Volatile fuel prices as well as a growing awareness of how much semi-trailers can positively affect fleet fuel economy are pushing up sales of trailer aerodynamic devices. Designed to reduce wind resistance and turbulence, the devices can improve mpg performance, according to a pioneering supplier of these solutions.

“Trailer aerodynamic devices have gone from being fringe products to accepted, mainstream components all due to the dramatic fluctuations in fuel prices trucking has experienced lately,” Andrew Smith, CEO of ATDynamics, told Fleet Owner.

“Rear air drag reduction is increasingly recognized as the largest cost-saving opportunity for fleets to increase fuel efficiency,” Smith elaborated. “When combined with side skirts and other aerodynamic modifications, trailer aerodynamics equipment can deliver over 12% fuel economy improvement to trucking fleets.”

In Smith’s view, there’s a “fundamental shift” under way in the industry that has fuel-conscious fleets taking a much closer look at trailer aerodynamics. “We see the market [for trailer aero devices] now at the tipping point,” he stated, “because they offer fleets a mainstream, competitive advantage” by reducing their fuel costs. Indeed, he notes the company recently sold its 5,000th TrailerTail rear-trailer-door aero device.

He points out the market shift is also reflected by ATDynamics partnering with truck maker Navistar under the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s SuperTruck program. The program is charged with finding ways to improve the entire aerodynamic profile of tractor-trailers as single, integrated units.

But ATDynamics has not been holding back from the market whatsoever, having introduced three products in just the past three years that can be used together, separately or with trailer aero devices made by other suppliers to ensure that airflow over, around and under trailers is maximized to reduce aerodynamic drag at highway speeds and thus reduce a rig’s fuel consumption.

In 2008, the company rolled out the first version of its patented rear-mounted TrailerTail “boat tail” unit that consists of flexible and foldable “origami” panels that are attached to the rear doors of a trailer to reduce drag. Smith said fitting a trailer with the current version TrailerTail alone can improve fuel efficiency by 6.6% at 65 mph, based on SAE Type II testing.

In 2009, ATDynamics introduced a new trailer side skirt that is constructed of “durable yet flexible thermoplastic composite material so it ‘bends’ rather than dents or breaks.” The skirts are manufactured in partnership with Montreal-based Transtex Composite Inc. According to Smith, the composite skirts demonstrated a 7.4% fuel-efficiency improvement running at 62 mph, based on SAE J1321 testing validated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program.

Last fall, it revealed the next-gen version of the TrailerTail, which incorporates thermoplastic composite panels instead of aluminum for lighter weight and greater durability.

Also available from ATDynamics is the SuperSpare, a spare-tire mount designed for wide-base single tires, which the company said “clears the way for a total vehicle transition toward fuel efficiency.” The tractor version mounts to the frame rail and the trailer model mounts on I-beams underneath the trailer, allowing trailers to carry spares even with skirts installed. The mounts feature an integrated hoist mechanism for “low-impact raising and lowering.”

As for payback, on either the composite skirts or TrailerTail, it’s a “no-brainer for anyone running over 25,000 highway miles a year,” Smith remarks. “The TrailerTail will save 8 gals. of fuel per 1,000 mi. run at highway speeds; for the skirts, it’s 15 gals. saved. Running 25,000 to 35,000 mi. with either product will deliver a two-year payback or 50% annual return. Run 90,000 mi. and it is a nine-month payback and so forth. And from then on, it’s year-after-year fuel savings.”