Newport Business Media announced its 2012 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators. Since 2006, each year the editors of Heavy Duty Trucking have honored a group of select industry leaders for their innovation in various areas.

"These four fleet executives work in different segments of the industry, but they all have one thing in common," said Editor in Chief Deborah Lockridge. "They are leaders in adopting equipment specs and practices that are 'FuelSmart,'" she said, a moniker which also refers to the name of a department and website section HDT launched last year.

The four will be featured on a panel discussion during next week's Mid-America Trucking Show Fleet Forum in Louisville, Ky., put on by HDT, Fleet Owner magazine and MATS. HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park will moderate the discussion of fuel-saving strategies, how they evaluate different technologies and methods, and what they see as the next steps for "FuelSmart" fleets.

Phil Braker, Vice President of Operations, Nussbaum Transportation, Normal, Ill.

Some people thought Braker was crazy when he came up with an unusual spec for what he believed would be an 8-mpg truck, with a 6x2 axle configuration, direct drive transmission, no quarter fenders or sun visor, electric APUs, automated transmissions, predictive cruise control, wide-base single tires and more. So far it looks like his fuel economy predictions are coming true. Trailers are all being outfitted with skirts and aerodynamic "boat tails," which he thinks will add another mpg.

John Fershtand, Director of Fleet Operations and Energy Management, Ben E. Keith Foods, Ft. Worth, Texas

This math whiz loves anything with wheels, so seven years ago he convinced a friend at Ben E. Keith to give him a job managing their trucks. He standardized communication between the four shops and moved to a computerized maintenance program. He slashed idle time from 30% to less than 5%, uses automatic tire inflation systems on all trailers, and was an early adopter of Carrier's plug-in hybrid refrigeration units.

Mike Jeffress, Vice President of Maintenance, Maverick Transportation, Little Rock, Ark.

Jeffress, who started at the predominantly flatbed fleet in 1986, is known for meticulously testing and evaluating equipment specs, including features that promise to improve fuel efficiency. Maverick has gone to smaller engines and a host of other weight-saving features, plus APUs, tire pressure monitoring, automated transmissions and more, including testing 6x2 configurations. Jeffress earned the Silver Spark Plug, the Technology & Maintenance Council's highest honor.

Bill Malone, President, Enviro Express Inc., Bridgeport, Conn.

This entrepreneur dropped out of college to buy a two-truck refuse fleet in 1976. In the late '80s, he saw an opportunity in hauling to and from the new waste-energy plants in the Northeast. His latest innovation was spurred by the success of natural gas in California. He's in the process of converting his 40-truck fleet to natural gas and with the help of a Clean Cities grant opened his own LNG and CNG fueling facility open to outside customers.

Read more about the HDT Truck Fleet Innovators in the March issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.