Feature Story

Trucking has long known that conservation makes good business sense, creating a long tradition that values rebuilding, reusing, recycling and simply being a careful consumer of materials and assets. It's no surprise, then, that fleets large and small have quickly embraced a joint government/industry project that publicly acknowledges that tradition and offers some important new ways to build on it.

When the SmartWay Transport Partnership was officially launched in early 2004 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the concept of improving air quality by increasing energy efficiency immediately made sense to conservation-minded truckers. Not surprisingly, many of the 13 charter “partners” on hand to kick off the project were truck fleets, including Averitt Express, Swift Transportation, Fed-Ex, Schneider National and Yellow Roadway, as well as the American Trucking Assns.

“Trucking was critical in the development of this program,” says SmartWay program manager Mitch Greenberg. And today, having grown from 52 member companies in 2004 to 561, SmartWay still counts trucking as a core constituency. “We currently have 361 truck carriers in the program,” Greenberg says, adding that the other 200 businesses involved are divided between shippers, rail carriers and logistics providers.

The program's rapid growth is being fueled by a growing menu of tools and incentives that are long on common sense and practicality, appealing to both large fleets and small, as well as individual owner-operators.

The first step for a fleet that wants to join SmartWay is completing EPA's Freight Logistics Environmental and Economic Tracking Model (FLEET Model) to create a baseline for their environmental performance. The model also calculates fuel savings from the fleet's current practices and helps project additional fuel savings and emissions reductions that might be achieved with other strategies suggested by the program.

Once a baseline is in place, the program offers objective, reliable information with a series of documents entitled “A Glance at Clean Freight Strategies.”

One of the most important of these strategies is idle reduction, which SmartWay estimates can save up to 1,000 gal. of fuel per truck each year, while at the same time reducing engine emissions and lowering maintenance costs. To get fleets started, the program has put together an overview on a number of idle control technologies, including auxiliary power units (APUs) and truckstop electrification.

Improved aerodynamics can save up to 600 gal. of diesel a year for a single tractor trailer and cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to five metric tons compared to a typical “classic” tractor, according to SmartWay's report on that strategy. While devices like roof fairings and cab extenders play an important role in reducing aerodynamic drag, the report also points to simple steps like reducing the tractor-trailer gap and securing loose tarps.

Some of the other fuel-saving strategies identified by SmartWay involve fleet investment in truck-based technologies like automatic tire inflation systems, wide-base tires, low-viscosity lubricants and hybrid powertrains. Others involve fleet management initiatives such as optimizing efficiency through improved logistics planning, establishing driver training programs, spec'ing equipment to minimize weight, creating intermodal networks and establishing fleet speed limits.

The point for SmartWay and its strategies isn't to endorse specific technologies or programs, but rather to help fleets create a systematic approach to fuel conservation that makes the most sense for their particular operations. And from those individual fleet plans with their incremental improvements in fuel economy will come large aggregate benefits for everyone through lower fuel consumption, lower freight transportation costs and improved air quality.

BIG AND SMALL

As one of SmartWay's charter fleet partners back in 2004, Averitt Express has experienced firsthand how a series of even small steps can add up, says Brad Brown, communication leader for the regional LTL and truckload carrier.

The initial FLEET Model plan created by Averitt “included detailed steps we committed to follow to reach pinpoints in that plan and the metrics we'd use to measure our fuel efficiency gains,” says Brown.

“Some were ‘big picture’ things and others smaller steps where the savings weren't so dramatic, but when you add them up for over 4,000 trucks, they make a big difference,” Brown says.

Even without the program, this all-out push for fuel efficiency “was a necessary adjustment we needed to make to compete,” he says. “But SmartWay validates those efforts and gives us a way to measure and quantify the efficiencies.”

The big-picture items included renewed efforts to minimize idling in all of Averitt's varied operations. “Idling is the biggest enemy when it comes to fuel efficiency,” says Brown. “We've always educated our entire workforce on how to take practical steps to reduce idling, but with SmartWay we also began changing truck specs.”

For example, LTL trucks now have automatic idle shutoffs, while the over-the-road fleet has added technology to monitor idling by individual vehicle so it could begin implementing a variety of techniques and technologies to keep drivers comfortable without unnecessary engine idling.

Other major initiatives involved improved route planning to minimize out-of-route miles while handling growth in the fleet's freight tonnage, and purchasing the most fuel efficient tractors available for Averitt's applications.

The little things that make up the fleet's SmartWay plan include testing tires designed to maintain inflation levels, using the PrePass system to eliminate unproductive stops for weigh stations, and installing overflow detection devices for underground fuel storage tanks.

“With fuel prices hovering around record levels, even the smallest adjustment with a fleet this size is significant,” says Brown. “We can't control the price of fuel, but we can control our consumption. And with diesel prices where they are today, we never feel that we've done enough.”

Like many fleets, Averitt has always focused on maximizing efficiency. “We'd been doing that long before SmartWay,” says Brown. “Both major and minor differences [in fuel consumption] have an impact on price, on the value we provide to our customers.”

What SmartWay does give Averitt is “credibility and validation,” Brown says. The fleet's commitment to conservation and environmental protection is important to its customers, its employees and even the communities where it does business.

“Our associates are very interested in our environmental efforts,” he says.

As for trucking's public image, “Last week I had the opportunity to address high school students,” Brown says. “The questions I got from the students were about our impact on the environment and fuel conservation. Our participation in SmartWay was a good concrete example of our commitment.”

And as more shippers join SmartWay, the fleet is even beginning to see participation in the program show up in bid packages, according to Brown.

NEXT STEPS

Although SmartWay initially began its partnership programs with larger carriers, in recent years it has begun attracting smaller fleets and owner-operators, according to Greenberg. In particular, it's developed recommended “upgrade packages” that can help older equipment realize fuel economy improvements and created installation and, more importantly, financing resources that are specifically aimed at those smaller operations.

“We realized a couple of years ago that while big carriers had money to invest in technology upgrades, smaller ones often didn't have that access to the necessary capital,” says Greenberg. “So working with the Small Business Administration, we developed some innovative, attractive financing programs for retrofitting upgrade packages that include idling system, wide-base tires and aerodynamic add-ons. Any fleet or operator who's willing to commit to reducing fuel consumption and emissions is eligible for these programs.

“We also knew they weren't likely to come to us, so we needed a way to get these resources out to where the small fleets and owner-operators are,” he says. The result was new business relationships to create SmartWay Centers at truckstops to sell and install the various upgrade elements, as well as walk these smaller operators through the various new financing options. Currently two organizations have signed on to establish SmartWay Centers — the Chrome Shop Mafia and Cascade Sierra Solutions.

The first facility was created last year by Cascade Sierra at a TA travel center in Eugene, OR. A non-profit organization dedicated to helping truckers save fuel and cut engine emissions, the group was a natural fit for the new SmartWay program.

“We currently have a number products on display in Eugene, and we've got grant commitments to open other centers in a number of cities and [clean-air] districts,” says Sharon Banks, Cascade's founder and CEO. This fall, the group will open a new center in Sacramento that will have 52 products on display, making it “the largest collection of truck fuel-saving technologies,” says Banks.

To qualify for SBA financing under the SmartWay upgrade retrofit program, a carrier or owner-operator has to commit to improving their overall fuel economy by 10%. “An APU alone gives you that improvement, but our packages can also include wide-base tires, aluminum wheels, bunk heaters and even solar panels,” says Banks. Through SmartWay and other programs, Cascade has already installed nearly 500 APUs and the number is growing rapidly. “We installed 60 just in May,” says Banks.

And trucks with full upgrade packages are seeing fuel savings of up to $1,000 a month, she adds.

Most of those choosing the upgrade packages are smaller fleets and owner-operators, which is why Cascade is putting its centers in truckstops. While the financing options can be attractive to fleets that might not have ready access to capital, everyone benefits from “the great pricing we get from the manufacturers and dealers,” says Banks.

NEW, TOO

While the retrofit program is addressing the issue of upgrading existing equipment, the most recent initiative from the EPA program turns attention to new vehicle specs, or what are being called “US EPA Certified SmartWay” tractors and trailers.

While new engines meeting the EPA ‘07 emissions requirements satisfy the clean air component of SmartWay's mandate, “we saw there was still an opportunity to improve fuel economy” on new trucks, says Greenberg. Since truck makers had been asking for some time if they could use the SmartWay brand, the group decided to create basic specifications that addressed both emissions and fuel economy. Any truck manufacturer choosing to develop models meeting those specifications would then be allowed to use the SmartWay certification.

The basic specs for a tractor are an ‘07 engine or later, integrated roof fairing, tractor-mounted side gap reducers, fuel tank side fairings, aerodynamic bumper and mirrors, and options for idle reduction systems and low-rolling resistance tires. Similar minimum specs for trailers have also been devised, which include side skirts, use of weight-saving technologies, gap reducers on the front or rear, and options for low-rolling-resistance tires. To date, six OEM have created models that have earned the right to carry the Certified SmartWay logo — Freightliner, International, Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt and Volvo.

How do those specs translate into real-world trucks? A good example is Kenworth's approach, which is similar to the one used by all six manufacturers.

“We have two models that can meet the SmartWay requirements — the T660 and T2000,” says Jeff Sass, KW's director of marketing, planning and research. Both have aerodynamic sleepers and full fairing packages, and can be ordered with the company's Clean Power anti-idling system. Aero mirrors and bumpers are also part of their design, and the low-rolling-resistance tires are options. In short, all the elements were already available; all Kenworth has to do is package them together to create a SmartWay certified truck.

Setting a basic configuration is just the first step, Greenberg says. “We eventually want to evolve a set of performance standards, but to do that we first have to create accurate tests or engineering modeling,” he says. “That's difficult because there are so many applications and so many variable in measuring a truck's fuel economy. But it's worth the effort because once we have a more formal protocol, it can be used to evaluate all sorts of products that promise fuel savings.”

Having launched the new-vehicle specs program in March, SmartWay is now ready to move onto other projects. One of the first will be expanding financing options for adopting new technology, either for new truck or used ones, according to Greenberg.

“We're also looking at driver training for smaller fleets and owner-operators, and at the role of bio-fuels,” says Greenberg. “From a broader perspective, we want to create tools and models that will help us understand complete supply-chain emissions footprints for major shippers. We're also considering ways to move SmartWay beyond its focus on freight to other types of fleets.”

Whether they're supporting utility companies, municipal services, construction operations or any of the hundreds of other businesses that rely on trucks, those fleets are just as likely to embrace the SmartWay approach as quickly as their counterparts moving freight. After all, conservation has always been an essential part of running trucks.

More information is available at www.epa.gov/smartway and www.cascadesierrasolutions.org.