Why fuel-efficient trucks are the future

Over the past two decades, the automotive industry has been balancing two conflicting targets: reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency. Until now, emissions have taken priority but with today’s diesel engines now cleaner than ever, the whole industry is shifting focus to fuel consumption.
Illustrated Volvo Truck

Since the early 1990s, emission standards and regulations such as Euro and US10, have seen NOx emissions decrease by over 95 per cent (source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and European Environment Agency). However, these reductions have also had a negative effect on engine efficiency due to the trade-off between NOX and fuel consumption.

Most OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have been able to make efficiency gains in other areas to offset this so overall fuel consumption has not increased. However, it has meant that the pace of fuel consumption reduction has decreased in recent years. Until now. With emissions so low, government authorities and regulators across the world are now shifting their attention on CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency.

For instance, in the US, phase two emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles have been introduced. Under the new regulations (jointly developed by Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), all trucks built from 2021 onwards will need to emit at least 24 per cent less CO2 than 2018 models. Similar legislation is also being instigated in the EU, Japan and China. The European Commission has developed VECTO, a computer simulation tool for measuring CO2 emissions, which will make it possible to certify, monitor and compare fuel consumption from different truck models.

But how will this affect truck development? The US Department of Energy’s SuperTruck I programme can offer a glimpse into possible future of heavy-duty trucks. The programme brings together industry partners and manufacturers, to develop and design new concepts with the aim of increasing freight efficiency by 50%. Some of the improvements include the use of lightweight materials, highly-engineered aerodynamic surfaces, low-rill resistance tyres, idle reduction equipment and waste heat recovery systems.