Paths to 10-plus mpg in a Class 8 diesel tractor with aero, downspeeding, more

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Updated May 5, 2023

In this edition of the Overdrive Radio podcast, drop in with three operators for a panel discussion held at the Mid-America Trucking Show last month. The discussion aimed at showing how these three have done what once might have been unthinkable -- get to, and pass, the 10-miles-per-gallon mark in a Class 8 tractor-trailer hauling freight.

The discussion included the story and voice of a man Overdrive readers may well be familiar with -- 2007 Overdrive Trucker of the Year Henry Albert, running independent and as a longtime participant in Freightliner’s Team Run Smart. There he's involved in efforts to test and demonstrate new truck and diesel technologies built toward boosting efficiencies. Albert was joined in the discussion by owner-operator Joel Morrow (working with Volvo through his Alpha Drivers Testing & Consulting biz) and Nussbaum Transportation driver Clark Reed, the latter also part of the Freightliner initiative.

[Related: Cautionary tale: Owner advises federal reps on hard lessons learned from emissions systems' rocky transition]

The trio fielded questions from Mike Roeth, a leader with the nonprofit North American Council for Freight Efficiency.

Questions ran through 10 different areas of fuel-economy improvement possibility, all to show how they add up to hitting that 10-mpg mark. Among what you'll hear about:

  • Aerodynamics, of course, at which owner-operator Henry Albert has certainly excelled
  • Manufacturers' big strides in engine downspeeding, which yields maintenance dividends for those persnickety emissions systems, as Morrow points out
  • Automated manual transmissions to help in the cruise RPM adjustments that come with significant downspeeding
  • 6x2 configurations
  • Mechanical drag reduction generally
  • The big impacts of idling, speed, route planning, and ... 

... well more than just that. 

Think you can’t get there? Think again -- with the right practices, and the right equipment, as these and other operators have shown, it's certainly possible. And though it may seem like an expensive task, particularly when it comes to equipment upgrades/change, "you have to look at it from a business sense," said Joel Morrow. "Some of the bigger-hooded trucks, they're cool. They're really cool to look at, but they're pretty expensive to push up and down the road." 

And for all the focus we put on rates and revenue, no improvement there is dollar for dollar, he added. "Fuel savings go right to the bottom line, and that's pretty powerful when you start to understand that." Take a listen: 

As Roeth notes in the podcast, Albert, Morrow and Reed were all part of NACFE's initial Run on Less campaign in 2017 -- find more about that and subsequent Run on Less efforts via the ongoing effort's website.  

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[Related: Think you can't get to 10-plus mpg in a 2001 Detroit-powered International? Meet Steve Kron]


Henry Albert: ... gentleman, he was saying to me, "How does all that aerodynamic," and he had another word at the end of that, "work?" And he was in a totally non-aerodynamic truck and we were on a hill. It's three o'clock in the morning. I said, "Get up next to me." We both left off the throttle. We had about the same load and I just rolled right away from him.

Todd Dills: Today on the Overdrive Radio podcast edition for April 21st 2023 we'll drop in with three operators, one of which you heard up top. Year 2007 Overdrive trucker of the year, Henry Albert. Now running independent and as a longtime participant in Freightliner's Run Smart program, real world testing new truck and diesel technologies built toward boosting efficiencies.

Albert was joined by owner-operator Joel Morrow and driver Clark Reed. The latter also part of the longtime freight liner initiative. A round table discussion on the pro talk stage at the Mid-America Trucking Show last month. The trio fielded questions from Mike Roeth, a leader with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. Questions centered on 10 different areas of field economy improvement possibility. All it to show how these operators were achieving 10 plus miles per gallon. You heard that right. 10 plus MPG. We hear about aerodynamics of course, at which owner operator, Henry Albert has certainly excelled. Joel Morrow, too.

Joel Morrow : You really have to look at it from a business sense. I understand that some of the bigger-hooded trucks, they're cool. They're really cool to look at, but they're pretty expensive to push up and down the road.

Todd Dills: We'll hear about engine down-speeding, which yields maintenance dividends in the end for those persnickety emission systems.

Joel Morrow: Some guys have an attitude, now I'm getting five and that's all I can get. Expect that you're going to have some emission system problems at five miles a gallon.

Todd Dills: We'll run through automated manual transmissions to helping the cruise RPM adjustments that come with significant down speeding, about six by two configurations and mechanical drag reduction, idling, speed, route planning, advanced and predictive cruise control for an assist with cruise gear selection on the road, so much more.

All of it's aimed to give owners a myriad of ideas about just how to do what these three have done consistently for going on a decade now. I'll say it a third time, hit and pass at 10 miles per gallon mark in a class eight tractor trailer. Think you can't get there. How's this for a little motivation? Again, Joel Morrow.

Joel Morrow: Your fuel savings go right to the bottom line and that's pretty powerful once you start to understand that.

Todd Dills: On the other side of a break. We'll jump right in with round table discussion host Mike Roeth of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. Here we go.

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Todd Dills:  Find more information at Howes. That's H-O-W-E-S, Here's Mike Roeth.

Mike Roeth: My name's Mike Roeth. I'm really excited about today for a lot of reasons. What's not to love about a truck show and seeing a lot of people and talking trucks, talking fuel economy, efficiency, all those kinds of things. I run a nonprofit. It's called NACFE, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency. And I asked Toby and the team here if I could come and talk about how to get more miles, more ton miles out of a gallon. I spent time last hour with … who is here talking about electric trucks. And what these guys do to get good fuel efficiency out of diesels is important no matter what your power is, whether it's natural gas, electric. Might even be more important because there you could run out of range really quick. So whatever we do around tires, aerodynamics, driving habits to save fuel is going to get us more range going forward.

But enough about that. We don't drive a lot of electric trucks or hydrogen trucks right now, it's all about diesel. What I want to chat through is how you get to high fuel efficiency of these tractor trailers. So,, everything on our site's free. Like I say, we're here to help the industry be better and we do that with funding from sponsors like Freightliner and Commons and others. And we really like what we do.

My team is all industry veterans. Been through this, understand the challenges of doing this from a truck OEM standpoint and others. So really excited. Have a look at those websites. Matter of fact, I got some cards.. Pass these around.

A number of years ago we had an idea and these three guys helped deliver that idea and it's something called Run On Less. So back in 2016 we were talking about... All right, we've studied aerodynamics. We've studied idle reduction. We had studied tires. We'd studied all this stuff around saving fuel, put out reports, helped the industry get better.

But we were thinking about, okay, well what can we do to really demonstrate what we did? And in 2016 we put a challenge out to the industry. It was kind of a put up or shut up challenge. You go on to Facebook and LinkedIn and there were folks bragging about fuel economy like people brag about everything. Whether you beg about your golf score or your high school prowess at athletics or whatever. We brag a lot. So we put out this challenge and seven companies said, "Yeah, we'll get involved." And the challenge was what's the best of the best fuel economy that's out there? If you had great equipment and you had wonderful drivers that were really focused on getting it done, what could be done? And in 2017 we did that. Got 10.1 mile per gallon over three weeks hauling real freight and no BS stuff.

I mean this was real freight, real routes. These guys will talk about it here in a minute. To finish the story, we also did this in day cab Regional haul in 2019. We did battery electric trucks a couple of years ago. So if you're interested in what's going on with battery electric trucks, we had Peterbilt, battery electric, Kenworth. We had smaller trucks, participated in Run On Less electric in 2021. And then this year we're also doing another electric truck piece of work around Depots.

So this is where some operators are operating 10, 15, 20, 50 electric trucks today. Some people say there's no electric trucks out there hauling freight. There's a few and we're learning a lot about what they can do and what they can't do. But back to diesels. So these tractor trailers and what's... You guys operate them all over the country delivering goods. When we were done with Run on Less in 2017, we put this together and we said what we learned is there's like 10 things to get 10 plus MPG or just 10 things to be done to really deliver and do better.

So what I've done is asked these guys... These three guys helped participate in the run in 2017. They were drivers of that 10.1. Little spoiler alert, I haven't said this publicly where I can be documented, but those were the three best trucks in the run out of seven. They did a phenomenal job pushing 11, 12 MPG. But what I'd like to do is kind of walk around this thing around aerodynamics and all kinds of things and ask them to comment on what part of getting good fuel economy comes from these various different things.

So let's get into it. So I'm going to start with Henry Albert. Henry, introduce yourself a little bit and then talk about what aerodynamics does both on the tractor and the trailer for big fuel economy numbers.

Henry Albert: Aerodynamics to me is a lot of fun. I used to race stock cars, was part of my background. So one of the things I always said with people that didn't believe in aerodynamics with trucks was with all the battles we have to fight in this industry, we deal with government regulations, traffic, weather brokers, shippers, and numerous other things to pick a battle with. Why pick a fight with the air?

It's the bottom line. We're going through the air all day long. So starting at the front and working your way all the way back, looking for anything that kills bugs or dirty spots. Dirty spots is where there's a high vacuum in. That's just the bugs... A lot of it you can't do anything about it, but the dirty spots, you can do a lot about it, filling into vacuums all the way back through. Through that you can yield quite a bit of extra fuel mileage. In fact, I'd say it's close to 15%. I just did a deal with a gentleman, he was saying to me, "How does all that aerodynamic," and he had another word at the end of that "work?" And he was in a totally non-aerodynamic truck and we were on a hill. It's three o'clock in the morning. I said, "Get up next to me." We both left off the throttle. We had about the same load and I just rolled right away from him and he's like, "Wow, that made that much difference."

And it opened up his eyes to the aerodynamic portion of it.

Mike Roeth: Yeah, there's a lot of even aerodynamic testing there's a thing called coast down where they do exactly that. They just take the truck and let get off the throttle and let it coast and maybe goes, I don't know, two, 300 feet. Then they'll go put aerodynamic devices on it and it'll coast farther and they can get a prediction of fuel economy savings.

So what's been some of the no-brainer things that maybe all trucks should have around either the trucks or other trailers or aerodynamics?

Henry Albert: Well obviously the skirts on the truck and the trailer, they're two pretty easy ones. There's some different theories on the skirts on the trailer. I believe in them being mounted straight with the sides of it. As a matter of fact, I don't know if we can say it, but Walmart, on all their new trailers you'll see they have them straight on Snyder. They have them straight. You don't want to plow, kick or shove air anywhere. You're just trying to keep it go straight. And a lot of things that would make sense looking at it looks right, but it's not. Keeping the air going straight you're trying to disturb it as little as you can. Look up the Sears-Haack body shape, that's the most aerodynamic shape known to man.

Todd Dills: That's Sears. Spelled like the Sears store and Haack spelled, H-A-A-C-K.

Henry Albert: Not quite the raindrop. A lot of people say it's the raindrop, but it's not the raindrop. It's the Sears-Haack where it's tapered in at the beginning and tapered in at the back. You can see it pretty easy with boats. Well not boats so much, but a canoe. A canoe doesn't leave much of a wake behind it. But if you have a square back, it creates a lot of turbulence and wake at the back that's literally trying to pull you back to where you were.

The one that really probably surprised me the most and the one I wanted the least was a trailer tail. One, I thought they looked God awful. Two, I'm like, "They're going to get hit." Mine lasted 800,000 miles until it finally did get hit, but they advertised that they were five to 7% increase. Now mind you, at that point in time I was up around nine and a half and I'm like five to seven percent's a pretty big jump when you're at 9.5.

To my surprise, 6.8% is what I got. I had to think about that. That's a while ago now. And when it finally got destroyed, I was upset that it was gone, but I have a different one that I'm experimenting with now. But that was probably my biggest surprise. The other one is your trailer gap, having that right. I try to stay within 18 inches from the end of the cab extended to the trailer and having a nose cone on the trailer, which you wouldn't think would be effective at that point.

Todd Dills: Albert's pulling a van.

Henry Albert: But you can see its effect because the back of my cab no longer gets dirty. That means it's a high vacuum area if it gets dirty. I think that's a couple of the ones that get overlooked. Trailer gap and how you close the air is just as important as how you opened it up at the front.

But I do believe in starting at the front and working your way to the back because you can't-

Mike Roeth: Yeah. So there's opportunity in the front on the sides and at the back. I remember Clark called me during the run in 2017 and he said, "Oh my god, Mike, my numbers are going to go south tomorrow." And I go, "What do you mean?" He says, "Well, I'm dropping a really good aerodynamic trailer and I happen to have to pick up a non-aerodynamic tractor and you're going to see it in the numbers." And of course we did. So yeah. Any other comments on aero real quick?

Henry Albert: On that notion and the one that paying attention to little things, and I remember when they did the evolution with Freightliner. I remember I was out there with my truck and they were making fun of me because I moved my trailer license plate to do better on fuel.

It turns out the trailer license plate cost you somewhere between four and $700 a year to have it mounted below the taillights. And that was with fuel at $3 a gallon. They did computational fluid dynamics on it after they were done making fun of me. But then they were like, "Well no, that's..." Now it's an option on most of the trailer manufacturers to have the license plate mounted up on the rear buck plate.

Mike Roeth: Thanks Henry. So Henry's owner, operator. Runs his own business, has his own trailer and truck. Next we're going to go to Joel Morrow and during the run, Joel was with [inaudible 00:13:39] and he can tell you a little bit more about what he's doing today. But Joel, let's talk about the powertrain. So having the right axle configuration for the kind of loads and work you're doing as well as down spit an and AMTs and all that kind of, how does that help with fuel economy?

Joel Morrow: So just like we have exponential increases in fuel usage when we don't have aerodynamics, the same thing happens with mechanical drag in the engine and we refer to this as piston speed. We want to slow the piston speed down versus our road speed. So we have less piston strokes per mile travel that's less drag, it's better fuel efficiency. But we're also finding out in addition to the fuel efficiency is that that lower piston speed really helps us to hold heat in the combustion process and in the emission system. And a lot of the down spec trucks that I work with in some of the fleets that I consult with, it has really helped to reduce emission system problems. Almost to the point where it's almost outweighing the actual fuel efficiency benefit of it. I mean the fuel efficiency's pretty stellar, but the reduction in maintenance costs to go along with it really makes the new downs sped powertrains kind of a no-brainer for overall efficiency.

I've been working with some new gearing in the Volvo I-Torque spec that we are looking at having two and even three gears available at highway speeds. Meaning we have direct drive. Well we have overdrive, direct drive and under drive available at speeds from 65 to 85 mile an hour. And this allows us to adapt that engine piston speed to the loads that we're hauling to the terrain that we're driving on. And it really has an impact on the fuel efficiency and it makes for a better driving experience. You have performance when you need it. When you're pulling hard and power demands high, a little extra RPM doesn't necessarily hurt you because you have that extra heat going on in the system. When you're very light, maybe you've got a 10,000 pound load on and you're... I don't know, running across northern Indiana, relatively flat. Then we can really lay the RPM down.

In the case of the trucks that I'm running, it's sub a thousand. We're running somewhere between 910 and 990 RPM in overdrive at 65 mile an hour in that speed range. And getting exceptional fuel efficiency and really, really pushing back on the emission system problems that were so common just a few years ago.

Mike Roeth: So traditionally when you worked on powertrain, it was kind of like when you spec'd it, that's what you got. So you would do your axle ratios and you kind of had it. Are you now saying that these are adaptable trucks?

Joel Morrow: That's exactly right. So it used to be you would spec a truck for each individual operation that was out there. And when you aggressively down speed, it really opens up the adaptability of that truck to whatever job you're doing. So you no longer have to spec a truck that's going to run short regional with a specific powertrain and engine displacement and then something else run over the road.

When you have that multiple gears available, that truck can literally do virtually any on highway duty cycle you can think of. And do it very, very effectively.

Mike Roeth: So from AMTs to the early down sped to where we are now and so forth, what do drivers think of all this?

Joel Morrow: So when we were first getting into the whole down sped concept, we were somewhat down sped, I guess you would call. We didn't really get that the really aggressively downs sped powertrains to get to the point where we had multiple gears that we could use and keep the engine happy. And now that we've gotten past the point of 2.79, 2.64 was very, very common. And now we're looking at 2.16 and maybe even 2.05 with an overdrive. And that really opens up the number of gears available at highway speed to really increase that versatility. And it really helps with driver satisfaction. A simple downshift and you have an extra a hundred hundred horsepower and they have very deep reduction in these transmissions.

So starting heavy loads, getting out of a low grade docks, starting in slippery conditions is a lot easier too with that deeper reduction in the transmission.

Mike Roeth: Great. Anything else you'd add to this? I mean is this for everybody or just some?

Joel Morrow: Well, I think the newer drive trains that it... They're going to apply across the board really I think. Even the shorter regional applications, I think these are going to apply definitely for your long haul guys that are running various speeds. You come out of California at 55, you jump into Nevada at 75. These are great powertrains for that because you can run indirect or over and really optimize for each state that you're in.

I really see these working well, too in the shorter regional applications just because we have all that choice and versatility in what gear that we're actually running in to really hit the sweet spot in the engine, so to speak.

Mike Roeth: Okay. My last one is like six by twos, lift axles, six by fours... What's all going on there? And maybe all of you chime in on this.

Joel Morrow: So six by two is kind of near and dear to my heart. That's what I learned on. My dad actually had one back in 1968 and an international 40 / 70 cab over. And about the time I started driving in the early eighties, we had it in the yard. It was kind of like a yard truck and I didn't know that there was actually a difference between a six by two and a six, but they all looked the same to me.

And so I just kind of got used to it right off the bat and gradually learned that okay, there is a difference and really got into the efficiency part of it. Significant fuel savings. And again, similar to aerodynamics, the faster you go, the more potential fuel savings you're going to see with a six by two actually. And that's shocking to a lot of people. They don't quite put together that mechanical drag is exponential, just like aerodynamic drag is. And you got all that lubricating oil floating around in the axles and all the extra gears that you're pulling out of the system. It really has a significant impact on fuel efficiency. Typically, at 70 mile an hour I see about a half mile a gallon and under six by two.

Mike Roeth: Wow. Wow, wow. All right. Clark, let's move on to idling. So idling burns a lot of fuel historically, but really important to getting the job done as a truck driver. But walk us through and... Clark drives with Nussbaum, right?

Clark Reed: Correct, correct. Yep.

Mike Roeth: And great guy. And these guys just delivered on the run and every day they get huge moper gallon numbers. Part of that's about idling too 'cause it's-

Clark Reed: Absolutely.

Mike Roeth: ... In the calculation, right?

Clark Reed: So that's the biggest waste of fuel I think, is idling that truck when you're not in it. When it's not going down the road, you're just wasting fuel. You're wearing out your truck. So the key is getting the right technology on your truck to not have to idle your truck. Whether it's a diesel powered APU or a EAPU and my truck's got the ParkSmart system on it with MerlinSolar panels, which charges the APU batteries, charges of truck batteries. Idle time on my truck, now I spend three weeks out, four weeks out at a time. So that's three resets every month on the road, living in that truck, my idle time on my truck is less than 1% because they do not idle that truck.

The driver's got to be comfortable, whether it's a 10-hour break, a 34-hour reset, they've got to be comfortable. So if you don't have that APU on there, they're running the truck. They're burning fuel. They're hurting the engine. They're wearing the engine out, wearing the truck out. So having that kind of technology to reduce that idle time is important. And here's the other thing. I brought it with me and I didn't think about it, but I have a super secret tool to reduce idle time and everybody's got one they don't even know it. This is key. If you're not in that truck, turn that truck off. So many people will leave that truck idle when they're going to check in to a shipper, receiver, when they're running in to grab a sandwich. When they're fueling up and they're pulling off the island, they leave that truck running 65 degrees, it's beautiful temperature out that key is still on.

So getting in the habit of turning that truck off when you're not in it is going to save you way more fuel than you might ever think. So that little thing that'll save you some money.

Mike Roeth: What about if you don't have an APU? And maybe it's been awhile since you haven't, but-

Clark Reed: Sure.

Mike Roeth: ... What are some just practices or some things that if a driver doesn't have an APU?

Clark Reed: So there are things that I've done. I know Henry has done this too, even by the electric mattress heaters to keep you warm. They have fans that'll plug into the power outlets, right? Air circulation's going to keep you way cooler than you would think. Just air moving will keep you cooler. One of the things I do if my APU's not working or if it's just a comfortable night out. I've got a fan that I put in my top window or vent if you have one just pulling the hot air out and let a little bit of cool air come in from that, just like you would at your house.

Let that air circulate through there. You can stay comfortable without having to run the truck. And now I've done that. I can't tell you how many nights. It's Henry brags that he put his kid through college with one of those heated pads with the fuel that he saved. So little tricks like that can save you a ton of money and they don't cost hardly anything at all.

Mike Roeth: My dad told us all the time, "We don't need air conditioning in a house. We got an attic fan for God's sake."

Clark Reed: That's right.

Mike Roeth: All right, let's keep rolling. Let's go back to Henry on... I know you've done a lot of work, Henry. I mean even when we did Run On Less, the joke was, well those guys are all driving 50 mile an hour, they're probably empty. That's how they got 10, 11, 12 mile per gallon. And so yeah, speed does matter. The higher speeds you burn more. I mean you can do some things like you guys were talking about around arrow and powertrain to do better at highway speeds, but you still got that air to go through.

And then I know after the run you did some work where you were driving a little faster to see what you could do. But tell us about speed and then how you've learned or that truck manufacturers have bought cruise control to help with these fuel economy numbers.

Henry Albert: Well one, the down sped powertrains have helped quite a bit because my RPMs aren't out of aligned. I started a project several years ago, I called it 70 plus/10, and the goal of that was to cruise at speeds up to 75 and achieve where it was safe legal and posted and achieve double-digit fuel economy numbers. Which I just had a big victory on that. I just did four weeks at 1172. It was light freight, but I have liftable axles that when I don't need it. The axles are off the ground. So the six by two concept works.

And the more aero you are, the less impact it has for running fast. But putting the whole combination together, it's been possible to do that. Right now my lifetime average is 10.15. On a run, my normal run that I take is from Laredo to Charlotte and how important aerodynamics is. The flattest part of my route where I get a crosswind is where my worst fuel mileage is, not the hills. From San Antonio to Laredo kills me. But it's 1,382 miles and time is money. If I run the speed limit on that particular run, I can get it done in four days. But I only have about a half an hour to spare. So if anything goes wrong, I got to build up the cushion.

So I'm running 75 worth 75. And the truck's able to do it through being aerodynamic through the gearing selections. Much like what Joel was talking with, the speeding, that gives you more choices to be able to run at that highway speed without having the engine having its tongue hanging out on the ground.

Mike Roeth: Yeah, I remember some other times where I was talking to you guys about how you do this. Henry told me one thing kind of funny, he said, in the three weeks of the run in 2017, he said "It was really frustrating because I never washed my truck." And I remember, well what the hell does washing your truck have to do with fuel economy? And he says, "There's always a line." So I'm sitting there idling my truck like Clark was talking about in the line.

Another thing that I think all these guys mentioned is planning your route. How important planning your route is and avoiding cities when there's rush hour traffic, maybe stopping earlier, driving faster, but avoiding congestion. Driving slower is always going to save fuel. But if it's at risk of not getting the route done in four days or causing more idle or causing other troubles. So it's really important to kind of figure out that route. And sometimes you can adjust it more than others, but...

Henry Albert: But by the same token, if I get out ahead... I mean I'm an old racer, yeah, I like to move along. But I also like the money I save from not burning fuel. So if I get ahead and I'm past all the possible places that could hold me up, you're liable to find me doing 58. Just because I can run 75 doesn't mean I do it all the time.

So I'll vary that speed up quite a bit. But also it's a day-to-day on the run decision. How fast I'm going to run to make those points, what time am I going to get to Atlanta, what time am I going to get to Houston, et cetera, et cetera. But there's also times where I thought I was way ahead and had it back off, but oh, I didn't realize that they were going to have a road back up here. Well now I might have to pick it up to 75 in Texas to make it back up again. Because getting home 10 hours quicker for $70 worth of fuel for the week, I can live with that, but I'd rather keep it to 70.

Mike Roeth: So you guys all talk about driving a truck, being careful how you go uphills, downhills, how you follow other types of vehicles. Sometimes you'll stay behind a vehicle if you feel like that's helping you in fuel economy. How does all that work with adaptive, predictive? These new cruise control logics where the engineers all say, "Well just put it in cruise and leave it alone."

Maybe that's good for newer drivers or whatever. But kind of talk through those kind of advanced cruise control features.

Henry Albert: Do we have any car carriers here? Because... Hey, I want to thank you. I will run faster to stay behind you. You poke a beautiful hole in air. Thank you. Car carriers and fifth wheel campers for some reason you don't have to get that close to them. Three seconds back and I'm picking up your draft. So thank you.

Mike Roeth: Well, anybody else on the cruise control these advanced cruise controls?

Joel Morrow: Yeah, with some of the new advanced map based systems that are out there where they can actually see grade-

Mike Roeth: That's Joel Morrow again.

Joel Morrow: ... Especially at night, sometimes that can be very difficult to see grade. They know what's coming up. And with the selection that we have with gearing now, the truck's pretty dang smart and really knows what gear we should be in. And a lot of times now is proactively getting into that gear kind of priming the pump when we're wanting to pull a hill. And it's done a whole lot for the actual performance of the truck that makes the driver happy along with the fuel efficiency. So when you can improve both, it's always a good thing.

One of the things, real quick, touching on some of the things that Henry was talking about. A lot of times when you have a truck that's getting 10.1, 10.2 miles per gallon, it's an average. It's the first thing out of everybody's mouth. "Oh, you're light all the time and you're not a real trucker so to speak." One load that comes to mind, I do a lot of stuff out west, kind of west of Denver and I took a load of airplane deicing fluid from Walla Walla, Washington to Aspen.

And when I have time, I slow the truck down, I'll do the same thing, I'll run 58. But if I need to run 80 and it's legal, I'm going to run 80. I ran the truck just as hard as I could run it from Walla Walla all the way down to Aspen and it was cold and it was windy. It didn't go below 70 and most of the time I was north of 70 mile an hour and it just missed nine. I'd done 8.9 and pretty hilly area of the country. So you can do very, very well even with heavyweight. Brought a load of plywood up from New Orleans to Chicago. Run the first half of the trip at 72 mile an hour, just set the cruise right at 72 and let it roll. They come in the mid-eights. The second half, I slowed it down to 57. The second half it done [inaudible 00:31:08] coming up and I was right at 80,000 pounds.

So speed does make a difference, but with today's technology we can still put up some really decent numbers even at higher speed.

Mike Roeth: I thought it was interesting Joel, because I remember you telling me about the story from the plywood from Louisiana. It seems as though there was another truck running with you part of that way that they might have learned a few things.

Joel Morrow: So we had a traditionally geared tanker and we were right about the same weight, about a hundred more horsepower than what I had. And there's one big hill there in southern Illinois that we were coming up. And I was able to walk away from that truck just because I was actually running an under drive with torque multiplication. Even though I had a hundred horsepower less, I was multiplying torque in that transmission and was able to walk right away from that truck pulling that grade.

So the performance is there. The fuel efficiencies there. The driver satisfaction's there and that's what today's down sped powertrains offer.

Mike Roeth: And I think the truck OEMs and the component manufacturers... I mean in the last 15 years, I think I was counting the other day, we've got seven or eight years where the fuel's more than $4 a gallon. I mean we've got a long time and we're seriously paying a lot of money for fuel. So it's not rocket science. A second grade math four MPH per gallon, seven MPH gallon, $4 per gallon, a hundred thousand miles is 60 plus thousand dollars a year. You save 1%. It's a lot of money.

Joel Morrow: Well I was just talking to a gentleman this morning who was just at 6.1 and I'm at 10.1 doing a very similar duty cycle. You're going to put your kid through college and then some with savings like that and you really have to look at it from a business sense.

I understand that some of the bigger hooded trucks, they're cool. They're really cool to look at, but they're pretty expensive to push up and down the road.

Mike Roeth: So Joel, I want to switch gears a little bit now and talk about drivers. And so for maybe fleet owners out here. Now you're doing some consulting work helping fleets and I know some of that's coaching drivers. So one of the things we concluded is how important it is to get the drivers involved in habits and in the technology that fleets buying, what's kind of configuration, the trucks and so forth. So walk us through maybe not just from a driver perspective but from a drivers, group of drivers perspective.

Joel Morrow: I think what's most important, the number one thing, it's your attitude when you sit down behind the wheel. If you have the attitude, I'm going to get this done, you're going to get it done. And if you have the attitude when you sit down behind the wheel, all this is impossible. It's not going to happen. So I think attitude is absolutely the most important thing.

And then I think time management skills are probably number two. You don't want to set yourself up for failure. You have to be able to manage your time. And so when I stepped away from the fleet situation that I was working in and got my own truck, of course I'm taking loads off the load board on occasion. And as an owner operator, you really have the power to put yourself in a really nice position. Time wise as far as hauling loads, where you don't have to run 75 or 80 mile an hour dedicated runs like Henry's running, you get pinched and you have to speed it up sometimes. When you're taking loads off the load board... Keep in mind that fuel efficiency savings go right to the bottom line.

So often I hear "Well, but I make extra revenue." That's a top line number. All your expenses have to come out of that. And most people don't see that. They just say, "Oh look, I made an extra $10,000 this month." But take all your expenses out of that and how much did you make? Your fuel savings go right to the bottom line? And that's pretty powerful once you start to understand that. It makes that argument harder to make that, "Oh, I'm going to make all this extra revenue." And you will. But remember all your expenses have to come out of that and people don't stop and think about this sometimes.

Mike Roeth: There's a lot of driver dynamics in the marketplace now. I think many you guys train drivers I know all the time.

So what are you experiencing when you start to talk to maybe the early drivers that are just coming into the market around this? Are they interested? Do they want to work on it? Yes? No?

Joel Morrow: New drivers, guys with no experience are actually easier than guys that have... The guy that's driven the traditional truck that's used to winding it up to 15, 1600 RPM before he shifts and used to cruising at 1400 RPM. Those are very hard habits to break and we all drive by feel at some point when we're behind a wheel long enough. We're used to this sound, this feel. And when all that goes away, which happens in a down spec truck, they're very quiet, they're very smooth, there's no vibration. It feels very funky to these guys and they have a hard time getting their mind around it. So the new guys coming in, they like the technology.

I think a lot of these younger guys, they were gamers at one point, so they're used to technology. They like the idea of incorporating technology into these trucks. And so for me, when I do train, it's much easier to train a new person rather than have to talk. Because you have to repeat and repeat and repeat. No, eventually get it, but it is much more difficult to train a guy that has some experience in a traditionally geared truck.

Henry Albert: Adding to that what you're saying, one of the things that helped me a lot with fuel mileage is knowing Joel, knowing Clark. Having a group of people that you put it the other day, we all push each other. We're not competitive but we're competitive. Very. But as far as taking it to a fleet with Clark, his fleet, they have over a hundred trucks now averaging better than 10 miles to the gallon and how they've done that and how they've accomplished it... I'm not a fleet, but every time I'm around their operation talk about doing it right to get a fleet, to get fuel mileage.

Mike Roeth: Well Henry, you just set me up for what's next and one of the 10 things that we said as we studied it all is that the fleet needs to have a real strategy and we called it a culture of a fuel economy. And yeah, I don't know of any fleet and fleet leader like Brent Nussbaum who's all over this. So Clark's got mirror or cameras instead of mirrors on his truck. I think Nussbaum's got maybe 50 of those or something.

Clark Reed: I think we've got 15 of them right now. They're getting more. Yep.

Todd Dills: Again, that's Clark Reed driver at Nussbaum Transportation and Freightliner team Run Smart.

Clark Reed: Culture's important. That's the most important thing. So when I first started at Nussbaum, they incentivized MPG only, how high of an MPG can you get? And they were aggregating all this data to assign a score. They were bringing in wind speeds and terrain and load weight and they were assigning all these numbers and doing all this mathematics and this is your score. The problem with that is if you have a couple bad days because the winds are fighting you, because you've got heavy loads, all the driver sees is that MPG number. They're not thinking about, oh man, the wind was hitting me crossways today. Is that really drew my numbers down? They're not thinking about that. They're thinking that MPG number translates into money to me and when that number drops, I'm losing money. That's all they think about. Nussbaum changed that culture. Nussbaum said, "Let's not incentivize MPG. Let's incentivize the habits that bring about good MPG, following distance, how heavy are you accelerating? How well are you maintaining your space? How fast are you going? Are you bumping up against the governor all the time?"

So what they did is when they incentivized the good habits, the MPG numbers came up. Mine did because now I'm focusing on I got to go do this and do that to get more money. It was all about the money for me. So when you incentivize the good habits, not only does your fuel economy go up, so does your safety because now you're maintaining your space. Now you're being more careful on the road. That's the main part of it. Build that culture where the driver's going, "A bad day or a bad week is not going to take money out of my pockets."

Mike Roeth: And then tell us about the features on the trucks because your fleet is really an early adopter. I mean there's not many mirror less trucks out there right now. How do they go about helping you understand what these technologies and features are doing? So you can't ask other drivers.

Clark Reed: Right. So they'll pick a few trucks. They don't just automatically just jump in and say, "Ah, mirror less trucks are great. Let's put them on all of our trucks." They'll grab a few trucks to try that or to try... We did try some diesel powered APUs. They'll grab a few trucks and they'll do their testing. They'll do their due diligence to make sure this is a good technology. This doesn't necessarily work out just like the solar panels. They tried them on a few trucks. They realized not only are you saving fuel, but our battery life is greatly extended. You got to do your due diligence on it and once it does work, then you have to decide, does this really make sense for us economically or is this something a pipe dream?

It looks good but it doesn't really work. So that's what they're doing right now with the mirror eye system. They're testing it out, driver satisfaction, what's the fuel economy looking like? If it works out, they'll adopt it. If it doesn't work out, they'll just say, "Well, it was a good time." Let's move on.

Mike Roeth: So what do you think about the mirror less cam...

Clark Reed: Okay, so I'm going to catch slack over this, but I love it. I love it. Now the big knock on it is what if the power goes out? I mean that's a reality. It could happen. There's two things I bring up, but the main one I say is, and it's happened. What if you're driving through Chicago and somebody takes off your mirror? You can't see you're blind at that point. What are you going to do?

You're going to turn on your flashers and hope to God, they realize you got a problem and you're trying to get off the side of the road. The truck is still equipped where you can throw the regular mirrors back on if you need to. That's the only drawback. The visibility is incredible with it. There are no blind spots with that system. The only blind spot on that truck is right behind the trailer. So the safety aspect I think over weighs the aspect of what if the power goes out? What if the camera goes out?

Mike Roeth: And I've heard really good things in ice and wind and fall.

Clark Reed: Absolutely.

Mike Roeth: And rain. And the last one that we had was really around overall maintenance of the truck. A well maintained truck's going to get better fuel economy. Better fuel economy's going to require less maintenance, right? Joel was talking about lower engine speeds. The amount of times that piston has to move in that engine over its life is going to be better. And then tires, tire pressure. So any of you guys have any of you want to talk about tires, tire pressure maintenance?

Joel Morrow: So yep. Tire pressure can be a somewhat tricky thing, especially with a six by two. We tend to run little bit lower pressures in the drive axles to maintain traction. And because you can get some slippage in a six by two. Generally when you run that lower tire pressure and I typically run on the lower end of what the acceptable range is for the weights that I'm carrying. You're going to make up from reduced tire wear for the fuel efficiency that you may potentially lose because of rolling resistance. It definitely offsets. In fact, typically on a six by two we'll run a more aggressive tire and we see the same thing happening.

So I'm working with a fleet right now where they've got an extremely low rolling resistance tire on a six by two and they're getting some pushback from the drivers. And I told them we have to actually get to an open shoulder tire in this particular duty cycle. And they're like, "Well, it's going to kill us fuel mileage wise." It will not on a six by two. They have an accelerated tire wear. So it's obvious that they're getting slippage. And so the more aggressive tire and a little bit lower tire pressure than what you typically run in a six by four makes a lot of sense, in regard just to fuel efficiency overall. The better your fuel efficiency is, the less likelihood you're going to have a emission system problems. And I know owner operators, they really, really need to keep that in mind. Some guys have an attitude, "Now I'm getting five and that's all I can get."

Expect that you're going to have some emission system problems at five mile a gallon. Some guys say, "Well, I run heavy load so I don't care. It is what it is." So add that emission system maintenance or potential downtime into that equation. And then even though you're running heavy, you really got to start to think about that. Because we're really finding out in the real world that these down sped powertrains, especially when you aggressively down speed them, it is significantly reducing just emissions period. And then obviously we're holding more heat in that emission system. The emission system works better when it's hot and it is really reducing the issues that we used to see with emissions.

Todd Dills: What kind of fuel mileage are you getting on our operators? Plenty to think about from Henry Albert, Joel Morrow and Clark Reed there. Track back through the initial Run On Less campaign from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and plenty freely available resources from the website of the group. Find a link to it in the show notes wherever you get your podcasts. Overdrive Radio you can find at the world-famous Of course, on SoundCloud, Apple and Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, many other platforms. There you can also leave us a rating of review if you get something from these for sure. Any feedback, dial into our podcast line anytime at 615-852-8530 and leave us a message there. Always love to hear from you.