On the Road

17 easy steps to 9.5 mpg

August 1, 2011

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Owner-operator Henry Albert was at the Shell SuperRigs event in Kenly, N.C. in June, but he wasn't showing his truck in the conventional sense. He was walking anyone who was interested around his truck pointing out fuel-saving strategies he uses to achieve an average of 9 mpg.
Henry Albert takes his fuel economy and his business very seriously -- but he's willing to share some of his secrets to success.
Henry Albert takes his fuel economy and his business very seriously -- but he's willing to share some of his secrets to success.


Henry is a 26-year veteran owner-operator from Mooresville, N.C., and currently part of Freightliner's Slice of Life program. He takes his fuel economy and his business very seriously. During his time in trucking, he has been a company driver, owner-operator, and a small-fleet owner. He's a single-truck independent today. He downsized a few years ago, and now has, as he puts it, half his fleet parked. He drives one of the trucks, while keeping his eye out for a suitable driver for the other -- he admits he's been looking for a while.

They cut Henry from some different cloth. As you see him in the photo above (center, white shirt, tie) is how he looks every day. That's how he dresses while he's driving. Taking your first impressions of Henry, imagine how he might apply that uniqueness to the running of his business and his fuel management. You'd be right, but possibly a little short of reality.



While we were talking at Kenly, he showed me some ECM printouts of various trips -- not a few singled out for best performance, but sequential days of a month. Some days better than others, but never below 9 mpg, and occasionally better than 10. The printouts show average speed, distance, gallons used, time in top gear, etc., and I have to say they were legit. Even taking into account the minor discrepancy between the ECM and the gallons-in, miles-run method of reporting fuel economy, you'd have to agree Henry is exceptionally good at squeezing miles out of gallons of fuel.

The obvious question is, how does he do it?

"A little bit at a time," he answers. "There are no silver-bullet solutions to good fuel economy, just a whole lot of little things that make lot of small improvements."

He uses no magnets, no precious metals, nor exotic gasses; in fact, he has made no mechanical modifications or enhancements at all to the engine or the truck. It's an off-the-shelf 2010 Freightliner Cascadia with a 72-inch raised roof sleeper powered by a stock DD15 engine rated at 455 horsepower and 1550/1750 pounds-feet of torque. His trailer is a run-of-the-mill Utility dry van with about $3,000 worth of aerodynamic trim, including a NoseCone and Sideburns and a set of Fleet Engineers side skirts. He runs Michelin X-One tires on the drive and steer positions and Michelin XZA3 on the steer axle.

A Few Small Tricks

Overall, it's a pretty ordinary truck, but it has a few unique features.

Beginning with the tractor, it's a 6x2 configuration, meaning it has a single drive axle with a tag axle. That saves about half a mile per gallon he says, and he hasn't had any bad experiences with traction.

Since he runs wide-base single tires on drive and trailer axles, he has trimmed the inside edge of his mudflaps to fit the tires. A standard flap is wider than the wide-single tire, and so presents a barrier to airflow around the wheel. He has also cut 2-inch diagonal chunks from the bottom corners of each mud flap, and uses low-mounted hangers with 45-degree tapered top outside corners to lessen drag.

"The mudflap is a barrier to clean air flow, so I've made them as unobstructive as possible while maintaining their effectiveness," Henry says.

He runs a set of prototype stainless steel wheel covers to smooth out the outer side of the wheels, and he uses an automatic inflation system to optimize the pressure in his trailer tires for best fuel economy. He religiously checks his tractor pressures.

He's very mindful of the trailer gap, and he never idles.

He has even moved the trailer license plate from its traditional position, below the left turn signal housing, and bolted it to the lower part of the trailer body -- out of the air stream.

"That may not sound like much, but just stick your hand out the window at 60 mph and you can feel the effect of drag," he says. "I'm just guessing here, but what if that license plate cost me 50 gallons of fuel over a year? Maybe it's not even that much, but imagine what drivers would say if the cost of the plate went up by that much each year."

Operationally, Henry is fastidious about driving efficiently. He very deliberately runs 64 mph to optimize the engine speed at between 1,375 and 1,400 rpm -- a critical factor in preserving fuel economy. According to his ECM, his average road speed over a month ranges from 56.7 to 59.5 mph.

Keep the Profits Where they Belong

Henry told me he's currently billing a 53-cent-per-mile fuel surcharge, and with his fuel costs running around 47 cents per mile, he's actually making 6 cents per mile profit on his fuel surcharge. His customers are paying it, so he's obviously not overcharging.

Henry charges premium rates for his brand of service (yet another story for another day), his fuel and other operating costs are low, and he's billing a tidy surcharge on top of all that. He doesn't cut rates, or leave anything on the table. He doesn't rely on his operational savings to "remain competitive."

Henry Albert's approach to trucking isn't rocket science, and he doesn't have thousands of dollars worth of high-tech mechanical wizardry working for him. He has a sensibly spec'd truck, he drives it properly, and leaves no stone unturned in his quest for improvement on his already remarkable efficiency.

He is living proof of what's possible, but don't take my word for it. Try it yourself.


Comments

  1. 1. Linda Caffee [ August 01, 2011 @ 11:40PM ]

    Henry is top of the line and to say he is cut from a different cloth is a understatement! Henry is always working on how to make the best out of every situation. He is a great teacher and inspires many others to look at their operation and figure out how they can better their business. Company Driver or Owner Operator can learn from reading Henry's blogs on Slice of Trucker Life or meeting him out on the road or during truck shows. He always has time for his fellow driver. Great Blog

  2. 2. Holly Schubert [ August 02, 2011 @ 11:53AM ]

    Thank you for the information. I have sent it "up the chain" at my company as I think we can do a couple of things on our existing equipment. Thank you for the well written article.

  3. 3. Bill [ August 02, 2011 @ 11:58AM ]

    Given that 19 out of 20 European tractors, with GCWs' of 88,000 to 97,000 lbs. (and many trucks up to 132K in Scandinavian countries) use one drive axle, it is no surprise that Henry . . . "hasn't had any bad experiences with traction". Then there are the tare weight, maintenance advantages, and half the driveshaft angularity issues.

    Of course, this trend, should it develop, may put a small dent in the tandem manufacturers bottom line . . .

  4. 4. Cliff Downing [ August 19, 2011 @ 03:19PM ]

    Henry does a lot of things right. I have implemented many of the same concepts over the years. In my 2006 International, it is not uncommon to see 8.5 mpg on the ECM. I reset it each week to check average weekly mpg. As I write this on a Friday, my mpg off the ECM is 8.2 for the week. I was loaded heavier than my average payload this week. So, it can be done.

  5. 5. Barbara [ September 18, 2011 @ 08:07PM ]

    What does Henry haul? Weight? What route does he run?

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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