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Published on November 11th, 2009 | by Christopher DeMorro

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Tractor Trailers with Tails Improve Fuel Efficiency by 7.5%

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The tapering tail is no secret among scientists for improving stability and fuel efficiency. Many high-mileage concept cars feature just such a design to smooth the aerodynamics of the vehicle. Now imagine applying the same concept to container trucks that log more miles in a year than most of us travel in five.

A Dutch public-private enterprise did just that, adding a 6 foot long tail to the end of a tractor trailer truck. The results from two years of testing were a 7.5% increase in fuel efficiency, and thus a similar decrease in emissions.

While it may not look like much, in the world of competitive trucking every little bit counts. A 7.5% increase may only turn out to be a 1 MPG difference, but over the course of 100,000 miles…that adds up. The tail is designed to fold out of the way during loading and unloading, though it looks like it could still stand some improvement in that area. The developer of this tail is Platform for Aerodynamic Road Transport (PART), who has developed other ideas for improving auto aerodynamics as well (see below).

The tests were first conducted on computers, and then in wind tunnels before tackling the open road. The test truck ran a year without the tail across the Netherlands, and then a year with the tail to come up with the results, which seems like some pretty solid data if you ask me. The only problem with these kinds of trailers here in the states is a length restriction. The tail adds six feet to the end of a trailer, and certain states (like good ol’ Connecticut) only allow 48′ trailers with a 43′ foot kingpin-to-rear-axle measurement. Most of the country allows for longer 53′ trailers, but ultimately it may come down to fuel savings versus cargo capacity.

Or they could just build tapered trailers and make it easier on everybody. This simple solution could be implemented almost overnight (if we got the government and private businesses to cooperate for once) and save hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs and annual emissions. And if you combine this technology with simple side skirts, the fuel savings could be over 20%! The sideskirts are also part of the Dutch PART initiative.

Source: Science Daily | Images: Delft University of Technology


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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • Eli Green/Snoopy

    I wonder if they’ve thought about dimpling the trucks, a la Mythbusters (http://green.autoblog.com/2009/10/22/video-mythbusters-test-golf-ball-like-dimpling-effect-on-fuel-e/).

  • Eli Green/Snoopy

    I wonder if they’ve thought about dimpling the trucks, a la Mythbusters (http://green.autoblog.com/2009/10/22/video-mythbusters-test-golf-ball-like-dimpling-effect-on-fuel-e/).

  • Eli Green/Snoopy

    I wonder if they’ve thought about dimpling the trucks, a la Mythbusters (http://green.autoblog.com/2009/10/22/video-mythbusters-test-golf-ball-like-dimpling-effect-on-fuel-e/).

  • Lee Thomas

    If these trailers are more stable as well, It seems like it might be reasonable to encourage the purchase and use of these more efficient trailers by writing allowances for the extra length into motor vehicle regulations.

  • Lee Thomas

    If these trailers are more stable as well, It seems like it might be reasonable to encourage the purchase and use of these more efficient trailers by writing allowances for the extra length into motor vehicle regulations.

  • Lee Thomas

    If these trailers are more stable as well, It seems like it might be reasonable to encourage the purchase and use of these more efficient trailers by writing allowances for the extra length into motor vehicle regulations.

  • http://www.atdynamics.com Bob Ozden

    Dear Christopher,

    My name is Bob Ozden, I am the COO of ATDynamics (San Francisco) we are the makers of the TrailerTail® the trailer rear drag reduction aerodynamic device. Just this year alone we sold more than 4,000 units to fleets in the US. The boat tail finally works. We deliver over 6% fuel efficiency, that is about 8 gallons in 1,000 miles at highway speeds in the US, and combined with side skirts, it is over 14 gallons per 1,000 miles (or over 10% fuel efficiency). Tails are now proven in the US and fleets are installing them ever increasing numbers since August of this year. Please check out our web site http://www.atdynamics.com and happy to provide you more detail if you like bozden@atdynamics.com

  • http://www.joflos.com Bill Bennett

    A better technology exists and is just now coming to market. Joe Skopic, from Central Pennsylvania, has developed a wing which attaches with aviation cables. It is self deploying and requires no driver intervention. It is on 12 test vehicles and is averaging well over 7.5% fuel savings. It does not add to the length of the rig. It does add 5″ to the width, which is less than the mirrors on the tractor. Talk about added stability! Typical payback is 3 to 6 months. Watch for these on trucks, in the very near future.

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