Lightweighting: Is It Time to Put Your Trucks on a Diet?

By November 4, 2015Fleet Management

New trucks, overstuffed with new technology and driver amenities, weigh more which can reduce payload capacity and fuel efficiency. What’s the answer?

Oftentimes, the best of intentions end up with negative consequences. That’s definitely the case when it comes to the trucking industry and the need to (a) comply with federal regulations, (b) try to make our vehicles more comfortable for drivers, and (c) minimize costs.

An article in FleetOwner earlier this year, “Lighter is better, but why aren’t fleets taking advantage?” addresses the issue. Citing the latest Trucking Efficiency Confidence Report, the article notes that, “due to emissions regulations, fuel economy features, and driver amenities, tractors have gained about 1,000 pounds of weight over the last decade.” When you max out weight at 80,000 pounds and you have shippers clamoring for denser payloads, half a ton in equipment weight can make a major difference, and negatively impact the carrier’s bottom line.

Whether it’s going for lower cost changes like an increased use of aluminum in hubs and molded plastic fairings, or higher cost changes like aluminum frame and wheels, there are ways to decrease tractor and trailer weight to allow for the same or higher payload. Many companies, especially those that often carry less-than-truckload weight, are reluctant to incur the expenses related to reducing the weight of their tractors and trailers. Here are a couple of realities that will eventually offset that reluctance.

First, regulations aren’t going away and OEMs are manufacturing vehicles to comply with the new standards. So when a fleet looks to replace an aging vehicle, a newer model is likely to have additional weight. Second, with the driver shortage getting worse, fleets will have to put more payload into fewer vehicles in order to meet schedules. At some point, lightweighting won’t be the exception, it will be the rule.

The article notes that some lightweighting options currently have a negative impact on resale value; or they entail higher maintenance cost. But logically, since the driver and regulation landscape isn’t likely to change for the better any time soon, the opposite may become true. Not having any lightweight components could negatively impact residual value in the future. As an example, some new truck manufacturers are already seeing customers specifying aluminum wheels to reduce weight. In fact, Volvo has made aluminum wheels standard on their 2017 model tractors.

Whether you’re happy about this situation or not, and accepting the fact that there is no Weight Watchers for trucks, fleet managers and owners will have to do due diligence and put their trucks and tractors on a weight reduction plan.

Jim Sweeney

About Jim Sweeney

Jim Sweeney is Vice President, Capital Equipment, for NationaLease. His career spans 35 years in fleet planning, acquisitions, and remarketing. For nearly two decades he served in management with Budget Car and Truck Rental.

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