At the inaugural meeting of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency last week, the Rocky Mountain Institute's Move team spurred a dialogue between users of "efficiency technologies" and the makers of these fuel-saving products. While the two industry groups don't always understand each other, they certainly agreed on the same thing at the council meeting: There is no source of fair, independent and neutral information on these technologies.

The NACFE, which was officially launched at the Chicago meeting on Nov. 3, hopes to address that problem, with the long-term goal of providing a database of information and interpretation of that information. The database will serve as a "Consumer Reports" of sorts, where the trucking industry can turn to for information on what efficiency technologies to invest in, said Hiroko Kawai, principal of RMI's Move team.

Kawai said the group will not test the technologies, but will approve certifiers and testers. NACFE does not want to take the place of testing efforts out there, such as the EPA's Smartway program.

"There is a lack of trustworthy information evaluating different technologies for fleets to make investment decisions," she said. "The freight industry, and the trucking industry in particular, have been burned by a snake-oil salesman approach to technology, and it is difficult for end users of innovative technologies to accelerate market adoption."

Serving Both SIdes

On the one hand, the group will serve the end user, including trucking companies and drivers, by evaluating how trustworthy information is. This will be done by pinpointing which technologies or providers are not delivering on their promises, Kawai said.

On the other hand, the group will work towards accelerating market adoption of these technologies on the manufacturers' side. "It is hard for them to lead the market even when they offer the necessary innovations," Kawai said.

That's where the collaboration and dialogue between both sides comes in. According to Kawai, representatives from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association were on hand at the meeting to provide their perspective. The panelists told the OEMs in the room that the OOIDA would not be on board with these technologies unless the manufacturers listened to their needs, which are centered around their drivers.

The event also attracted representatives from major trucking fleets such as Swift and J.B. Hunt, shippers such as Frito-Lay and Kraft Foods, the Environmental Protection Agency, and manufacturers such as Eaton and Michelin.

Real Benefits

For some end users in the industry, talk of sustainability and going green is a foreign language. "They don't say out loud that green doesn't matter," Kawai said, of the end user's perspective. But, "their profit margin is really thin." In order for these technologies to catch on with the end user, Kawai said manufacturers must speak their language, and convert these green technologies into tangible, financial benefits that will affect the fleet's bottom line. "Money is also a key to make the technology available and make sure the risk is mitigated for small businesses," she said.

This issue was also addressed at the meeting. For example, the council decided that it needs to create a financing arm at some point, most likely two years down the road, Kawai said. This, along with other steps the council will take, will help mitigate the problems associated with adoption of these technologies.

"Freight efficiency will gives the North American continent a leg up to accelerate global commerce and competitiveness," Kawai said.