Improving fuel economy in the trucking industry can have a major impact on future profitability in this competitive sector of the economy. New technologies are making it easier and more cost-effective to reduce the fuel expenditures of big rigs and to manage gas mileage requirements more easily. However, the high costs of some of these advanced technological solutions have priced them out of reach for all but the largest companies in the trucking and transportation field. Finding ways to increase fuel efficiency and to reduce the carbon footprint of over-the-road trucking activities can help trucking and shipping companies achieve increased profitability and an improved public image for their ongoing transportation operations.
Environmental Impact and Public Perception
Reducing energy consumption and conserving fuel is a hot topic in the current consumer marketplace. Demonstrating progress toward improvements in fuel economy can boost the reputations of trucking companies to a considerable degree among environmentally conscious consumers. Choosing green-friendly vendors and partners can also make a significant impact on public perceptions of these firms and can allow them to market their transportation services more effectively not only to consumers but also in the business-to-business marketplace. By taking steps toward real progress in managing fuel economy more responsibly, trucking firms can improve their branding efforts for the larger consumer community.
Ongoing Efforts in Boosting Fuel Economy
A number of major manufacturers of large-scale trucking equipment have focused their attention on developing a 10 mile-per-gallon vehicle for freight and cargo shipping needs. While none of the major contenders has succeeded yet, Daimler recently exhibited a heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadia Evolution that managed 9.3 miles per gallon in controlled cross-country driving conditions. The added fuel economy was due in part to changes to the engine configuration and to added aerodynamic styling throughout the body of the truck. Experts in the automotive field confirmed that the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution was capable of fuel economy over 10 miles per gallon in certain ideal test conditions; however, it did not achieve those figures in the cross-country testing environment. Currently, 18-wheelers average about six miles to the gallon in highway driving conditions.
Federal Government Plays a Role
In August 2012, the Obama administration released the final version of rules designed to promote improved fuel economy in both the passenger vehicle marketplace and for large over-the-road trucks. These new regulations represent a significant increase in required fuel economy for all types of motor vehicles. By 2025, for instance, automakers are expected to achieve an average fuel economy rating of 54.5 miles per gallon. Current regulations require an average of 29 miles per gallon; the new rules will require nearly double that amount within the next 12 years. The U.S. Energy Department also manages the SuperTruck program that offers incentives for companies that work to increase the fuel economy of 18-wheel trucks and other freight and cargo vehicles.
Diesel vs. Natural Gas
Alternatives to diesel are also being discussed in the trucking industry. Vehicles that derive a portion of their power from an electric generator can provide added fuel economy and reduced operating costs for many companies. For most of the transportation sector, however, the most viable alternative to diesel fuel is natural gas. Increasingly available in many parts of the country, natural gas fueling stations offer a more sustainable way to power trucks for long-haul cargo runs. However, making the move to natural gas is not cheap; the added cost of natural gas engines and tanks amounts to between $70,000 and $100,000 per vehicle. These steep prices can put natural gas options out of reach for many smaller trucking companies and may discourage even the larger corporations from making the switch from diesel to natural gas fuel.
Drivers Make a Major Difference
Experienced drivers can also have an impact on the fuel efficiency achieved on the road. According to experts in the industry, differences in driving styles can account for up to 25 percent of the fuel expended in an average run. Drivers who maintain optimal speeds can save their employers a considerable amount in fuel and can reduce the likelihood of accidents by ensuring a safe and consistent driving speed appropriate to current weather and traffic conditions.
The Cost of Progress
Improving fuel economy and integrating alternative fuels into the trucking industry will take time and investment. Many companies, however, are already experiencing cash flow difficulties due to the small business credit crunch and to reduced demand for their services in the past few years. As economic conditions improve, the availability of traditional lending arrangements has not kept pace with demand. This has led to the increasing popularity of factoring and invoice lending arrangements among small to medium-sized trucking firms.
Alternative lending companies such as Freight Factoring Companies allow trucking firms to use the power of unpaid accounts receivable or outstanding purchase orders to collateralize credit arrangements. This allows an improved chance of success in obtaining the necessary loans and lines of credit to acquire the advanced equipment needed to enhance fuel economy. By acquiring loans and other financial arrangements from alternative lenders like Commerce Commercial Credit, trucking companies can ensure they are ready for the future of the transportation industry.