Vocational Trailer Market Improvements

By Marek Krasuski

Despite setbacks, trailer orders in the vocational market are showing signs of improvement. According to the freight forecaster FTR, several segments of this market are reviving, among them flatbeds, dumps, and tankers. “These vocational segments continue to track closely with Class 8 trucks, which are also on the upswing. Fleets are growing much more optimistic about the business environment and they are buying more trailers again after a slump the second half of last year,” commented FTR’s Don Ake.
Among the many considerations about trailers is one point of interest that is often overlooked – aerodynamic resistance or drag. Studies have shown that that drag is a large factor in fuel use, and that a reduction in drag will diminish fuel consumption at both urban and highway speeds. For tractor-trailer combinations about 70% of drag is due to the trailer. The relative lack of attention paid to drag on trailers compared to tractors is surprising given the significant numbers. Why this is so may be a point of speculation, but supporters of aerodynamic trailers have their own opinions on the excessive attention lavished on tractors. Among them is the alleged sexiness of tractors attenuated with chrome and gleaming add-ons. It’s also where the driver works and lives while on the road. Trailers by contrast are viewed as essentially a box on wheels. Of note is that the air speed at the rear of a trailer increases and creates more suction if the tractor is more streamlined. Surprisingly, if the airspeed reaching the doors is doubled for any reasons – speed and/or better streamlining – then base pressure drag at the back of the trailer is quadrupled.
Despite overlooking trailer technology in the effort to reduce drag, pressures to adopt a “greener” corporate profile and growing awareness are strong incentives for companies to reassess the cost-benefit ratio of trailer technologies. And that reassessment is making a difference. Between 20-25% of new trailers are equipped with skirts today.
Experts, too, point out that a 20 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag generates a 6 percent fuel economy improvement at 30 mph, a 10 percent fuel economy improvement at 50 mph, and a 14 percent fuel economy improvement at 80 mph. With growing, albeit halting, awareness of benefits associated with streamlined trailers, it’s no surprise that trailer manufacturers offer various products in their quest for larger market share – still an onerous task in a climate of some resistance.
For vocational trailers however, some technologies such as the rear fairing require redesign for the vocational market to work with common door designs and ease of actuation during frequent stops. Fuel consumption is primarily caused by three factors – resistance to inertia, rolling resistance and aerodynamics. The first can be improved with driver training and route planning; the second by design improvements by engine, truck, and axles manufacturers, as well as tire builders dedicated to efficient tires with less friction yield. With the third factor, aerodynamics, accounting for 50 percent of fuel consumption, and trailers responsible for the lion’s share of that expense, greater willingness to harness trailer technologies is poised to reap benefits, not only in improved fuel economy, but also in increased aerodynamic stability, reduced maintenance and accelerated return on investment.
Fairings, skirts and boat tails are only part of the story when it comes to savings. Tires play a big role, and reduced rolling resistance tire features can improve fuel economy by 1.5 percent. Add to these newer technologies such as telematics that help control equipment, and the savings can build.
Pre-trailer purchases should include checking with vendors on updates. Tanker trailers, for example, are durable, long lasting products so it’s advisable to consult with sellers about improvements in design and manufacture such as suspensions, landing gear, material thickness, brakes and lighting. And since one of the worst things is for a fuel loaded tanker to overturn, special attention should be paid to roll stability.
Some Canadian companies are improving on designs of conventional logging trailers for greater accessibility and lighter environmental impact. The BC-based FreFlyt Industries, for example, is helping to improve efficiencies with a new nine-axle trailer that makes it easier to remove logs from cut sites. The gross vehicle weight of 71 tonnes translates into a 16 percent increase in payload capacity. These models are capable of carrying heavier loads but do require permission from the Ministry of Transportation to ensure trailers can travel designated routes safely. With logging trucks the devil, or the difference, is in the details as loggers demand units specifically designed for their applications. Conventional models include the Super B Logger, the lightest on the market with high tensile steel, the Reverse Super B Logger, the Tandem Tandem Super B Logger and the Tri Straight Frame Heavy Duty Logger, among others.
It’s all well and good to build trailers and kudos to the innovative companies on the Canadian industrial landscape that develop new designs and introduce improvements to existing models, but manufacturing, sales and marketing are only part of the story on the long road to market integration. The big hurdle for Canadian companies is achieving that rarefied milestone – certification!
The Canadian Transportation Equipment Association (CTEA) works with small, medium and large trailer and vocational truck manufacturers through programs and services that are tailored to enhance manufacturing capabilities. To many, the CTEA is indispensible in assisting with approvals. The Association assists by helping members understand and comply with legislated requirements, e.g. vehicle weights & dimensions, the Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and many other compliance issues. The Canadian Transportation Equipment Association (CTEA) provides NSM and Pre-clearance application review services to its members. These services use the application guidelines provided by Transport Canada, but most important is that CTEA has developed a set format that Transport Canada has come to recognize and accept, making it easier for them to review the application file for accuracy and completeness.
In addition, CTEA has developed partnerships with service providers that can assist with HR issues, employee benefit programs and other business concerns. Don Moore is CTEA Executive Director who outlined the certification process. “Only Canadian companies can apply for and apply a National Safety Mark (NSM) to vehicles they manufacture. Foreign manufacturers must apply for pre-clearance to import their vehicles, which is a similar process, with similar requirements to those applying for an NSM. The application process is laid out by Transport Canada and is quite extensive. Essentially, Transport Canada requires documentation that proves that the vehicle an applicant intends to build and sell is compliant with all applicable regulations under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This includes photographs, test reports and related documentation. The idea is that the company needs to prove that they understand their obligations for each and every vehicle they build under the Act,” Don Moore explained.
Most Canadian companies must first self-certify in addition to achieving NSM certification. But there are exceptions. Tanker builders that transport dangerous goods must meet the requirements of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods branch of Transport Canada. But that’s not all. Don Moore also advises that “once the new Heavy Duty Vehicle and Engine Greenhouse Gas Phase 2 regulations come into effect, manufacturers may also have to apply for a National Emissions Mark (NEM) from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Finally, there may be special requirements in specific jurisdictions and sectors. For instance, the mining industry in British Columbia requires special air reservoir certification.”
To be sure, attention to fuel savings by reducing drag, improvements to trailer design and manufacture, and compliance with regulations are critical for navigating the sea changes of the trailer market.

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