14 Things You Probably Never Considered About Making Trucks More Efficient

transformational truck rmi

Denver, CO, RMI's Transformational Trucking Charrette: After three days' discussion by trucking suppliers, OEMs, drivers, and industry experts, the technological potential for drastic trucking efficiency gains—as well as the complexity of the barriers preventing their adoption—has never been clearer.

We've created a list of some essential and perhaps counterintuitive facts on advancing heavy-duty trucking efficiency.
1. Heavy trucks' mileage per gallon actually decreased in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Heavy trucking is responsible for 18 percent of the transportation sector's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is the single fastest-growing source of transportation emissions.


2. How you measure efficiency is critical. Trucks with low fuel consumption do not necessarily have the best efficiency, defined as carrying goods for the least amount of energy. The best metrics are ton-miles per gallon of fuel or volume-miles per gallon of fuel.


3. Drastic efficiency gains are possible. A 2008 paper published by RMI found a factor of 2.3 to 2.7 gains in efficiency (ton-miles/gallon) can be achieved with technologies like auxiliary power units, more efficient wide-base tires, and improved aerodynamic mechanisms, such as trailer side skirts.

Yet, as RMI's chief scientist Amory Lovins made clear, even more can be done. The analysis referenced above did not account for gains from hybrid powertrains, reducing overnight idling, regenerative braking, or new and efficient engines.

4. Easy solutions often yield the greatest gains. Efficiency can be vastly improved by increasing the weight limits and length of trucks as well as reducing vehicle speed.

5. Long combination vehicle safety testing (LCVs are trucks that have two or three trailers) shows they are safer than their single-trailer counterparts. Much of this can be explained by considering a truck driver's risk threshold—a driver is less likely to drive recklessly in a three-trailer vehicle than a two- or single-trailer vehicle.

6. Technologies for efficiency exist. Getting them to the marketplace is the challenge. Even if a new technology has proved it can save a lot of fuel, fleet owners need to know the new part is reliable. A new wide-base single tire might be available in Seattle, but not Chicago, and in spite of its availability, a mechanic might not know how to install it. This makes new fuel-efficient technologies hard to bring to market. Imagine training and supplying the entire country for every new technology.

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