Aerodynamic TrailerTails are just part of an exhaustive fuel-economy spec at Mesilla Valley Transportation. Note the wheel covers.
As I was working on our "100 Ways to Save on Fuel" project for our June issue, I remembered a session on fuel economy with Scott Webb, an executive from Mesilla Valley Transportation, presented at the Technology and Maintenance Council Meeting earlier this year. I wanted to share some of those insights with our readers.
The fleet and co-founder Royal Jones are known in their industry for their attention to fuel economy.
Royal Jones was an 18-year-old truck driver when he founded the copany in 1981 with truck mechanic Jimmy Ray. They began with three rigs, hauling refrigerated perishable goods from Las Cruces, N.M.
The two, who also were race car drivers, Webb said, "were early on obsessed with aerodynamics and fuel efficiency."
Back in 1984, just three years after it was founded, MVT tried to quantifiably test the effect of aerodynamic specs. So they painted a line across eastbound I-10 and let the truck coast down a long gradual hill. "If the truck went faster, we knew we were doing something good," explained Webb. "Of course we're a lot more sophisticated now."
Headquartered in Las Cruces, N.M., MVT has a high average length of haul, so aerodynamics are a big deal. Right now it's averaging 1,150 – and unlike a lot of companies that are pulling down their average length of haul, MVT would like to get its numbers up closer to 1,300.
About 40% of the loads originate or terminate in Mexico. There are 1,150 trucks, 850 of them company trucks, and about 4,700 trailers.
"We support a lot of drop and hook initiatives, which we think are great for driver retention and utilization," Webb noted, "but it's bad from an aerodynamic standpoint because of the investment needed."
The average mileage started off at 3.5 in the early '80s, got to 6.5 by 2010, and saw some extraordinary performance. In 2009, more than 15 drivers achieved more than 12 mpg. Because of the EGR engines in the 2000s, mileage dropped to about 8 mpg, performance many fleets would love to have, but has since been trending back upward.
Some highlights over the years:
1981: From the start, Royal and Jimmy Ray both realized the importance of human factors on fuel economy, so they put a strong emphasis on driving habits during orientation – things such as driving the top of the pedal and not following too closely. They also were early adopters of on/off fan clutches.
1985: MVT realized that minimizing the gap between tractor and trailer was a critical piece of the puzzle, so they put in a fixed fifth wheel and over time have continued to reduce the gap.
1986: You can't manage what you can't measure, so as soon as it was available, MVT started doing laptop downloads from the engine control module and providing that information to the driver. Today, with onboard telematics, the driver gets that feedback daily.
2003: Started running super-single low-rolling-resistance tires.
2005: Started giving away a big prize, like a new car or Harley Davidson, each quarter to the driver with the best fuel economy, as well as $25,000 cash for the driver with the best fuel economy of the year.
2007: Made a major spec change and went with the International ProStar for aerodynamic reasons, with a 6x2 transmission and non-powered tag axle on the duals. Also went with all APUs, tractor wheel covers and other things, including more extensive use of wide-based singles.
2008: Installed trailer skirts on 100% of trailers. "We started with ones we manufactured ourselves, but ended up going with aftermarket skirts later after the ones we made got torn up.
2010: Mesilla Valley Transportation discovered narrower mudflaps would streamline airflow, so started cutting them down. They also started using tire sealant to prevent costly air loss.
2010: A conversion to electronic logs has actually cut into fuel economy. "We found under paper logs, drivers would drive slower," and fudge their logbooks. "We've seen the average velocity of trucks going up quite a bit" as drivers struggle to get the loads delivered in the time legally allowed.
2013: The switch to all-SCR engines helped bring fuel economy back up, as well as a more complex and more lucrative driver performance incentive that also includes non-fuel-economy items such as hours of service violations and service failures.
"The point of all of this is that high mpg is profitably attainable," Webb said.
Read more about MVT's fuel-saving strategies:
7 Ways to Cut Idling Costs
Mesilla Valley Reports on Aero TrailerTail Results