Costs and adoption rates of fuel-saving technologies for trailers in the Canadian on-road freight sector

Published: 2015.02.11

Ben Sharpe, Derek May, Bob Oliver, and Husam Mansour

This report, “Costs and adoption rates of fuel-saving technologies for trailers in the Canadian on-road freight sector,” is the outcome of a collaboration between the ICCT and Pollution Probe, a leading environmental non-profit organization headquartered in Toronto. This project was funded by Environment Canada to study how the market for commercial trailer efficiency technologies has evolved in Canada in recent years. This work builds on previous ICCT trailer research and is most closely related to a study that was finalized in early 2014 that looks at the US market. The primary objective of the project was to understand Canada-specific costs, performance levels, and adoption rates of trailer technologies that reduce fuel consumption in tractor-trailers and to identify challenges and opportunities going forward by capturing a broad cross-section of experts in the Canadian trucking industry.

Telephone interviews were conducted with 18 different companies, including manufacturers of trailers, aerodynamic devices, and tires, as well as 9 trucking fleets that primarily operate in Canada. Due to the sensitive nature of some of the interview data, all of the responses are kept anonymous in the report. The industry participants provided data on technology capital costs, real-world fuel savings, and levels of uptake in the Canadian market. In addition, industry participants were free to share their experiences with trailer technologies and expectations for future generations of products. The technology areas of focus for this study included aerodynamic devices such as side skirts, boat-tails, and underbody fairings, low rolling resistance and wide base tires, and tire pressure management systems.

The key findings of the study include:

  • Trucking fleets in Canada are adopting trailer fuel-saving technologies primarily due to favorable economics and real-world payback times generally between 12 and 18 months. Fleets are seeing returns on investment well within typical trailer ownership cycles, which average 12 years for the fleets surveyed in this project.

  • As in the US, side skirts have the had the highest level of uptake in Canada, and roughly half of all new box-type trailers sold in Canada have side skirts. However, boat-tails, underbody devices, and gap reducers have seen more limited adoption to date. Low rolling resistance tires are estimated to be sold on up to 80% of new box-type trailers, while wide base tires are much less common.

  • Across all of the trucking fleets, there was a strong sentiment for harmonization of size and weight regulations for trailers across the provinces for greater ease of route planning and execution. Many interviewees reported that the adoption of boat-tails and wide base tires would likely accelerate as harmonization efforts continue to move forward.

These findings help illustrate that there are a number of cost-effective efficiency technologies for trailers and that the market has changed fairly significantly in recent years. If and when regulators in the US and Canada develop policy measures for trailers, they can use data and information from this report to help inform estimates of the costs and benefits of any regulatory action for trailers. In addition, this study suggests that there are sizable additional efficiency gains that can be achieved in trailer fuel-saving technologies, and regulation can play a critical role in accelerating the development and deployment of these new innovations and next generation products.  Finally, this study has assisted in highlighting knowledge gaps and areas for further research. Some of these areas for future work include a more comprehensive look at weight reduction technologies as well as fuel-saving technology costs and applicability for non-box trailers.