Yes, you read that right. This is a story about a truck that gets 12 miles per gallon. Why is that news? Because we are talking about a big, heavy tractor pulling a 65,000 lb load. Most of the big rigs you see out on the highway only get half of that — or less.
A year ago, the US Department of Energy created a Super Truck program designed to find ways of boosting fuel economy and reducing emissions for those road going Goliaths so essential to our economy. The program was funded by $40,000,000 in grant money and its goal was to create a truck that got 50% better fuel economy.
Daimler Trucks North America, which markets its machines under the Freightliner brand name, not only beat the stated goal, they shattered it. Through an extensive design and testing process, they came up with is a vehicle that averages 12.2 mpg in real world conditions. That’s more than double what a stock 2009 Freightliner could manage. The results were so impressive, the company decided to call its creation “SuperTruck.” By comparison, a truck built by Cummins and Peterbilt average only 9.9 mpg in the same tests.
Daimler engineers started with a standard production version of its Cascadia Evolution model, then added aerodynamic tweaks like a louvered grille that shutters itself for smoother passage through the air on the highway but opens to provide cooling air at slower speeds. But the biggest gains came from using the company’s Intelligent Powertrain Management system, a computer program that selects the most efficient gear for the transmission at all times. The package also includes low rolling resistance tires and electric subsystems for the power steering and air conditioning systems instead of traditional belt driven accessories.
Daimler is not the only manufacturer looking to squeeze more miles out of a gallon of fuel. Walmart has pioneered its quirky WAVE truck and AirFlow has designed its aerodynamically efficient Bullet Truck. Walmart trucks pile on millions of miles a year delivering consumer products to its stores. Raising fuel economy by as little as 1 mile per gallon can add a lot of money to the company’s bottom line.
Along with raising the average fuel economy of passenger cars, the federal government is looking for improvements to big trucks. Pushing those beasts through the air is like dragging a parachute behind your pickup — it takes a lot of power. The more aerodynamic trucks become, the less drag they will have to overcome and the more efficient they will be. In the end, getting the job done while burning less fossil fuel is not only good for corporate fleet managers and accountants, its good for all of us.