Trailer industry increases its efforts to reduce aerodynamic drag on trailers

May 1, 2013
Aerodynamic drag is in the crosshairs of industry engineers. And they are aiming just about everywhere from the front of the tractor to the rear of the

AERODYNAMIC drag is in the crosshairs of industry engineers. And they are aiming just about everywhere — from the front of the tractor to the rear of the trailer — to drive down fuel consumption for truck and trailer customers.

An array of trailer skirts, aerodynamic trucks, and aftermarket accessories were commonplace at this year's Mid-America Trucking Show. Most were by individual companies, but other drag-reduction efforts were the joint efforts between multiple companies in order to address the tractor and trailer as a complete system.

A good example of this was found at the Kenworth booth that featured a Kenworth T680 Advantage tractor and a specially equipped Utility dry-freight van.

The T680 is Kenworth's most aerodynamic model ever, says Kevin Baney, Kenworth chief engineer. It is powered by the 2013 Paccar MX-13, which is up to 3.5 percent more fuel efficient than the previous 2010 MX engine. The engine is paired with an Eaton UltraShift automated manual transmission.

The Utility dry freight van is fitted with a Laydon nose fairing to fill the gap and shield the trailer from the negative effects of crosswinds. On its own, this nose fairing can improve fuel economy by up to three percent, says Baney.

The Utility side skirts have been SAE-tested to provide a five percent improvement in fuel economy, says Baney. The ATDynamics TrailerTail has been tested to provide a six percent improvement in fuel economy when driven at typical freeway speeds.

For further fuel control, the T680 is fitted with an electronic speed limiter and engine idle shutdown software. There is an estimated 0.1 mpg saving for every mile-per-hour reduced at freeway speeds, says Baney. If drivers keep their top speed around 62 mph or below, they will definitely see fuel savings., The same goes for idling. Most engines burn about one gallon per hour while idling. (

Fleets are buying into the concept of reducing aerodynamic drag. For example, Prime Inc of Springfield, Missouri, one of the largest refrigerated trucking fleets, is installing TrailerTails on all new purchases of refrigerated trailers remaining in 2013.

“We believe that maximizing the fuel efficiency of our trailer fleet is in the long-term best interest of our drivers, the environment, and the company's bottom line,” said Paul Higgins, director of maintenance at Prime Inc.

“Our investment in TrailerTail technology will enhance the stability and safety of our trailers and raise the pay of our independent contractors.”

Andrew Smith is CEO of ATDynamics, manuthe leading supplier of semitrailer rear-drag aerodynamics technology, says that more than 12,000 TrailerTails are currently deployed in the United States, and more than 50,000 expected in the next two years. (

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor