Located just down the street from its Portland, OR., headquarters, Freightliner's new wind tunnel will help the company optimize aerodynamics for a completely new truck due out in 2007, as well as refine wind-cheating elements for current vehicles.

The goal for the new truck is an overall drag reduction of 15% compared to the company's current models, which would translate into a 5% reduction in fuel consumption for over-the-road applications, according to Michael van Mayenburg, sr. vp of engineering and technology for the Freightliner group.

The new wind tunnel is the first built in the U.S. specifically for heavy- and medium-duty truck research. Its $5.8-million price tag was “a fraction of the cost of a traditional wind tunnel,” said von Mayenburg, who during opening celebrations last month pointed to a number of cost-cutting design and materials innovations devised with the help of the NASA Ames Research Center and Portland State University.

The cost was also partially offset by an Oregon tax credit for investment in research facilities, according to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. On hand to perform the ceremonial mouse-click that started the tunnel's fans on its opening day, Gov. Kulongoski added that the 2004 Century Class tractor sitting in the tunnel “is a little bit different than what I was used to when I drove a truck as a young man.”

While the company uses computerized analytical tools to study vehicle aerodynamics, “it is essential to go beyond visualized [air flows] and actually measure them with a tool like this,” van Mayenburg said. The resulting gains in aerodynamic and fuel efficiency will not only “lower operating costs for customers, but also lower emissions for the environment,” he added.