If nothing else, the past year of roller-coaster oil prices should be warning enough for you to put fuel economy at the top of your to-do list. If you haven't done that, maybe you ought to consider some further insights from Derek Kaufman.
One of this industry's deep thinkers, Kaufman is president of C3 Network Inc., which helps startup companies and manages new product launches. His take on the fuel situation: We should be planning for diesel prices as high as seven bucks a gallon over the next five years.
Kaufman made that observation at the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Assn. Heavy Duty Dialogue, which kicked off the industry's first Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas in late February.
He said fuel prices will rise for a number of reasons including environmentalists, world trade bashers, terrorists and a fumbling U.S. Congress. "It's not about passing on a fuel surcharge any longer," he said, "because surcharges always assume a return to lower prices. There will be no permanent move downward."
He believes that several efforts by the trucking industry will be "tipping points" that enable it to cope with higher fuel prices over the next five years. Among them:
• Maintenance – Periodic oil analysis and recommended oil change intervals will be replaced with real-time trend analysis of fuel economy conditions on board the truck. Friction reducing additives will be replaced with higher-tech Boron oxides. Time-release additives will maintain proper acid levels in EGR engines, and soot measurements will indicate wear and lubricant viscosity. This will apply to any component that involves rotating friction: engines, transmissions, drive axles, wheel hubs.
• Inventories – Fuel will make it too expensive to ship emergency orders for parts. Radio frequency signals will be embedded in every part, and make it possible for dealers and distributors to instantly find needed parts in other stores in their own locales. Searches might be done through Google.
• Shipping docks – Trucks waiting and idling must be eliminated. The shipping dock should be run like a NASCAR pit stop. Packaging specialists will map out the flow of freight, much like Federal Express and UPS load cargo planes today. Trucking companies will finally adopt drive-through side loading to eliminate trailer spotting.
• Nanotechnology – Nano tube paint mixtures will make tractor and trailer finishes more slippery. Similar technology is used for lightweight polarized aircraft windows that tint at the push of a button. Nano tubes will be used on turbo veins and air inlets to optimize air flow.
Kaufman believes that trucking needs to lead other industries in saving fuel. "We should be," he said, "the poster children of oil conservation."
We couldn't agree more. If we really concentrate on fuel economy, and oil prices don't skyrocket, where will that leave us? Better off, I'd say.
E-mail Doug Condra at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write PO Box W. Newport Beach Calif. 92656