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Truck Idling And Emissions Leaves A Foul Smell In the Air: Jay Thompson

Jay Thompson, President and General Manager, Transportation Business Associates

Originally posted on Gerson Lehrman Group website

November 6, 2006


The truck idling issue is one similar to the congestion issue. We want trucks around to deliver our products, but we don’t want them around because they annoy us. It’s the classic not-in-my-back-yard issue. OK – go past a Truck Stop and the air is ripe, so it’s a valid complaint!

There are numerous products in the marketplace with a wide range of costs. Without municipalities’ legislation and owners having to address driver comfort (retention), the financial ROI is cloudy.


One reason idle reduction devices don’t sell well is that different type operations require different solutions. Additionally, truckers are flexible and creative (on-road Engineering 101). There is also the ROI question, among others. To some it seems too logical not to do it, but then there is reality.

It is scary when we look at idle time for our (and others) trucks from on-board computers – in many cases over 50%. Surveys we have taken part in show it was basically for comfort, but also because drivers don’t want to run the risk of the truck not starting. An inaccurate assumption by some in the industry is that truck drivers spend ALL of their non-driving time in the truck. Owner-operators who pay for their fuel look at it differently than drivers. When we offered electric blankets, set truck computer to start engines periodically (heat / cooling) and implemented a fuel consumption bonus program, it dropped idle time in half. In other words, simple solutions helped.

Different operations have different issues. The major LTL folks run between hotels, which eliminates a need there. Others like FedEx Ground run teams between hubs, so the trucks keep rolling (one of the new Hours-of-Service challenges). Majors like JB Hunt are trying to focus more on getting out and back from rail terminals. Folks like Schneider are trying to do more of the same, but like to have their trucks overnight at their operating centers. Regional / local folks get trucks back home more regularly. The irregular route truckload and long-haul segments are opportunities.

A simplified look at the cost issue is: idling ($18 / night) v. Motels ($30 / night) v. auxiliary power units – APU’s ($14 fixed + $5 fuel + $1 maintenance / night) v. Truck Stop electrification ($10-20 + internet + movies / night) v. other simpler approaches. Some OEM’s have some new simple offerings, too.

The “our system is best, but you figure out how it fits you” feeling causes potential users to pause. With APU’s, the fixed cost has been coming in at 10% of new truck cost. Installing them on older trucks doesn’t make sense for many and the new engine cost is one to be swallowed first (and supposedly addresses part of exhaust / air issues). One must get into a service location for installation, servicing, etc, which is another issue. Then there is the added weight questions that needs to be reconciled between the Feds and States.

Truck Stop electrification is a HOT topic, but the experience to date leaves a lot to be desired. A bigger question is timing of trucks through one of the locations with such service to fit the drivers log books. In other words, there are not enough spots in the right geographical locations. If the system is operational (ripped hoses, etc.), are there spaces available? Many fleets / operators do not like their trucks to park in Truck Stops, as “nothing good happens there – small truck accidents, theft (especially fuel these days), solicitations, etc.” There are also conflicts (bad feelings) regarding “reserved” spots where service is versus needing to park and not wanting service. Many drivers prefer to utilize rest areas (to dismay of Truck Stop owners), Interstate entrance ramps, Walmart parking lots (who welcome trucks in return for business), etc.

One must be able to intelligently discuss the right approach with the purchaser, which needs work. It’s down to selling the ROI and we all have a lot of work to do here! Unfortunately, one size does not fit all and we must be more sophisticated in addressing individual needs.


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