Lightweight Aluminium Makes Truck Fleets More Efficient

With commercial truck fleet operators under pressure to keep costs to a minimum, many have begun to take more seriously options to lightweight their vehicles.
6 April, 2016
A lighter vehicle means improved fuel efficiency and greater freight efficiency. Studies have indicated that some truck fleets could save nearly $1 million USD over the course of five years.
The logic behind lighter freight vehicles is straightforward. According to Mike Roeth, Operation Lead at Trucking Efficiency, an initiative that seeks to double the efficiency of the North American trucking fleet and is run jointly by the Carbon War Room (CWR) and the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE): "When lightweighting is looked at not only in terms of better fuel economy but also improved freight efficiency, it makes sense in a wide variety of applications."
The Freightliner Inspiration, the world's first self-driving truck licensed to operate on the open road. Freightliner introduced the first all-aluminium cab back in 1942. Photo copyright Daimler.
Existing trends within the trucking industry, when taken alongside the ever -present drive for efficiency in all operations, make lightweighting a very attractive option for truck operators. Estimates by NACFE suggest that over the next 5-10 years, the number of dry and refrigerated vehicles asked to operate at their maximum weight will increase by 100%. In this operating environment, lightweighting is the most effective solution for moving freight efficiently while reducing both fuel costs and emissions.

One of the most effective methods of lightweighting vehicles is the increased use of aluminium. Research undertaken by Ricardo Consulting Engineers demonstrated that an "aluminum-intensive" Class 8 commercial tractor-trailer could cut the weight of a vehicle by 3,300 pounds (around 1,500 kg). The same study indicated that if all Class 8 tractor-trailers in the US were replaced with aluminum-intensive models, as much as 9.3 million tons of CO2 could be saved each year.
Aluminum is well-positioned to help move the nation's freight more efficiently and effectively by providing lightweight solutions in a variety of applications across the heavy and medium duty truck markets... With the pending proposal from EPA to further tighten the emissions profile of the heavy duty truck and trailer market, this report shows how lightweighting with aluminum can be part of the fuel and freight efficiency solution.
Heidi Brock
President & CEO, Aluminum Association
The benefits of lightweight aluminium trucks in lowering CO2 emissions are already considerable, but drivers and companies both stand to gain even more. By dropping an average of 2,500 pounds (1,133 kg) per truck in a fleet of 100 vehicles, a company could save nearly $100,000 worth of diesel fuel per year. All that reduced weight, of course, could be replaced by additional cargo, boosting profits and reducing the number of vehicles that need to be on the road (and burning fuel) overall.

The value of fuel efficiency has always been understood by the trucking industry, and various fuel efficiency technologies have been adopted in recent years. The Trucking Efficiency study has highlighted how lightweighting vehicles can help to offset the added weight of these efficiency technologies. The choice of an aluminium cab in place of a steel one may cost more in the short term, but if the truck will be regularly used at full capacity, then the additional initial expense may soon be recovered in operational savings.
Deciding on aluminum wheels, gear cases, hubs, and frame cross members can result in substantial weight savings for any vehicle; this helps explains why a growing number of fleet owners and operators are switching over to aluminium as opposed to steel wheels. Just a wheel change can reduce a tractor-trailer's weight by over 500 pounds (227 kg). Aluminum offers one other major benefit when compared with steel: it is better at resisting corrosion, which is becoming more of a problem for many fleet operators with the use of aggressive road de-icing salts.

Photo copyright Rumph Childers, LLC.
With the continued expectation of more pallets being loaded on every trailer transported, higher fuel costs, and increasing weight restrictions, the need for lightweighting is becoming ever more apparent. The use of aluminium in truck construction is the most efficient way to achieve the needed weight savings and ensure that fleet owners make the most use of their vehicles.
Banner photo copyright Truck News.