but FlowBelow is being marketed as a tractor-only solution, since the tractor-to-trailer ratio found within most fleets mean trailers don’t generate the miles necessary to provide a fast payback, Butler explained.
Mesilla Valley’s endorsement of the technology is a big breakthrough for the company.
“Mesilla Valley Transportation is the poster child whenever it comes to fuel-saving technology,” Marshell said. “Everybody knows about them.”
The carrier first developed its own wheel covers but was happy to defer to FlowBelow and focus on its core business of moving freight when it verified the quality of the product. Besides, Mesilla Valley’s wheel covers were made of steel and were being stolen off tractors and trailers when they travelled into Mexico. Butler said theft isn’t an issue with the FlowBelow product, because the covers are made of plastic and the bracket is mounted onto the wheel so even when the cover is removed, it is of no value without the bracket.
“We never have to send out replacements for missing wheel covers,” Butler said.
FlowBelow claims tractors fitted with its device will save about US$1,800 in fuel each year, based on US fuel pricing. And because the covers can be easily removed without tools, drivers are more likely to continue with the proper maintenance of their wheels and tires.
“Of equal importance to the fuel savings, FlowBelow’s product is durable and their quick-release design means that they are hassle-free when we need to check the wheel-end or install chains,” said Allan Dahringer, director of maintenance for Mesilla Valley Transportation.
The system can be installed in 30-45 minutes per tractor.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies