Fuel sipping rubber

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Fleets need to do everything they can to improve fuel mileage.” –Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for the Tire Industry Association and FleetOwner columnist

With fuel prices poised to start trending upwards yet again – this time due almost solely to refinery production cutbacks – it would do fleets well to take a fresh look at how the type of tires they use impacts fuel economy.

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This isn’t a new story by any means, for every tire maker serving the trucking industry – Michelin, Bridgestone/Firestone, Continental, Hankook, Double Coin, and Goodyear, among others – offers tires designed specifically to help fleets maximize fuel economy.

The question fleets need to address, however, is about the monetary trade-off involved – for, usually, a tire that offers improved fuel efficiency isn’t going to last like one designed for long tread life. Nor is the most fuel efficient tire the best model for fleets operating in a lot of rough conditions, where snow and ice are common concerns.

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Yet that doesn’t mean the fuel savings associated with super fuel efficient tire designs are outweighed by less tread life. I recently talked to Goodyear’s Tim Miller about this very subject at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) annual meeting. Goodyear – like other truck tire makers – invested a lot of time and money to develop a fuel saving line of tires using what it calls Fuel Max Technology.

Rolled out several years ago, “Fuel Max” tires combine specifically-designed tread patterns along with different tire material compounds and manufacturing technologies to help optimize fuel economy while maintaining a low cost-per-mile for fleets and owner-operators, he said.

In analyzing rolling resistance factors, Goodyear scientists and engineers found that the tread – in this case the pattern, groove depth and compound material in combination – accounted for more than half of a truck tire’s rolling resistance. And by reducing rolling resistance, you increase fuel economy.

[Miller explains this in more detail in the clip below.]

A few years ago, Goodyear subjected its Fuel Max tires to the fuel economy test that is the gold standard in the trucking market – the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1321 Joint TMC/SAE Fuel Consumption Test Procedure - Type II. The results showed an 8 percent improvement in fuel economy using Fuel Max tires compared to standard Goodyear over-the-road tires.

However, since no one drives at constant speed on flat terrain for a 10-hour shift, Goodyear engineers adjusted the SAE results to 4 percent to estimate real-world conditions, such as varying driver inputs, road conditions and terrain and truck aerodynamics. That’s still some pretty serious savings, and with the U.S. average price for diesel fuel still up over $2.18 per gallon, getting 4 percent better fuel economy can pay off handsomely over time.

Again, it’s just one of the many cost management factors fleets need to keep firmly in mind as we wait for yet another inevitable spike in the price of fuel.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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