When we’re talking about on-highway trucks, there are opportunities in aerodynamics, low-rolling-resistance tires, “downspeeding” and other strategies to save fuel.

But when you’re talking delivery trucks, work trucks, vans and the like, the strategies are different. Below are four approaches to improving mpg for mediums.

1. Lightweight your truck bodies

One strategy is to strip weight out of the vehicle by selecting truck bodies manufactured with lightweight materials, such as aluminum, fiber composites and plastic composites. These materials offer a weight savings ranging from 40% to 60% relative to comparable steel upfits. And according to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing a vehicle’s weight by 10% can improve fuel economy by 6% to 8%.

Using a 3/4-ton pickup truck chassis (such as a Chevrolet Silverado or a Ford F-250) as an example, assuming a 10-mpg average with the truck fully loaded, 10% overall weight savings, and 8% fuel economy improvement, the result is a 0.8-mpg increase, from 10 mpg to 10.8.

If the truck travels 30,000 miles annually, that 0.8-mpg improvement translates into an annual savings of 222 gallons. At $3.67 per gallon (the average cost of gasoline in the U.S. as of press time), that’s $815 saved for the year.

Multiply that savings over a six-year truck lifecycle, and a 0.8-mpg improvement at 30,000 miles per year ($815 annual savings) yields 1,332 fewer gallons consumed and $4,890 savings over the life of the truck.

That’s just one vehicle. The impact is multiplied if that 0.8-mpg savings is applied to the entire truck fleet.

Another option when lightweighting the upfit is to boost the legal payload of the vehicle without having to move up to a larger truck.

For example, according to Eric Paul, vice president, sales and marketing of BrandFX Body Company, a standard 8-foot fiber composite BrandFX service body for a single-rear wheel 56-inch cab-to-axle chassis weighs approximately 590 pounds, compared to 1,250 pounds with a similarly spec’ed steel body.

That translates into 660 pounds of extra payload capacity without having to jump to a bigger, less fuel-efficient and more expensive truck.

Suppose that extra 660-pound payload capacity allowed the fleet to cut 15 miles per day out of a truck’s route by carrying 500 pounds more parts and equipment. If the truck operates five days per week, 50 weeks per year, at an average of 12 mpg, here’s what the potential savings would look like:

• 3,750 fewer miles traveled per year.
• 312.5 fewer gallons of fuel consumed.
• At $3.67 per gallon, an annual fuel savings of $1,146.88 per vehicle.

2. Add lightweight materials

Fleets that prefer steel bodies don’t have to go “all in” with lightweight materials to still be able to take advantage of incremental weight savings.
One example is The Reading Group’s composite landscape body, which combines a steel frame (for structural strength and rigidity) with a plastic composite floor, rear doors, and other areas of the body to achieve substantial weight savings.

It’s up to 68% lighter than steel, according to Craig Bonham, director of business development for the company.

A wide range of upfitters also offer aluminum tool boxes, ladder racks, liftgates and other lightweight body-mounted equipment to help strip weight out of the completed truck, while retaining the steel construction of the body itself.

“There are a few basic ways to decrease the weight of the current upfit specs to increase fuel efficiency — by either using lighter material or alternate products that still fit the need,” said Corey Stanley, director of fleet operations with the Auto Truck Group, which specializes in the design, manufacture and installation of truck equipment for a wide range of fleet applications.

“In some cases, it may be appropriate to spec fiberglass or aluminum toppers [that enclose the cargo bed of a pickup truck] in lieu of service bodies for some lighter-duty applications where the customer doesn’t necessarily need a full service body, which helps reduce overall weight and upfit cost.”

3. Strip weight out of van interiors

Truck bodies and accessories aren’t the only upfits with lightweight material options. Cargo van interiors, composed of a protective bulkhead and shelving systems, are traditionally built out of metal. However, a growing number of upfitters are also offering lightweight aluminum, plastic composite and hybrid material interiors to reduce overall vehicle weight.

How much weight can be saved?

As a frame of reference for potential weight savings, Leggett & Platt’s QuietFlex and CSS product lines (by Masterack) are composite van interior systems that weigh up to 30% less than traditional steel systems, says Jenn Voelker, marketing manager at Leggett & Platt Commercial Vehicle Products.

4. Cut idling

According to the DOE, allowing a truck to idle consumes up to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, depending on the load requirements on the engine. If the truck idles for a total of two hours per day, that’s one gallon of fuel wasted daily.

In other words, if the truck operates 250 days per year, idling two hours per day, it squanders 250 gallons per year. Spread that over the number of vehicles in a fleet, and the opportunity for cost savings is easy.  

Here are some upfit strategies to eliminate unnecessary idling, which can reduce fuel consumption and harmful emissions:

• Spec an electric hoist for dump bodies instead of a power take-off driven hoist, which requires engine power.
• Spec electric stand-by for refrigerated bodies where the refrigeration unit can be plugged into an electrical power source while loading and unloading at a warehouse or while parked overnight.
• Spec auxiliary power units to run equipment such as LED lights, compressors, and heating and cooling systems for sleeper units.

The bottom line

When it comes to “greening” a fleet, it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference. Simplify the process by focusing on small, incremental changes in upfit and chassis specs that could pay substantial dividends in terms of reduced GHG emissions and fuel consumption.

Adapted from an article written by Sean Lyden for HDT sister publication Green Fleet.