Spec for Fuel Efficiency

Jim Park

You can’t rightly expect a driver to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to fuel economy. It takes a huge amount of ­discipline to stay on top of the driving, but given the right tools, even a mediocre driver will do reasonably well.

In February, during the annual meeting of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council, Steve Duley, the vice-president of purchasing at Schneider National, shared some of that ­company’s fuel conservation strategies.

To a fleet with 10,000 company-owned power units and 13,000 drivers, second only to safety, fuel costs are the company’s biggest concern. Duley told attendees that the 2002 to 2010 emissions cycles cost the fleet dearly in fuel economy.

“Going into the first round of emissions reductions in late 2002, we were averaging the best fuel economy we had ever seen,” Duley says. “Between then and 2010, we dropped about 5 percent, but we have that back now with the 2010-generation engines and we’re pretty happy about that.”

Duley explained that historically, Schneider’s cost portfolio per power unit has run about 60:40, with cost of ownership and maintenance accounting for about 40 percent of the trucks lifecycle costs, and fuel accounting for 60 percent. Today, he says, it’s about 80:20.

“Fuel costs have always been the critical factor for tractor spec’s and supplier selection decisions,” he says. “While emissions changes drove rapid acceleration in equipment ownership and maintenance costs, increases in fuel prices have made the fuel impact even more significant.”

Duley says Schneider is constantly testing and evaluating emerging fuel saving technologies, and they won’t spend a dime on stuff that doesn’t produce a return. Some of the returns are small indeed — less than one percent — but even in those cases there’s some positive impact.

In addition to the obvious things, here’s some of what Schneider has settled on as proven fuel-saving add-ons:

• 13-liter engines

• Smaller cab, shorter BBC

• Aluminum wheels, components, frame

• Reduced fuel / DEF capacity

• Tag axles w. traction control

• Fixed 5th wheel to minimize trailer gap

• Horizontal exhaust

• Fuel-efficient tires

• Aerodynamic wheel covers

• Aerodynamic mirrors

Schneider also uses engine electronics to limit road speed to 60 mph (down recently from 63 mph), and limits nonessential idling. Some of the emerging technologies currently or soon to be evaluated are:

Side skirts on van trailers

• Additional electric auxiliary cooling units

• Predictive cruise control

• Tire inflation/monitoring systems

• Trailer skirts, tails

• Driveline parasitic losses/vehicle electrification

• 5W30, 10W30, synthetic engine lubes

• Lower axle ratios and integrated drive train for lower engine speeds.

Jim Park

Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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