Leaner, Lighter Equipment
Monthly Theme by Marek Krasuski
Carriers are faced with a multitude of decisions in determining which equipment should be outfitted on commercial trucks. Today, especially, choosing the right product for the right application is even more complex as greater product choice expands the options available. In the constant quest for better efficiencies carriers, operators and builders look to materials that reduce gross vehicle weight (GVW) and more lightweight materials are coming onto the market. Lower weight translates into more payload capacity, better fuel economy, and recued risk of overloading. To be sure, lower body weight is at least one gold standard in achieving cost effectiveness. Lighter body weight produces better fuel economy and lower emissions, enabling fleets to support sustainability initiatives. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), for every 10 percent of weight eliminated from a vehicle’s total weight, fuel economy improves 6-8 percent. Therefore, if truck body weight is reduced by 50, 60, and even 70 percent, significant fuel cost savings can be achieved. Applied over dozens or hundreds of units and the savings can be huge.
Lighter weight is by no means restricted to truck bodies. Consumers are demanding leaner uplifts as well in the light, medium and heavy duty markets. Alternatives to steel such as aluminum and composite materials are in demand. Stainless steel is also becoming a preferred alternative to traditional steel, particularly on plow trucks which reduce overall truck weight and resist against chemicals which cause damage to vehicles and equipment.
Even more efficient are aluminum and composite products which enjoy significant demand. Manufacturers have seen up to a 50 percent increase in aluminum truck bodies that can weigh anywhere from 400 to 900 lbs. lighter, depending on application, than their steel counterparts. Moreover, aluminum typically lasts longer – almost double that of steel – which means fewer vehicles need to be produced over the long run, thereby leaving a lighter environmental footprint.
Aluminum does not normally rust, but it does corrode, particularly at the point where the aluminum meets steel, a process referred to as “galvanic corrosion.” Damage typically takes place along the bottom rail where the body is bolted to a steel undercarriage. The merging of two dissimilar metals results in deterioration. To prevent galvanic corrosion experts advise installing a barrier or isolator such as tape, plastics and aluminum washers between the steel and aluminum. This maintains an air gap between the aluminum part or body and a steel fastener. Also, using an aluminum washer between the steel nut and aluminum body or equipment is good practice.
As noted in previous issues of this magazine, carriers are turning toward electric vehicles to achieve lower operating costs. This is particularly true in the medium duty market where companies are already investing heavily in electric trucks for regional deliveries with vehicles that have a range of up to 100 miles on a single charge and capable of haul loads up to 16,000 pounds. While medium duty electric trucks in the US total about 1,000 today, a relatively small number, sales are predicted to rise to the level where E-Trucks will command 25 percent of the regional haul market in applications under 100 miles per day. Sleeker and more efficient designs in this market take into consideration ergonomic features that enhance driver comfort and improve their operating experience. Safety enhancements are also built into new trucks with add-ons like rear cameras and telematics that optimize route planning and improve driver behaviour.
To be sure, the number of add-ons, uplifts, and modifications to vehicles are virtually unlimited. If there is a need, however specialized, a product will likely be developed to fill that need. Customization, though, can be extensive, especially for buyers like municipalities who require equipment for a whole spectrum of specialized services. One line of sewer cleaners, for example, has hundreds of potential configurations on the books and thousands more by special request. Degree of complexity, of course, is all relative to the amount of modification. With that being said, supplying municipalities with the desired equipment is tricky business. Vehicles may be factory ordered with all the necessary controls in place where the original equipment manufacturer of the chassis is responsible for compliance, but in some cases the level of customization that a municipality requires would fall on the final, intermediate, or altered stage manufacturer.
Medium duty trucks represent a notable share of the commercial trucking market, commanding significant attention and development from truck builders. Since 2010, considered the low point benchmark, there has been a slow but progressive climb in Class 4-7 truck sales. Noted Jonathan Starks from FTR, a freight forecasting company, the medium duty market is “a solid, stable, slow-growth environment. There is some positive potential building up in 2018 and 2019. But again, it’s not transformational. It’s incremental. We might add 10,000 or 15,000 units…,” he said. Since 2010 sales of Class 4-5 vehicles have risen to nearly 110 percent in the first half of 2017; a significant rise took place in the last year with sales jumping some 40 percent from June 2016 to June 2017.
As for the Class 8 market, truck builders are introducing product designs to make drivers safer, more comfortable and productive. International recruited over 800 drivers for feedback on how to improve their vehicles. International has since made improvements. The recently updated International Lone Star is now equipped with a number of uptime and safety enhancements. In 2017 the company announced the International RHTM Series, a new Class 8 regional haul tractor powered by the new International A26 12.4L engine that promises optimal uptime, visibility and fuel economy. Regarding the LT Series and its fuel efficiency benefits, International says they feature “dramatically improved aerodynamics and provide fuel efficiency that is seven percent better than the company’s most recent fuel economy leader. A 2017 ProStar® with the Cummins® ISX15 engine, the LT Series with the International® A26 engine can achieve nine percent better fuel economy than the previous 2016 model engine.
Kenworth, meanwhile, is collaborating with partners to develop advancements in Class 8 truck aerodynamics, engine and powertrain efficiencies thanks to the assistance of $8 million in funding provided by the US Department of Energy (DOE). The project’s goal is to achieve over 100 percent improvement in freight efficiency over 2009 product equivalents and 55 percent in engine brake thermal efficiency. Kenworth also has a fully integrated Paccar Automated Transmission in its Class 8 models.
Recently, Freightliner equipped its new Cascadia with designs to improve the driver experience, right from gauges and switches in the driver compartment to enhancements in the Sleeper area. A new front suspension system offers a smoother ride and steering precision has been improved for optimal comfort. Noise abatement technology has made the new Cascadia, long considered a quiet vehicle, even quieter. Fuel efficiency, too, is being pushed even further thanks to aerodynamic updates.
Elsewhere, Peterbilt is offering fuel economy improvement – by as much as 8 percent – in its 2018 model 579 EPIQ. PACCAR powers the EPIQ package with two fuel efficient engine options – the MX-13 and MX-11 which are mated with the Fuller Advantage automated transmission, offering a wide range of horsepower and torque ratings. Both engines reduce overall weight by about 50 pounds.
Driver comfort remains a priority for Volvo as well, evidenced by a newly designed dashboard with easy-to-reach controls. The VNL 760 and 740 models are equipped with four sleeper configurations along with a new 70-inch sleeper.
In these post recession times and a strong sales climate predicted for the foreseeable future, the rapid pace of change characteristic of the trucking industry is poised to deliver an expanded volume of product choice.☚