NACFE: Tractor-Trailer Matching Brings Operational Cost Savings, But …

Matching tractors to trailers could improve efficiency and lower costs for trucking fleets, but the North American freight system, which is based on drop-and-hook operations, is still not ready to benefit from these advancements, according to a new report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).

The report, titled The Feasibility of Intentional Pairing, suggests that a change in operations to allow for more “intentional pairing” of tractors and trailers could lower truck operating costs. How much it would take to entice fleets, though, is uncertain. NACFE suggests that a 5 percent to 10 percent net improvement could get the ball rolling, reports Freightwaves.

“One of the things that always comes up when engineers are designing tractors and trailers is they say, ‘if we could only know that the trailer would stay with the tractor for [all of its] life,’” Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE, said.

The 86-page report dives into great detail around the equipment as well as additional factors such as e-commerce that guide the design and development of modern tractor-trailers. In addition to research from available public data and its own database, NACFE sent a survey to 50 fleets, including CTA member Bison Transport.

To no great surprise, NACFE found that the majority of fleets pull dry van and 53-foot refrigerated trailers and operate in drop-and-hook operations with the focus on keeping the trailer moving as much as possible.

“We concluded there is not a lot of opportunity to intentionally pair tractors and trailers,” Roeth said.

The report did find that intentional matching a tractor to a specific trailer could provide benefits, though.

“Pairing a SuperTruck trailer to an older model-year tractor would still result in miles per gallon (mpg) benefits, as would pairing a SuperTruck tractor to less aerodynamic trailers,” the executive summary of the report noted. “Benefits would be on a sliding scale, and fleet annual net mpgs would improve. Intentionally pairing by model type would provide the greatest opportunity for on-highway mpg gains, but this could only occur reliably where 100 percent of tractors and trailers were of the same configuration. In all other situations, benefits would vary based on a stochastic probability distribution of assets.”

The ability to pull off this type of matching system in the North American marketplace, though, is questionable due to the variables involved, and would require a complete rethinking of the way freight moves.

“While capital asset ratios like fleet tractor to trailer are important, load routing includes other market variables like time, pricing, load availability, asset location, driver availability and capability, etc.,” the report said.

“Intentional pairing would suggest a much higher number of trailers to tractors would be needed to position assets in all regions to permit reliable 100 percent pairing without long dwell times for drivers and tractors,” it added.

However, NACFE found that the growing number of GPS tracking systems and more data being generated by trailers does open a door, albeit slightly, for more efficient asset optimization in specific applications.

Roeth said the dynamics of the North American freight system just aren’t designed to benefit from intentional pairing of assets “except in very niche applications,” he said. “The whole freight system in North America is designed around keeping the tractors [and trailers] moving.”

Full Freightwaves story here.

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