A recently-updated confidence report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency is predicting that North American Class 8 trucking will be undergoing much more lightweighting with the implementation of more and more electric trucks on America’s roadways.
Currently, many truck buyers have been shifting towards lightweighting incrementally while others may already require it, but, according to the Lightweighting Confidence Report’s updates, these efforts may begin increasing steadily.
“The key is that lightweighting is not a fuel economy option like it is in cars,” said Mike Roeth, Executive Director of NACFE. “It’s a payload play. It’s freight-ton-per-mile efficiency. Do enough of that, and you could have fewer trucks on the road, less congestion–that’s a good thing.”
However, fleets have to be diligent about when and how they begin the process of lightweighting their trucks.
“If a fleet spends money to lightweight but doesn’t get more freight, then [it has] lost money,” Roeth added.
The report noted, primarily, that freight is becoming denser, shippers are loading more pallets onto trailers, and overall tractor and trailer weights have been on steadily increasing.
On America’s roadways, a large majority of trucks are dry van units, which only travel at maximum weight 2% of the time due to goods filling out trailer volume before meeting maximum weight or because routes are not ideal for hauling a grossed-out trailer volume, according to the report.
Now, NACFE expects that shippers will begin asking fleets to have trucks loaded to maximum weight–80,000 pounds–on 20% of their shipments instead of just 10%. Maxed-out trucks currently make up only about one-tenth of big-rigs on the road. Therefore, shippers will likely request that dry van units boost their maximum load on 4% of their hauls, double from the current average of 2%.
Bulk haulers, or fleets that typically reach maximum weigh on most shipments, only make up about 2% of trucking overall, Roeth noted. If these haulers utilize technology that can help reduce their weight by 500 pounds, they could save around $5,500 upfront.
“A good metric for the value of lightweighting technologies is dollar of upfront cost per pound of weight saved,” the report said. “For example, average bulk carriers will pay $6 to $11 [per round] for a component that weighs less, reefer- or certain dry van- dedicated routes [is] $2 to $5, and general dry van freight is $0 to $2.”
Originally, when NACFE first released its report in 2015, it believed more fleets would be reaching maximum weight limits more often “because packaging would get denser, load matching and digital brokers [would] get more freight on trucks, and the trucks were getting heavier because of more emissions components and driver amenities and aerodynamic devices,” Roeth said. These added components have increased average weights by 1,000 pounds throughout the last ten years.
“That trend, we think, still exists, it’s just a little slower,” Roeth continued. “And the truck builders have done a pretty good job of lightweighting their [bases, standards, and] trucks to help with the extra weight they added through the 2000s.”
Since 2015, trucks have been able to drop five pounds of weight by installing steel and aluminum wheels, as well as utilizing new innovations regarding cab, mount, and frame structures, Roeth explained.
“These options are out there and the supply chain is kind of ready to build them when they have to, and we think it is going to happen over time,” said Roeth, who added that truck manufacturers may begin selling newer lightweight features that have been in the works.
Some obstacles regarding the industry’s ease into efficient lightweighting include the current shift from diesel-run trucks to those that are hydrogen-electric or battery-electric. For the same shipment, an electric truck can be 2,500 to 5,000 pounds heavier than a diesel truck.
Many may think that a viable option would be converting existing diesel trucks into ones running on electric batteries, but that would mean there would be “less [of an] opportunity to try to take that weight out…at least in the first generation,” Roeth noted.
Another caveat? According to Roeth, t’s still much easier to haul heavy freight with two trucks–keeping them both under weight limits–than trying to lightweight a large load with just one truck.