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Industry has done well in fuel efficiency efforts, exexcutives say

Daimler's David Hames says natural gas will become a good alternative fuel but will never replace diesel. (The Trucker: LYNDON FINNEY)

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

8/21/2013

DALLAS  — A diverse panel of trucking industry executives gathered here Wednesday at the fourth annual Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference for a discussion around the topic “The Future of Fuel Economy: 2017 and Beyond” and in general had the same messages with individual anecdotes.

The industry, they agreed, is doing a lot of things right in terms of fuel efficiency in the present, but none of the five seemed to peer beyond 2017 other than to say that natural gas is not the end all, but rather an alternative to diesel.

The outlook conference is held each year in conjunction with the Great American Trucking Show that gets under way here Thursday.

Derek Kaufman, CEO of Mission Motors, a company that develops electric powertrain components and systems, moderated a panel of Craig Bennett, senior vice president sales and marketing for Utility Trailer; Jim Fier, executive engineer — midrange and heavy duty engineering at Cummins; David Hames, general manager marketing and strategy, Daimler Trucks North America; and Max Fuller, chairman and CEO of U.S. Xpress.

In responses that covered a wide range of topics related to the assigned subject, conference attendees heard:

• Fier said that Cummins will be able to allocate more resources toward fuel economy. Those resources, he said, were previously focused on the government-mandated emissions standards that are now in place and won’t change much in the future.

• Hames said that Daimler’s work in fuel efficiency had reached the point that there was no more “silver bullet” rate of 5 percent rates of return. “We’re getting to the point of diminishing return,” he said, adding the Daimler is not looking to combine smaller rates of return from its fuel efficiency work into a collectively larger return.

• Fuller, who expressed frustration with how slow the industry moves with respect the new technologies, cited how U.S. Xpress became the fastest growing truckload carrier in the U.S through innovative partnerships with truck and trailer manufacturers in areas such as telematics technology and safety innovations. On the other hand, Fuller noted how the industry has recently taken giant steps forward in terms of fuel efficiency. “The trucks I am buying today are getting one mile per gallon more than trucks I bought 12 to 18 months ago,” he said.

 • Bennett said that when trailer skirts appeared in the marketplace, they were built by companies that didn’t build trailers. “We developed our own skirt that would stay on the trailer even if impacted,” he said. Bennett said statistics show a 2 to 4 percent improvement with skirts and a similar savings utilizing trailer tails, but felt 4 percent might have be a little high.

• Kaufman, whose San Francisco-based company deals primarily with auto manufacturers, said he believes electric powertrains do have a future in the heavy-duty industry as costs decline.

No discussion about the future of fuel economy would be complete without a discussion of natural gas and the trucking industry.

Fuller said two years ago U.S. Xpress thought NG might be the “way to go.”

But the additional cost of $70,000 for the engine and tanks changed his mind.

“So we decided to go slow,” he said, noting that if the cost would drop to about $20,000 per unit, he would take another look.

“Let’s go slow and see how the technology evolves and let some other manufacturers get into the industry,” he said. “Then maybe that $20,000 premium would be more agreeable.”

Hames, noting that Daimler was “deep into the natural gas market,” added he was “not of the mind that natural gas will replace diesel. It’s an alternative fuel that will take an increasing role” in trucking.

Daimler is offering compressed and liquefied natural gas version of its Cascadia model, including a 48-inch sleeper, with factory installed tanks.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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