Significant fuel economy improvements are motivating motor carriers to continue to upgrade their fleets even as freight demand slows and shipping rates slide.
“From 2012 to 2017, we saw a lot better fuel economy year over year,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. Overall, new trucks get are a third more fuel efficient than older ones, he said.
Motor carriers are earning less than in 2018. But they remain in good financial shape, said Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research.
“Buying new, higher quality equipment is a great way to improve efficiency and avoid paying so much in taxes,” he said.
Congress cut corporate business taxes 35 percent to 21 percent last year following the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
RISING FUEL ECONOMY
Fleet Advantage uses software to extract fuel, maintenance and mileage data from a truck’s onboard computer. In a recent study, the company said upgrading from a 2012 to a 2019 sleeper cab model saves $26,687 in annual fuel costs.
The national average for a heavy-duty truck hauling an 80,000-pound load is about 6.4 miles per gallon. New trucks average 8.5 to 9 mpg, Roeth said.
The dramatic rise in fuel economy led DAT Solutions to boost its assumed fuel surcharge to 6.2 mpg from 5.8 mpg. Shippers pay the surcharge on top of the cost of a load.
Aerodynamics and powertrain technology improved fuel economy 35 percent in the Freightliner Cascadia between its introduction in 2017 and the 2020 model, according to Daimler Trucks North America.
Navistar International Corp. offers customers two MPG aerodynamic packages and two MPG Powertrain packages. It also promotes advanced safety packages, comfort features, connectivity and durability.
“Newer technologies are quickly being adopted by customers,” said Jim Nachtman, Navistar heavy duty marketing director. “Every customer has their own unique priorities.”
Volvo Trucks North America finds its larger customers want fuel efficiency and other features. Smaller customers focus on miles per gallon, said Peter Blonde, Volvo senior product marketing manager for fuel and transport efficiency.
“We need to reeducate the customer from time to time,” he said. “Trucking is a habit-driven business. You don’t need to do much in the wrong direction to go backwards.”
More drivers are chasing a slower freight market so far this year. Carriers and fleets want to keep their best behind the wheel. Higher pay helps. But offering new equipment is a big factor, said Tim Hindes, chief executive of Stay Metrics, which tracks driver retention.
“The key is to spec the truck properly to not only serve customer needs, but also the needs and some wants of drivers,” said Casey Stump, general manager at Ag Trucking in Goshen, Ind. Ag held a companywide vote to determine the paint scheme of its new tractor, he said.
The average age of the 6.719 tractors in the Heartland Express Inc. fleet was 1.3 years at the end of 2018, said Josh Helmich, vice president and controller.
“Drivers love new trucks,” he said. “We maintain a modern, high-quality tractor fleet.”