Topping 10 mpg: Maximum fuel economy comes when talent, tech unite

Updated Oct 17, 2013
The Freightliner Cascadia Evolution driven by Henry Albert features several standard and cutting-edge fuel-economy components or design elements.The Freightliner Cascadia Evolution driven by Henry Albert features several standard and cutting-edge fuel-economy components or design elements.

Are we about to pass the 10-mile-per-gallon threshold in long-haul trucking? Owner-operator Henry Albert certainly thinks so.

Albert, owner of Albert Transport out of Mooresville, N.C., is a member of Freightliner Trucks’ Team Run Smart. These are five drivers who each represent a positive aspect of the owner-operator business and lifestyle.

Albert is the “face” of Team Run Smart when it comes to proving and promoting Freightliner’s fuel-efficient heavy trucks to the industry and the public at large. A big part of that involves the new Cascadia Evolution that Freightliner matched with Albert in November.

I rode for two days with Albert. We left CCJ headquarters in Tuscaloosa, Ala., bound for the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. Albert was scheduled to show his highly aerodynamic tractor-trailer combo and spread the word on what he’s learned and how other truckers can apply his lessons in their day-to-day operations.

The whole time, I kept thinking what a shame it was that Albert isn’t a fleet manager: He has the same attention to detail and passion that defines so many of the men and women who keep our nation’s largest fleets rolling day in and day out. Science works — It doesn’t matter if it’s one truck or 1,000.

My goal in riding with Albert was to verify that he was getting 10 mpg in his daily operations. As it turned out, he’s not. He’s actually getting 11 mpg.

Or at least he did on our run to Texas, with a final tally of 11.2 mpg. Pretty impressive, considering our GVWR of about 62,500 pounds.

Sometimes – on a good day, when everything’s going right – Albert’s getting 12 mpg or better. On the other hand, his fuel logs show that some days he drops to the 9-mpg range. His average since he’s had the truck is a solid 9.5 mpg.

A former racecar driver, Albert had to discipline himself to run slow. He’ll still go 70 mph if his business requires it, but most days he’s cruising around 62 mph, letting his integrated Detroit Diesel drivetrain and DT12 transmission do most of the work.

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“Just because the speed limit is 70 mph, you don’t have to go that speed,” he told me. “People say it’s unsafe, but it’s not. I settle into the right-hand lane, set my speed and stay there. I’ve adjusted my routes and timetables to meet this new schedule, and it works out very well – especially considering the fuel and money I’m saving.”

Albert said he’s made fuel economy a game. He challenges himself daily to post high numbers. He’s become a keen observer of conditions and, where possible, tailors his day to take them into account. He watches the trees to see if he’s lucky to have a tailwind. Worse than a headwind is a side-gust, hitting the tractor-trailer gap hard and creating an aerodynamic penalty. He tries to avoid wet and hot roads because they add rolling resistance.

While he can’t always work around such conditions, there are other things he can control that most operators don’t consider – such as his mudflaps. He pulled them off the truck and trailer and paired them down with a circular saw to make certain they weren’t protruding into the slipstream.

He plans his rest stops at high elevations. His reasoning: It’s easier to get his rig back up to speed going down a grade as opposed to burning extra fuel trying to accelerate uphill.

Albert knows he’s a little extreme in his fuel economy quest, but he said his habits can be adopted by drivers looking to improve their bottom line – or perhaps win a fleet fuel economy challenge.

“I’m going to drive for 10 hours a day, no matter what,” he said. “If another driver finishes the same 10-hour day and he’s another 60 or 80 miles down the road, great. But what has he really accomplished? And was that extra 60, 70 or 80 miles worth the money that went out his smokestacks? I don’t think so.”