Mike Roeth is the Operations Lead of Trucking Efficiency Program at Carbon War Room, and Executive Director for the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.
When 15 former Google employees decide to band together to bring autonomous 18-wheeler trucks to the market, you know it means big things for the trucking industry. But the launch of Otto in May 2016 is only one of the industry’s many advances in the realm of efficiency.
In my 30-plus years in the industry, I don’t think I’ve ever seen and enjoyed so much innovation.
In April we saw six European truck manufacturers execute a self-driving truck convoy (known as platooning) across Europe, crossing borders from city to city. And May also saw the unveiling of Nikola One, an electric semi-truck that promises an 800–1,200 mile range from one charge. Wow.
In my 30-plus years in the industry, I don’t think I’ve ever seen and enjoyed so much innovation. These headlines prove that the market for efficient technologies is a lucrative one, and there is appetite for them despite today’s cheap fuel prices. The adoption and purchasing of these technologies is continuing even as the price of oil has dropped from US$120 per barrel. The higher the miles per gallon for these tractor trailers, the lower the fuel bill (and the emissions), and as the cost of transporting goods is reduced, the result is lower product costs for consumers.
Despite these exciting developments, a major challenge we continue to face is a lack of confidence in some of the devices that are on the market. That’s where the Trucking Efficiency program – an initiative of the nonprofits Carbon War Room (which merged with Rocky Mountain Institute in 2014) and North American Council for Freight Efficiency – comes in.
Our mission is to double the efficiency of the North American truck fleet by increasing confidence in energy-efficient technologies and practices, and accelerating their adoption. We do this via our Confidence Reports, which assess technologies, discuss challenges and best practices for their use, deliver decision-making tools to fleets, and provide ratings on payback periods. We also have a highly interactive information platform that houses these Confidence Reports, along with all existing data on available technologies. Finally, we run workshops across the country.
Our work, along with tighter regulations on vehicle emissions, such as those recently introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency, helps to accelerate the adoption of technologies that are good for fuel bills – and good for the environment. But there are still vast opportunities on the innovation side of things, as exemplified by the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck I and II programs.
Despite these exciting developments, a major challenge we continue to face is a lack of confidence in some of the devices that are on the market.
First, the technologies need to get better. We need first, second, and third generations of devices that can achieve peak levels of performance, improving on today’s offering. Right now, many of the technologies are still in the early stages of development.
Second, costs need to come down. This means more R&D, improved manufacturing, and efficient supply chain options. Finally, we need to ensure that all performance is smartly monitored, documented, and shared, so that everyone can benefit from lessons learned. When all these things align, everyone will profit even more: fleets, manufacturers, owner-operators, and consumers.
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