Finding ways to take weight out of products continues to occupy truck and truck component manufacturers' time. Wheel makers are no exception. This year they bring more lightweight alternatives to the marketplace so fleets can maximize payload and efficiency. They are also offering products that last longer and require less maintenance.

Alcoa says wide-base wheels continue gaining popularity among weight-sensitive customers. The company reports sales have doubled each year since it introduced the 14-in. wheel in 2001. Alcoa notes it now offers the largest selection of mounting styles for that wheel.

Accuride has also expanded its line of 14-in. DUPLEX wheels this year to include a .56-in. offset aluminum wide-base wheel for trailer applications, as well as for some tractors that feature newer wide-stance axle styles. This fall the company will also be introducing 14-in. steel wheels with 2-in. and 0-degree offsets. These wheels will target customers whose primary interest is gaining the performance benefits of the 14-in. tires in tandem applications.

Fleets, however, will still save some weight by using 14-in. wide-base steel wheels. The manufacturer points out that a standard steel wheel weighs about 76-78 lb. Two of those wheels replaced by a 14-in. 132-lb. wheel will take at least 20 lb. off each axle end (plus there's the weight savings of the wide-base tire). On the other hand, a standard aluminum wheel weighs about 47 lb. compared to a 14-in. aluminum wheel that weighs between 70 and 71 lb., for a savings of approximately 24 lb. per axle end when dual aluminum wheels are replaced with wide-based singles.

Hayes Lemmerz International also has programs under way to help reduce weight from its wheel products without sacrificing durability of the components. The company says it is seeing an 8% annual increase in sales of its wide-base wheels as the trend for 14-in. tires has kept up its momentum. Besides the weight reduction, the wheel maker says fleets like the fuel economy and performance of the tires.

According to Hayes Lemmerz, disc brakes are the next hurdle for the trucking industry. To meet future demand, the company has developed a protected valve wheel for disc brake applications. The manufacturer notes that approximately 80% of the wheels it produces overseas are already protected valve designs, so bringing it to North America will be an easy transition.

Another way Hayes Lemmerz is reducing the weight of its wheel components is by utilizing high-strength, low-alloy steel. The company reports a weight savings of 10% to 15%. Accuride also has a high-strength, low-alloy steel version that's been out for about a year. It notes demand for this product has picked up after initial fleet tests. The Lightweight Steel Wheel weighs 66 lb., compared with 76-78 lb. for a standard steel wheel.

Also from a trend standpoint, Hayes Lemmerz says it is seeing more fleet customers specifying premium coatings for wheels. The manufacturer offers electrostatic powder coats in standard and custom colors. Accuride has also seen powder coatings take off this year as fleets become more concerned about corrosion on steel wheels from road chemicals.

In addition, Accuride says demand for its ACCU-SHIELD aluminum wheels has continued to climb upwards. The treatment, the company explains, allows wheels to be cleaned easily using soap and water (eliminating scouring or polishing) for reduced maintenance. Image conscious fleets, including owner-operators, Accuride says, spec this product.

Alcoa is also concerned with reducing maintenance requirements for its wheel products. It notes that the popularity of its Dura-Bright® wheels — a patented surface treatment that keeps aluminum wheels looking bright and shiny with just a minimal amount of work — has continued to grow dramatically. This year, Alcoa has extended the product's limited warranty coverage against corrosion to five years. Also, for the first time Dura-Bright® wheels are available in the popular 14-in. wheel size.

In January of 2004, Alcoa went into production with its proprietary Dura-Flange® wheel treatment product, introduced a year ago to solve the problem of rim flange wear on aluminum wheels. The phenomenon, the company explains, occurs in applications like petroleum, logging, aggregate/coal, etc., where loads are heavy and tend to shift during transit, causing excessive abrasion and wear on rims.