Fuel Smarts

Breaking the 11 MPG Barrier

June 2015, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Stephane Babcock, Managing Editor - Also by this author

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For Michael Niss, reaching 11 mpg is not just a dream. It is quickly becoming a reality through his project company, Breaking 11.
For Michael Niss, reaching 11 mpg is not just a dream. It is quickly becoming a reality through his project company, Breaking 11.

While the industry is filled with drivers from numerous previous walks of life, some bring something special with them when they jump into the driver’s seat. When Michael Niss decided to walk away from a well-rooted career as a design engineer, engineering supervisor and head of his own firm, he was looking for a new challenge. It began as an over-the-road driver for Roehl Transport, Marshfield, Wis., Soon he became one of Long Haul Trucking’s top grossing company drivers and, a short time later, a Class 8 fuel-saving aficionado.

“With my first truck, a 2013 Peterbilt 386 with a 53-foot Benson trailer, I did a number of things, both off-the-shelf and custom, to try to improve fuel mileage,” says Niss, who is also president of Breaking 11, a project to surpass 11 mpg in his current tractor, a 2015 Kenworth T660 glider with an 86-foot AeroCab Aerodyne Sleeper.

Creating a ‘secret sauce’

When Niss started his first project truck, he looked at what was available to help him lower fuel costs, which were draining $72,000 a year out of his budget.

“That’s just a hard number to get your hands around,” he says.

The 6.1 mpg he was getting equaled roughly $10,000 more in annual fuel expenses and $10,000 less in his back pocket. This sparked Niss’ passion and began his relentless quest toward becoming more fuel efficient.

Over the next two years, using available fuel-saving technologies and experimenting with multiple custom aerodynamic features, Niss was able to improve his fuel economy from 6.1 mpg to 8.4 mpg, an increase of nearly 38%.

He’s doing the same in his newest endeavor and the creation of what Niss calls his “secret sauce.” The recipe started with swapping out his eight brand-new drive tires for Michelin X One Energy tires, giving him an immediate 0.4 to 0.5 mpg improvement. That success inspired him to continue.

“There are some things you could do that are extremely costly, but with my new program, I’m going to get an 18-month return on my investment,” predicts Niss, who has enlisted the help of a team of advisors that have been “extremely helpful” in getting the Breaking 11 project moving forward.

Niss' first project truck is this 2013 Peterbilt 386 pulling an aluminum flatbed.
Niss' first project truck is this 2013 Peterbilt 386 pulling an aluminum flatbed.

The new project truck will incorporate some 20 different fuel-saving technologies and a handful of custom aerodynamic features, including Eco mudflaps, wheel covers, a roof extension, an airflow deflector, and an air control bumper, and a FASS fuel system — a fuel air separation system that combines a diesel fuel lift pump and a fuel filtration system to improve fuel mileage and engine performance — as well as a pre-emission Detroit Diesel 12.7-liter Series 60 engine powering it.

Downtime and lower maintenance are just as important as the fuel savings and lowering emissions, according to Niss. He is taking a different approach to putting together a tractor-trailer in an age in which the EPA is developing an entirely new level of requirements for exhaust.

“I’m confident that some of the technology that’s available will help me achieve those emission rates that EPA want us to target,” he says.

The custom aluminum trailer under-belly includes a V-shaped hull design that intersects with an air diverter at the first trailer axle.
The custom aluminum trailer under-belly includes a V-shaped hull design that intersects with an air diverter at the first trailer axle.

Moving to the next step

When it comes to footing the bill, everything has come out of Niss’ own pockets, giving him more control on not only spec’ing a truck, which he points out is “spec’ed by a truck driver for truck drivers,” but also hammering down a timeline.

“I’m going to be out and moving freight in this rig. The truck and trailer will be ready to haul freight this August,” Niss says. “It’s going to be very operable, very easy to maintain. You don’t have to remove skirts to get at tires or what have you. It’s just going to be a whole different approach to a concept truck, and on top of that, I’m going to get close to or meet the mileage that these very expensive concept trucks are claiming to give. So it’s going to be interesting.”

After putting the new combo on the road, Niss plans on running monthly dyno tests to gauge the horsepower, as well as measuring monthly fuel results and performing monthly emissions testing.

Once data has been carefully recorded by an unbiased third party, Niss will share the results with the trucking community. He hopes to gain some momentum soon after, and with the right sponsorship, he plans to increase the project to run four trucks — two control and two that are modified — under the same road conditions, at the same speeds, with the same loads, and with the same space between them.

“We’re going to be doing blogging, both video blogs and written blogs, and we’re going to have a Facebook presence. So the end game, initially, is information-share,” explains Niss. “And we’re already looking at what our next truck is going to be and what different elements we might put on that, and maybe we’ll continue to test different products and come up with the best of the best, eventually.”

While the final goals are yet to be proven, Niss is convinced, based on the success he’s had with his first truck, that he can achieve 11 mpg.

“This is for a working truck that will drive 100,000 miles from its inception first thing on a road within the first year of its operation,” says Niss. “We are going to show that if a person puts together a few of these technologies, the fuel results are incredible.”


  1. 1. John Esposito [ June 24, 2015 @ 10:55AM ]

    Great news, we need engineers to look at things as this and make modifications. excellent story and job by Michael Niss.

  2. 2. Paul21 [ June 28, 2015 @ 04:23PM ]

    When I started reading this article I was so excited! Someone with the same passion for improvement as myself, at a common sense level.
    Unitl I read the "Pre Emissions Series 60" line.
    I know, and agree there is an argument for "total life" or "holistic" emissions debate, but reality is emissions are not going away. We owe it to our world to continue improving our emissions, and to comply.
    I would rather have seen Ness put the same efforts into a current emissions unit. We already know pre emissions engines could verge on 10 mpg if speced correctly, we just didn't focus on those improvements 8 years ago.

  3. 3. Lou [ June 30, 2015 @ 09:09AM ]

    Old technology engine improvements are just as critical as accomplishing the same task with the new. Over 60% of the trucks on the road today are 2007 and older and while emissions reductions through new trucks is nice, we sell ourselves short if we fail to look at legacy trucks. The costs for new trucks continue to climb and the impact of scrapping good legacy units has an impact on the environment in of itself. We are looking at an improvment on a 30 year old technology known as diesel water emulsions to improve our emissions and improve efficiency. It's outside of most people's knowledge base, but has been around for years and used extensively on large displacement diesels in marine applications.

  4. 4. Patrick [ July 01, 2015 @ 09:41AM ]

    Cumberland International Trucks in Nashville, TN is already pressing the envelope. Go to www.cumberlandc10.com

    Way ahead of the curve

  5. 5. Erin [ July 01, 2015 @ 06:31PM ]

    Keep up with Mike Niss by following his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/breaking11mpg!

  6. 6. Greg [ July 04, 2015 @ 08:14AM ]

    This is great to see that we have someone with the skill sets from a previous career out here doing these modifications and field testing them. They are very important for the aging trucking fleet but think about if he had made these same modifications to a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tractor and the equipped trailer. Eleven miles per gallon could have been near his foundation or starting point and we would be sitting here discussing fifteen plus (15+) miles per gallon and the emissions wouldn't even be a point of contention because they are already at the leading edge of technological advancements. We could be discussing a vehicle designed for long haul transportation that would be getting better mileage than most POVs and with much, much less pollutants or greenhouse emissions than any diesel systems technology available in today's market. It would be great for the industry if he could do the field testing with the four vehicles as discussed previously and a fifth vehicle with the LNG fueling system and the associated technology. I would venture to say that those numbers would be most impressive and raise some serious eyebrows in the transportation industry. Best of luck to Mike Niss and his associates. This is great to see someone that is in the field proposing, implementing and testing improvements of this sort. Keep up the great work!

  7. 7. Dennis O. Taylor [ July 05, 2015 @ 01:03PM ]

    To the editor and writer of this article: There is no "barrier" to getting 11 MPG. Please write more honest headlines. There are some hurdles to overcome, and your article does list some of them. Keep up the good work of reporting on this issue.

  8. 8. Michael Niss [ July 07, 2015 @ 05:17PM ]

    In response to Paul 21,
    We are addressing 4 areas of concern for truck owners and fleets.
    FUEL EFFICIENCY - Through cost effective add-ons and aerodynamics we will spend far less on fuel then the national average.
    MAINTENANCE AND DOWN TIME COSTS - Our pre-EGR, Detroit Diesel, Series 60 Engine will address these concerns.
    EMISSIONS - Along with a very efficient running tractor/trailer, by years end we will have selected one of four technologies that will bring our rigs emissions to a level within EPA regulations.
    Paul, best of luck.

  9. 9. ColtsChiefsTitans [ July 24, 2015 @ 08:20AM ]

    Michael, I love the approach of a "low-cost" high fuel economy alternative to the multi-million dollar "SuperTruck" type programs. And I do realize the reason many owner operators are buying glider kits with older engine technology. However, I am curious how you can bring your emissions levels within EPA regulations simply by selecting 1 of 4 technologies and adding that to your pre-EGR DD60 engine. If it really was that simple to meet EPA emissions targets, the big engine makers probably would have already done that, because whoever hits the #"s with the LEAST amount of expensive & complex technology will win the market based on Price & Uptime. Since everyone has gone to EGR+SCR you have to wonder what secret recipe you and a few others have figured out that the major OEM's can't. Or is the real secret that you can hit NOx and PM but cannot achieve GHG targets? What am I and all the professional diesel engineers missing?

  10. 10. Robert Orcutt [ July 27, 2015 @ 06:57AM ]

    As a service manager that started in this business in 1969 and having worked in a hands on form of management most of my career I read with reservation the articles on what it costs to achieve 10 mpg and meet emissions standards,I can't help but see more of big companies and government putting the independent and small business out of business. I applaud Mr. Ness for at least starting with an engine that is affordable to the majority. Now ,how about someone doing it without electronics so it can be maintained affordably.

  11. 11. Lconti [ July 27, 2015 @ 01:19PM ]

    Mr. Niss There is a technology that can reduce NOx by 55%. PM by 80% as well as the Aromatic emissions that no one wants to talk about. NO EGR, SCR or PM filtration required. All of this while reducing consumption by 20%. Send me your contact information to [email protected]

  12. 12. Mattdillon [ August 13, 2015 @ 04:52AM ]

    Get serious!! A 20000 pound tractor is ridiculous. Get smaller tractor for starters if you are serious about more mileage. The size of the truck fitted with 86 inch sleeper is crazy. Better go back to the basics

  13. 13. Mike [ August 13, 2015 @ 08:13AM ]

    I applaud Mr. Niss for trying any means possible to better his fuel economy. I am always searching for things that will help to increase my fleets fuel economy as well. Out of 100 OTR tractors in my fleet, we have 11 gliders. The gliders are always on top of the fuel mileage. But, the problem with today's market, you have to be "Smartway" compliant to haul for the bigger shippers. As everyone knows, Gliders do not meet the compliance thanks to our regulations.
    You talk to any shop out across the country and at least 75% of their business has to do with "Aftertreatment". And if your truck has an issue with "Aftertreatment" chances are a good 2 to 3 days or more before repairs are made.
    So, again--I applaud Mr. Niss for his efforts.

  14. 14. Brooks [ September 07, 2015 @ 03:54AM ]

    You must going to be hauling air, no way in the world you going to be hauling 80000 getting 11 plus miles.

  15. 15. Frans Slothouber [ September 07, 2015 @ 07:53AM ]

    Dear Sirs,
    What a interesting story, yes i'm a believer in saving fuel by changing the shape, adding devices and using low rolling resistance tires.
    How can we follow the changes and progress Michael Niss will make with future changes and results or publications.
    BR Frans Slothouber

  16. 16. Reg Durham [ September 07, 2015 @ 03:31PM ]

    Airman's AirWedge II has shown, a point to point 11.92% average increase in mpg over a two month, over the road, operational demonstration.

  17. 17. Grabageer [ September 19, 2015 @ 07:53AM ]

    I for one will be very interested to see how this goes. As for those of you who say it's impossible, as long as you never try it will be impossible for you. Technology has come a long ways, and I love the fact that he's using my series 60 in this project! Gives me hope for my old freight shaker yet!

  18. 18. Sam [ January 14, 2017 @ 01:28PM ]

    International engines have proven to be the least reliable engines on the market for Class 8 vehicles. Look at the number of Maxx Force engines with catastrophic failure compared to even the Detroit DD15/DD16. Even with the fuel savings, a driver ends up in the dumps with an International engine due to the lack of quality manufacturing and desire for International to hold their word on warranty work. Put a S60, C15, 3406E, or N14 in it and be surprised at what it will give you if it's tuned properly. I suppose you could put an automated manual in it too if you like spending more money on shift actuators every 75,000-100,000 miles for over 1,000 per actuator, or you could learn how to properly shift a 9, 10, or 13 standard and get even better fuel economy than autos since you as the driver can predict what an auto cant.

  19. 19. Landon Snelson [ October 26, 2017 @ 04:35PM ]

    What kind of truck driver drives 100000 miles a year? Answer is broke driver!!


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