Daimler shows gains in big rig fuel economy

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 135 views 

BLOOMBERG — Daimler AG’s Freightliner unit demonstrated a heavy-duty truck that got 9.3 miles per gallon under realistic driving conditions, becoming the first company in the U.S. to reach fuel-economy goals set by President Barack Obama’s administration.

The 2014 Freightliner Cascadia Evolution improved its fuel economy through aerodynamic improvements and engine adjustments, Martin Daum, CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, said Wednesday (May 30) at a news conference in National Harbor, Md.

“We need companies like Daimler to push the boundaries,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the news conference.

Obama’s administration announced a plan last year to improve tractor-trailer fuel economy by about 20% by 2018, saving $50 billion in fuel costs over five years and decreasing carbon-dioxide emissions.

Daimler’s Portland, Ore.-based Freightliner unit hit the 9.3-mpg mark during a road trip testing the 2014 model under real-world conditions, company executives said. Under test-track conditions, pulling a trailer that was also aerodynamically improved, the truck got 10.7 miles per gallon.

The road test involved driving more than 2,400 miles from San Diego, Calif., to Gastonia, N.C., where Freightliner has a components manufacturing plant. The truck that averaged 9.3 mpg was pulling an aerodynamically optimized trailer that can’t be bought today, said Wilfried Achenbach, the company’s senior vice president of engineering and technology.

Pulling a conventional trailer, the new model averaged 7.7 mpg, Achenbach said. A current Cascadia model pulling a commercially available trailer got 7.1 mpg on the route. The American Trucking Associations estimates current big rigs average about 6.5 mpg in real-world conditions.

On the test track, the 2014 model averaged 10.7 mpg driving at 60 miles per hour for 17 hours, Achenbach said. Company engineers believe the truck would have reached 11 mpg if it hadn’t rained for four hours during the test, he said.

For comparison purposes, a 2012 Cadillac Escalade gets about 16 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to the EPA.

“The new trucks are so much better than the old trucks,” Daum said. “Fuel efficiency is the name of the game.”

Freightliner assembles its Cascadia models at a plant in Saltillo, Mexico.

The cost of a big rig will increase approximately $6,220 because of the fuel-saving technology, according to the Obama administration. Truck operators will save $73,000 on fuel over the lifetime of the trucks, according to summaries of the regulation.

Freightliner hasn’t announced what the 2014 Cascadia will cost, Daum said. The company is confident buyers will be able to cover the increased cost through fuel savings in one to two years, which would mean a price increase for that model in the $3,000 to $6,000 range, he said. A new truck typically is priced at more than $110,000, he said.

Daimler controls about 32.6% of the U.S. market for medium and heavy-duty trucks, according to a March 31 company news release, compared with 30% in 2009.

The trucking industry compromised with the Obama administration in devising the greenhouse-gas emissions goals, Daum said in an interview. The idea was to use commonly available technologies for this first-ever set of regulations, he said. The industry knows tougher targets are coming every three years, he said.

“For us it was easier, because we started early and anticipated CO2 would become a big challenge in the future,” Daum said. “We are fully aware that the numbers will increase in 2017, and they’ll increase again.”