Technology brings fuel economy parity

by James Menzies

I’ve had an epiphany. It happened when I was evaluating Kriska’s International ProStar with the SmartAdvantage powertrain just before Christmas. It occurred to me that even if I wanted to sabotage the fuel economy of that truck, I’d be unable to do so.

Technology, when fully utilized, has made it impossible to be inefficient behind the wheel of a new-generation truck with what I’ll refer to as a ‘perceptive powertrain’; one that can perceive all the pertinent operating parameters and then adapt in real-time to offer only the power, torque or energy required to do that specific job, at that specific time.

This ProStar, as I mentioned, had the Cummins-Eaton SmartAdvantage powertrain. The Cummins engine was equipped with Vehicle Acceleration Management, which limited the power available upon acceleration to avoid excess fuel consumption. The engine was governed at 100 km/h, limiting top-end speed, another potential source of fuel spent unnecessarily. Idle-shutdown wasn’t enabled on this truck, but it could’ve been, eliminating the opportunity to waste fuel through excess idling. Poor shifting, perhaps one of the greatest sources of wasted fuel, was addressed by the precise Fuller Advantage Series automated manual transmission and its small-step gearing.

Some automated manuals even have GPS functionality, allowing them to read the road terrain ahead and better take advantage of the vehicle’s momentum to save fuel.

Marcel Boisvenue, maintenance manager for Kriska, told me that every time he plugs into the ECM of one of the five ProStars with SmartAdvantage powertrains, they come out within 0.1 mpg of each other. Is it any wonder? Technology has effectively eliminated the driver’s ability to squander fuel.

In theory, you can buy 25 trucks today with perceptive powertrains and if they’re deployed on similar lanes hauling similar payloads, the fuel economy should be nearly identical across that entire fleet of vehicles. This idea that there’s a 30% variance between the best and worst drivers within the fleet is put to bed with the adoption of trucks powered by perceptive powertrains. I’ll even go a step further and suggest that training drivers on fuel-efficient driving will become unnecessary before long. You can take those training resources and direct them elsewhere, towards safety, perhaps. Training on fuel-efficient driving is on the brink of becoming passé. Old school. Obsolete.

Responsibility for good fuel mileage will soon move entirely away from the driver and further into the domain of the machine.

Of course, some drivers will still be better than others. Following distance can be controlled in part by radar-based collision mitigation systems, however drivers who don’t require such systems to frequently intervene to restore a safe following distance will probably show slightly better fuel economy and will be less likely to get in a wreck. However for the most part, technology is bringing fuel economy parity to the driver ranks.

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