Truckers welcome fuel savings in new regulation
May 12, 2014
Trucking executives in northern Nevada who usually cast a wary eye on the regulatory requirements in neighboring California are finding that one new rule is actually saving them some money.
How much they're saving still is open to some question, but truckers say they're getting payback from year-old rules that require aerodynamic devices under the box or refrigerator trailers.
You've probably seen the devices on trucks that troll the highways between the warehouses of northern Nevada and the consumers of California.
Many truckers are opting to install trailer skirts — those flaps you see extending along the bottom of semi-truck trailers — and some are installing "trailer tails" that streamline airflow at the back end of a trailer when a truck reaches highway speeds.
Others opt for undercarriage deflectors, scoop-like gizmos that are installed in front of the rear axles of the trailer to improve the way that air flows around the axles.
Lonnie Price, transportation operations manager for Reno-based Bender Group, says a mundane problem drove the logistics company to chose undercarriage deflectors rather than trailer skirts to meet the new California standards.
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He describes Bender Group as "semi-long-haul trucker," one whose drivers generally make multiple stops along the way.
And when they stop, Bender's drivers often are backing up to inclined loading docks that require a tight turning radius. In tight turns, the tractor frame sometimes struck and damaged a trailer skirt.
With price tags that range from about $1,000 to $2,000 per trailer, the California-required technology isn't inexpensive.
But fuel savings appear to pay for the investment fairly quickly.
Price says Bender Group has seen about 5 percent improvement in fuel economy since it installed the undercarriage deflectors. Trucks that were getting 5.7 or 5.8 mpg now are running above 6 mpg.
ATDynamics, a Hayward, Calif., supplier of equipment to improve the aerodynamics of truck fleets, estimates that 75 percent of the aerodynamic drag around a semi-trailer unit is generated by the trailer.
The California Air Resources Board, which requires the aerodynamic devices, has said that testing finds up to 7 percent reduction in fuel savings for fleets installed with the new gear.
That translates into a payback after about 35,000 miles for much of the equipment.
Some truckers have complained, however, that fuel savings are less than advertised and payback is far longer than they expected.
The California regulations that took effect at the start of 2013 require the aerodynamic technology on trailers that are 53 feet or longer.
Owners who don't comply face fines of $1,000 a day. Drivers face the same fines, and penalties can increase to $10,000 a day for repeat offenders.
Shorter trailers, however, are not required to meet the standards. Nor are trailers used for purely local hauls — defined as no more than 100 miles from their home base.
Along with the fuel savings, other savings are likely to include lower maintenance costs on engines, says Bender Group's Price.
As the aerodynamics of the trailer are improved, he explains, the tractor will strain less to pull the load.
Con-Way Freight, a Michigan-based carrier that operates a terminal in Sparks, meanwhile, views the side skirts on its trailers as a marketing opportunity.
Text painted on the Con-Way trailers' skirts tout the improved stability provided by the equipment.
That, the company says, improves safety for its drivers as well as other motorists on the road.