Press release

[Press release] Public-private “SuperTruck” effort demonstrating 50% vehicle-efficiency gains in U.S. heavy truck fleet


Interim progress reported by four truck industry consortia participating in the DoE-sponsored R&D program shows that industry is on track toward efficiency goals—putting 10+ mpg average tractor-trailer fuel economy clearly within sight.

The tractor-trailer with “10.7 MPG” stenciled on the side that provided the backdrop for President Obama’s February 2014 speech committing to new fuel-economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles was one of the early successes of a public-private collaboration sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and demonstrate advanced-technology, energy-efficient “super trucks.”

A new comparative analysis [.pdf] of the most recent interim progress reports from the four industry teams participating in the SuperTruck program shows all to be on or ahead of schedule in reaching the program’s technology R&D and vehicle-efficiency goals: a 50% increase in overall tractor-trailer freight efficiency and a 20% increase in engine efficiency. With the typical semi, or Class 8 tractor-trailer, on the road today averaging 6–7 miles per gallon, that rate of progress puts the industry on a path to exceed 10 mpg not just with an advanced-technology demonstration vehicle but in real-world commercial freight-hauling conditions. According to DoE estimates, the efficiency gains envisioned by the SuperTruck program could translate into 300 million barrels of oil saved annually.

The study, by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent research group, examined the 2013 technical reports submitted to DoE as part of a routine annual “merit review.” Four industry teams participate in the SuperTruck program, which is funded equally by industry and the federal government. Led by Cummins, Daimler, Navistar, and Volvo, the teams comprise dozens of original equipment manufacturers and research organizations. The vehicle manufacturers collaborating in the program account for approximately 80% of the U.S. Class 8 tractor-trailer market. Reflecting that diversity, and the collaborative nature of the effort, the participants have pursued multiple technical approaches to improving vehicle efficiency, with research and development pathways focused on engines, advanced transmissions, and aerodynamics, among other things.

The aim of the ICCT study was to compare and evaluate the different technical specifications, engineering results, and technology choices. “We were interested in assessing the program overall,” said Nic Lutsey, the ICCT’s heavy-duty vehicle program director, “rather than any individual pathway or interim outcome.” The analysis incorporates public DoE data, industry reports on the projects, and communications with members of the R&D teams.

The DoE set efficiency goals relative to a 2010 technology baseline, with a target date of 2015 for successful technology demonstration and a goal of commercialized technology by 2020. The ICCT study found all four industry groups to be on track with those targets. The teams led by Cummins and Daimler had already met the 50% freight efficiency goal as of 2013, several years ahead of schedule, and the Cummins team had already achieved a more than 20% gain in engine efficiency. “It’s still early in the game, and the main point is how the various teams are finding unique pathways for dramatic efficiency gains,” said Lutsey. “Among the findings, the Cummins-Peterbilt team seems to have really demonstrated the importance of emerging new engine technologies toward achieving the engine and full-vehicle goals.”

The study found that the program has helped vet particular advanced technologies, such as waste-heat recovery systems, new transmissions, and ultra-aerodynamic tractor-trailers, that go beyond incremental changes already entering the marketplace, helping those new technologies get closer to commercialization.

“Both DoE and all the companies involved must be commended,” said Oscar Delgado, the study’s lead author. “The SuperTruck program has been an extremely effective spur to efficiency technology R&D, putting many of these technologies on a path toward 2020–2025 commercialization.”

The next DoE Annual Merit Review is scheduled for June 15–20, 2014. The SuperTruck teams will, along with other DoE-funded advanced vehicle technology research, present technical updates on their recent work there.

Contact: Nic Lutsey, [email protected], 202.407.8342

Publication details

The U.S. SuperTruck program: Expediting the development of advanced heavy-duty vehicle efficiency technologies
Authors: Oscar Delgado and Nic Lutsey