The Elusive 10 Miles Per Gallon
To many in the trucking industry, a semi-truck that gets 10 miles per gallon (MPG) at a full load seems like a fantastic pipedream. Of course, in the early years of the trucking industry, when trucks received 2 to 3 miles per gallon, the idea of 5 miles on a gallon of diesel also seemed absurd, and now a big rig receiving below 5 MPG is unacceptable. 10 MPG might appear to be quite the hurdle, but it’s one we can jump over.
Right now, an average US heavy-duty truck gets approximately 5.5 MPG (though this number fluctuates depending on who you ask), meaning to hit double digits, a truck would need to go about 82% further on the same amount of gasoline. Not only would this fuel efficiency be better for the environment, but more importantly it would reduce the cost per mile and increase the bottom line for trucking companies both large and owner-operator. What can be done to squeeze the most distance out of every drop?
EPA and other Government Standards
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency has no fuel efficiency standards for anything heavier than a light-duty truck. At the same time, the Department of Energy (DOE) has partnered with various trucking manufacturers to raise fuel efficiency.
If the EPA, DOE, and all the other governmental systems wanted to, they could enact standards that would make driving any truck below 10 MPG illegal by the end of 2020, and all trucks on the road would be Peterbilt supertrucks. So why doesn’t the United States Government and all of its agencies at its disposal do this?
Because the economy wouldn’t be able to keep up.
All trucks receiving 9.9 MPG or below would become illegal to drive, becoming effectively worthless when the clock strikes 12:01 PM on January 1st, 2021. Businesses, especially smaller, owner-operator businesses, would have their investments’ values evaporate, putting them out of business immediately. Fewer trucks on the road would skyrocket the rates of shipments (supply and demand), raising the prices onto the consumers, meaning they buy less, and transactions of everything from diapers to television sets would grind to snail’s pace.
This is why regulations and standards tend to be enacted over time or have grandfather clauses. If the US Government wanted to raise the average fuel economy to 10 MPG without harming the economy too much, it could enact rules slowly. Here are some (completely hypothetical) examples of what the government could do to ease the industry into a higher average fuel economy:
- Every year, the threshold of what fuel economy is illegal to operate goes up .2 MPG, starting at a low threshold of 2 MPG in 2021. By 2041, the minimum efficiency would be 6 MPG, slowly but surely raising the average as older and less efficient big rigs retire.
- Every year, the threshold of what fuel economy is unlawful to manufacture goes up .25 MPG, starting at a threshold of 5 MPG. By 2041, the minimum efficiency for a company to make and sell a new semi-truck would be 10 MPG.
- Trucks in between or exceeding these standards are perfectly okay to drive.
Eventually, the average MPG of all trucks on the road would exceed 10 MPG, albeit slowly.
Companies are constantly innovating to get the best fuel efficiency on their engines and trucks; but, technology is limited by research. Driving with fuel efficiency in mind is an easy and instant way to boost your MPG, possibly even into the 10 MPG range if the truck is already efficient.
Here are tips to get ever closer to double-digit mileage:
- The faster you travel, the more fuel your truck needs to get an extra mile per hour. This is due to air resistance. Slowing down to 55 MPH gives you the optimal balance of speed and fuel efficiency.
- Avoid hard acceleration, which takes a lot of fuel to do. Likewise, avoid hard braking because it leads to hard acceleration. It is more fuel-efficient to let go of the gas pedal from further away and cruise than it is to brake from a short distance. Don’t put fuel efficiency ahead of safety, though!
- Maintaining truck parts, such as lubricants and tire pressure, are more important to fuel efficiency than you think.
- Having 200 gallons of diesel fuel in your tank can add up to 1,500 pounds to your truck’s weight. Driving with half a tank means you will have to stop for gas more often, but a lighter truck means more fuel efficiency and less chance of getting in trouble at the weigh station.
- Running the air conditioning can take a small amount off your fuel economy. This is mostly trivial and will likely not push you above 10 MPG, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are not sure if you will make it to the next fuel station, consider lowering the air conditioning or turning it off altogether. The discomfort in the cabin could be the difference between refueling at the station and refueling with a canister.
With these tips, hitting 10 MPG can turn from an impossible fantasy into a goal semi-trucks can eventually reach.
Technically cheating to break the metric, but electric semi-trucks may prove to be very fuel-efficient, despite not running on diesel.
To prove this, let’s get some numbers:
- The average 18-wheeler gets 5.5 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel.
- 1 gallon of diesel fuel generates 138,874 British Thermal Units (BTU) of energy.
- An electric semi-truck will get about 2 kWh per mile, numbers changing depending on the electric truck manufacturer.
- 2 kWh is equal to approximately 6,824 BTUs.
- The EPA uses BTUs to compare different sources of energy.
From these variables, we can see that the amount of energy required to move an average diesel truck a mile would take 23,538 BTUs. For the Semi to move a mile, it uses 29% of the energy a normal diesel truck would utilize. Using the standard diesel truck as our benchmark, the Tesla Semi gets the equivalent of 20.3 miles per gallon of diesel fuel. This exceeds not only the energy efficiency of the average diesel truck, but also even the most efficient diesel big rigs. It more than doubles our goal!
Like everything else, electric semi-trucks have hurdles of their own to overcome. They are not in mass production just yet, and charging them can take much longer than filling a tank of diesel.
Fuel costs are one of the largest expenses for a trucking company, so being able to reduce it would be a great asset to any owner-operator or even a company as large as Knight-Swift. With improving technology, it is a matter of time before 10 miles per gallon is the new standard for fully loaded diesel big rigs, but some people could expedite the process.
While the national average is a little more than half of this goal, purchasing a new truck with fuel rates near, at, or above this threshold can prove to be a solid competitive advantage in the market. Or perhaps you might want to wait for electric semi-trucks where the energy efficiency is even larger. It might be hard for a diesel engine to break 20 MPG and compete with electric commercial vehicles, but then again, there was a time when the idea of 5 miles on a gallon of diesel also seemed absurd.
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