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Trailer Makers’ Brave New World

This story appears in the Jan. 23 print edition of Equipment & Maintenance Update, a supplement to Transport Topics.

In less than 12 months, motor carriers are scheduled to encounter their first experiences with trailers designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and increase fuel efficiency. The latest federal government mandate to clean the air imposes standards for the first time on semi-trailers, creating what many consider to be a brave new world for trailer makers and suppliers of aerodynamic devices.

Phil Romba

The closer we get to Jan. 1, 2018, the more clearly we see that high fuel prices nearly 10 years ago drove the equipment trends today that will ultimately be deployed to satisfy the first round of Phase 2 requirements. The growing use of aerodynamic devices will do the trick, not lightweighting, according to trailer and aerodynamic device suppliers.

Lightweighting, or the practice of substituting lighter weight materials for heavier ones, would not be used at this stage to reduce trailer weight and thereby offer greater fuel efficiency, they said. Lightweighting remains a design option for compliance with GHG regulations taking effect in 2021, 2024 and 2027. Some suppliers interviewed suggested lightweighting might not be an option for the latter regulations.

Comments by trailer makers were guarded about actual designs and certification processes for 53-foot dry vans and reefers used in linehaul service that will be needed to comply. Trailers referenced here will be those used in on-highway linehaul applications.

Widespread acceptance of fuel-saving devices on trailers began as the nationwide average price for a gallon of diesel fuel rose to $4.25 in early May 2008, according to CNN Money. The path leading to that historically high price and the sustained near-$4 per-gallon price from 2011 to 2014 pushed fleets to adopt fuel-saving devices — even on trailers. In reality, the trailer was the only portion of the combination vehicle that had not yet been optimized for fuel efficiency.

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By Phil Romba


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