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In for the long haul

With the downward pressure on rates likely to remain a long-term reality, fleet managers must remain vigilant for improved ways to reduce their own operating costs. One of the most significant areas w...


With the downward pressure on rates likely to remain a long-term reality, fleet managers must remain vigilant for improved ways to reduce their own operating costs. One of the most significant areas where savings can be found, of course, is in improved fuel efficiency. The industry’s major suppliers have made considerable investments in recent years towards raising the bar in this key area.

While some manufacturers have designed tires specifically aimed at delivering maximum fuel efficiency – such as Bandag’s FuelTech and Michelin’s XZA2 – other tire companies are taking a different approach and concentrating on striking the delicate balance between performance and fuel efficiency across their entire line.

Al Cohn, manager of training and technology for Goodyear, says rather than developing a specific fuel-miser, the company has concentrated on increasing the fuel efficiency of each of its tires.

“Our philosophy has been to build fuel efficiency into every one of the tires that we produce,” says Cohn. “We felt that, based on all our customers and what they required, that if we could get the maximum mileage, the maximum number of re-treads and have good fuel economy as part of the package, then we’ve got the ultimate system.”

So Goodyear set out to find ways of making its entire line more efficient, and adopted the concept of Enhanced Casing Design (ECD). Goodyear has replaced one of the four wire belts in the tire with polyamide, a non-metallic, nylon-type material that helps cool the tire.

“Cool is good for fuel economy,” stresses Cohn. “With our compounding technology, our design technology and our wire technology, we run the coolest running compounds possible.”

Bridgestone researchers have also been paying special attention to tire casings of late.

“If you create a casing with less rolling resistance, then you tend to get a tire that gives you more fuel efficiency over its entire life, whether it’s re-treaded once or twice,” says Jim Bryce, Bridgestone’s national fleet manager.

He points out casings contribute to about one-third of a tire’s rolling resistance, and consequently, improving the casing was the ideal way to improve fuel efficiency.

“We have redesigned our casing and we’ve tried to make the casing more fuel efficient,” says Bryce. “We have new designs and shapes that minimize rolling resistance without reducing casing durability. By optimizing the distribution and stresses in the casing, fuel economy is maximized.”

Even manufacturers who offer specifically fuel miser models acknowledge it’s sometimes necessary to make trade offs in other areas to get the most fuel efficiency out of the rubber.

“With tires, everything is a compromise,” says Don Schauer, Bandag’s manager of fleet communications. “If you maximize fuel mileage, you’re going to give up some wear mileage.”

That’s why he suggests truckers who want the best of both worlds lean toward the company’s FCR Drive tires.

“FCR is probably the best compromise tire out there,” says Schauer. “While it does not have the fuel mileage of the FuelTech, it has substantially more wear mileage.”

For those whose top priority is fuel mileage, Schauer says his company’s FuelTech tire would be the best fit.

Ralph Beaveridge, Michelin’s marketing manager, truck tires, says his company’s test results are showing big bucks can be shaved off a fleet’s operating costs by switching to fuel efficient rubber. He points to the results of more than 200 fuel tests conducted in North America using Michelin’s XZA2.

“The results were conclusively anywhere from 3.5 percent to 12.5 percent fuel improvement,” says Beaveridge. “That becomes very lucrative to a fleet that spends a couple million dollars a year in fuel.”

He says large fleets have been among the first to take a serious look at equipping their rigs with the latest in fuel-efficient tires.

“The big fleets are looking at the dollar signs and licking their chops,” says Beaveridge.

Another big player that has been focusing on boosting fuel efficiency is Yokohama. Like its competitors, Yokohama has been improving casings. “On average, we’re dealing with about a four percent improvement in rolling resistance,” says Greg Cressman, Yokohama’s deputy director of technical services.

Tread design and the rubber compound have also improved in recent years, and the company boasts the best of all areas in its latest steer axle tire, the Y637.

While Yokohama’s customers appreciate the better fuel mileage, Cressman says the new model doesn’t yet top their wish lists.

“If it has got good fuel economy characteristics, so much the better,” says Cressman, noting it’s important not to compromise other performance requirements.


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