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SuperTruck promises super fuel savings

SuperTruck. Photo courtesy of Peterbilt

A. Lee Graham
lgraham@bizpress.net

The average motorist might bristle at getting 9.9 miles per gallon, but such fuel consumption is the stuff of dreams for tractor-trailer drivers.

Aiming to turn those dreams into reality is the SuperTruck, a federally funded initiative from Peterbilt Motors Co. and Cummins Inc. that aims to save the U.S. trucking industry millions of dollars in annual fuel costs.

“Fuel is the biggest expense companies have,” said Rick Mihelic, manager of vehicle performance and engineering analysis with Peterbilt’s Denton headquarters.

Speaking at an Aug. 7 presentation at the University of Texas at Arlington, Mihelic told a small audience that the technology could save about $12,000 a year per truck in fuel costs.

With an estimated 1.4 million tractor-trailers traversing roadways nationwide, according to American Trucking Associations numbers, that’s not chump change.

“We’re under pressure to make more efficient products for customers,” Mihelic said.
Since SuperTruck research got rolling two years ago, Peterbilt, Cummins and project partners have sunk $38.8 million in private funds into the effort. The U.S. Department of Energy provided matching grants.

Fruits of that research rolled into a UT-Arlington parking lot on Aug. 7, where those attending the Arlington Technology Association presentation got a firsthand look at the latest prototype. Two prior models cut costs and went into production, and the latest model promises even more cost savings.

The truck achieved 54 percent greater fuel economy at 9.9 miles per gallon than average trucks that manage between 5.5 and 6.5 mpg.

In launching the SuperTruck project in 2010, the Department of Energy’s primary goal was to improve long-haul vehicle freight efficiency by streamlining engine efficiency and vehicle technologies while meeting emissions and vehicle safety requirements.
To hear Mihelic and project partner Ken Damon tell it, those aims are being met.

“We have companies that would kill for two-tenths of a mile improvement,” said Damon, engineering project manager and fellow Peterbilt representative.

To achieve those savings, the companies are developing a high-efficiency engine and an aerodynamic tractor-trailer, as well as technology using route information to find shorter routes. Climate control improvements and reduced vehicle weight are two more tweaks that boost the mileage.

"There’s no bling on here,” Damon said, referring to features added simply for appearance or style. “This is all about what can you do for fuel economy.”

Plenty, according to project research. In a test, a fleet of 7,150 trucks burned through 154 million gallons of fuel a year at 6 miles per gallon compared with 92 million gallons at 10 miles per gallon for the SuperTruck. That saved 62 million gallons of fuel, or $239 million.
Truckers nationwide could begin enjoying those savings when the prototype reaches production.
“We hope to have it out within two years,” Mihelic said.

More information on the SuperTruck is available at http://www.peterbilt.com/about/media/2010/275/

 

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