Today I read an article posted on Science Daily (Aerodynamic Truck Trailer Cuts Fuel And Emissions By Up To 15 Percent) that made me kind of upset. The story is about a new, more aerodynamic sideskirt design for truck trailers. The design reduces drag, and increases fuel efficiency by about 10%. That is great, right, so why am I so mad about it? Well, because this very small improvement could have been made years ago with little effort, but corporate inertia has kept this kind of innovation from being properly implemented. EVEN MORE EGREGIOUS though, is that there have been radically different designs for trucks for decades that could improve fuel efficiency by 25% WITHOUT CHANGING THE ENGINE. The design that I'm aware of is by Luigi Colani, who I've only become aware of recently by watching "Future Car" on the Discovery Channel. In the 1970s, Colani came up with a radically more aerodynamic truck design, which apparently sat on his shelf unimplemented for a couple decads. In 2001, he introduced a new design, this one 50% more efficient than conventional trucks, but still no one is building it or even stealing some of his ideas. Why? It doesn't make sense.
While I was trying to remember Colani's name, I found two examples of a "more efficient truck." First was just from a couple months ago. Navistar has introduced a new model called LoneStar, which is supposed to be 5-15% more fuel efficient than traditional trucks. The second was from 1995, when the US DOT gave an award to Kenworth for their T600A, which had been produced since 1985. The award was described by Barry Langridge, Kenworth's general manager, "It literally changed the face of the trucking industry forever by creating a new generation of fuel efficient trucks which have saved billions of gallons of fuel. The 70,000 T600s built since '85, when compared to non-aerodynamic conventional models, will save an estimated 1.25 billion gallons during their useful lives." As far as I can tell, these trucks still are getting 6-8 miles per gallon.
Also read a similar post at the "Our Futrure" blog, which sent me to the Colani site and echoes my lack of enthusiasm for current truck design.