Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gaining efficiency, inch by inch.

Early Wednesday morning, Kenworth unveiled a couple of major new products - the PACCAR MX engine, which will begin appearing in KWs later this year, and the company's new T700, an aero-styled road tractor that is the heir to the now-venerable T2000 and the much older "Anteater" - the 660 - which started the aero revolution.

In announcing these products, the builder stressed the various percentage gains in efficiency - fuel economy - being wrung from design, materials and software programming. Much the same kind of tune was sung by other suppliers. A few percent here and there add up to a reduction in how much diesel a rig would drink if it were outfitted with some or all of these innovations.

Barring some unforeseen breakthrough in materials or a fundamental change in the way trucks are powered and operate, the best we can hope for is a series of innovations that provide incremental, but real, improvements in efficiency. For instance, PACCAR's MX engine is made with a graphite-iron alloy that will mean a lighter yet stronger engine. Careful spec'ing of other components for weight and their own inherent efficiencies can yield higher mpgs for you.

The promised reductions can be pretty impressive. For instance, if a tractor were outfitted with all the energy saving items introduced today, fuel efficiency could be improved as much as 8 percent, maybe more.

As with anything that rides in a truck, weight is a factor - as is cost, of course. Will the dollar outlay and any additional tare weight, if any, be more than the incremental gain in efficiency can pay off? What about maintenance? Service availability? These are the first questions out of the trucking journos' mouths when the Q&A starts. Stay tuned to Land Line for the answers.

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