As more fleets install a variety of aerodynamic systems on their trailers in order to comply with state regulations and gain fuel savings, the makers of those devices are already engaged in wide range of efforts to improve upon their designs – searching for ways to reduce costs while boosting longevity, durability and fuel savings, thus lowering return on investment (ROI) calculations for carriers.

“Definitely weight reduction is a big consideration and customers consistently demand lower pricing,” Andy Acott, sales manager for trailer side skirt maker Laydon Composites Ltd., told Fleet Owner.

“This trend will never stop and we as a manufacturer will never stop researching and developing newer and better products,” he explained. “I think what we see on the nation’s trailers today is a pretty good ‘first rendition’ but there’s a huge amount of room for improvement. The stage is set for better products to come where the most creative and innovative companies will succeed.”

Acott said that fuel savings remain the driving force behind sales of Laydon’s devices, but that certainly government regulations continue to help “energize” interest in them.

“There is absolutely no doubt California’s mandates have increased demand over a much shorter period,” he emphasized. “For example, six years ago there were approximately two or three companies selling side skirts. Today, that number has more than quadrupled and companies are now offering gap fairings and boat tail devices in addition to trailer skirts.”

ATDynamics offers one example of how customer demand is “reshaping” the aerodynamic products being offered for freight trailers.

Originally the company offered just one version of its “TrailerTail” device when it introduced it to the trucking industry back in 2008. Now it offers four others: the TrailerTail Roll for units that have roll-up rear doors; the TrailerTail Nano to comply with Canadian vehicle length requirements; the TrailerTail Tarp for rolling tarp flatbeds; and the TrailerTail Drop for drop-frame units.

The company now even offers side skirts as well via a partnership with Transtex, noted Andrew Smith, founder and CEO of ATDynamics.

“California’s mandates for tractor-trailer fuel efficiency raised a new level of industry awareness about trailer aerodynamics,” he noted. “Consistently high and volatile diesel prices have also impacted fleet decisions to invest in fuel efficiency technologies and have contributed to faster returns on investment.”

Yet while many fleets probably implemented trailer aerodynamics initially in response to the regulations, Smith contended, more and more decisions are being driven by fuel prices and the savings gained from fuel efficiency improvements. “Overall, the financial investment and return carry the most weight in decision-making,” he pointed out.

“Most fleets know a ‘streamlined’ rig is more efficient but not all completely understand exactly how much is saved and how the savings affect their ‘bottom line,’” added Laydon’s Acott. “But [California’s] regulations forced many fleets to reprioritize – and consequently getting trailer aerodynamic devices ‘shot up’ on their priority list.”

Improving the ROI, then, remains the central challenge faced by trailer aerodynamic device manufacturers, Acott believes – a challenge that is only increasing as the price of diesel fuel remains on an upward trajectory.

“For example, every fleet has different concerns over side skirts: price, weight, longevity, ease of installation, etc.,” he said. “As a result, skirts have all become lighter, less expensive and faster to install – and that points to where this industry continues to keep heading.”