About a decade ago, owner-operator Henry Albert emerged as an early leader in the push to break the then-elusive 10 mpg barrier for tractor-trailers. He became one of the first drivers to routinely log double-digit mpg numbers on his dedicated long-haul run between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pecos, Texas.
At the time, he was on the cutting edge of trying new technologies such as 6x2 axles, advanced aerodynamics, automated manual transmissions, and adaptive cruise control. Today Albert finds himself working to adapt the lessons he learned during those days to a changed trucking environment.
“The economy is hot right now, with good freight rates,” Albert says. “So the interest is in a shift toward more productivity and higher vehicle speeds. Which has led to a dilemma of sorts.”
At the height of his double-digit fuel runs, Albert slowed his truck down to 62 to 65 mph and achieved a lifetime average for his Freightliner Cascadia of 10.1 mpg.
But could he break into double-digit mpg numbers upping his cruising speeds to the legal speed limits on his runs – up to 75 mph in Texas?
“By increasing to those speeds, I can cut 22 to 26 hours out of the time spent on that run,” Albert says. “And I could use that extra time to take on an additional local route near home, or just quality time with my family.”
Boosting his speed to the legal limit along his dedicated route costs him an extra $60 a week in fuel costs, on average – a figure Albert says is acceptable given the boost in productivity. But he isn’t happy unless he has a technical problem to occupy his mind: Can he get that increased productivity without sacrificing fuel economy? Can he have his cake and eat it, too?
“On a few occasions, when conditions were right, I have logged above 10 mpg during this project,” Albert says. “But getting to that number as an average is elusive.”
The formerly slow Albert now finds it difficult to keep his cruise control engaged at all times, because he’s constantly running up on other trucks that are cruising at 65 mph. “One of the new things I’m doing to deal with this is to limit the over/under settings on my cruise control so the truck doesn’t roll out too much on downgrades. I want to stay under 75 mph to keep my tires in good shape.”
When climbing a grade, Albert has the cruise set to drop 8 mph before the throttle engages to optimize his fuel burn without too drastic a drop in momentum. But he’s pleased with the predictive cruise control in general, which he says does an excellent job of using GPS to read the terrain ahead and set the powertrain up to best deal with changes in elevation.
He’s also working to fine-tune his aerodynamics. “But I don’t think I have it dialed in yet,” he says.
In the meantime, Albert shares some hard-won lessons that he still thinks can help drivers everywhere. “Don’t drive any faster than you need to,” he says. “If you can slow down, do so. Watch your trailer gap and get it in as tight as possible. And don’t pick a fight with the air you’re driving through. Take on as much aerodynamic equipment as you can, and make use of it.”