Lightweighting is one of the hottest fleet management solutions in the trucking world today. But does it offer the kind of savings its proponents promise? Or is it just another fad that will come and go? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Lightweighting?
Lightweighting is the practice of shedding pounds from a rig by employing alternate construction techniques. Some of the methods typically used include:
- Replacing heavy steel components with aluminum wherever possible. Studies show that this can reduce the weight of a Class A commercial tractor-trailer by over 3,000 pounds.
- Reducing the size of sleeper cabs or forgoing them altogether if the driver mostly does day trips.
- Redesigning tractors to improve aerodynamics. This method is especially useful for long-distance highway drivers.
- Using smaller 13-liter engines instead of larger 15- to 16-liter units.
- Installing smaller fuel tanks.
Given the amount of fuel consumed by heavy commercial vehicles, it’s easy to see why lightweighting is quickly becoming one of the most popular fleet management solutions. Potential benefits include:
- Reduced fuel consumption, saving fleet owners money while putting less greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere.
- The ability to haul more freight at one time, thanks to reduced per axle weight.
- Greater survivability in the case of a crash. Shaving weight from a motor vehicle reduces the blunt force of impacts.
Lightweighting has its share of critics as well. Some drivers question whether using more aluminum in tractor construction may compromise safety. Others fear that shaving weight from sleeper cabs will make it more difficult for drivers to get the rest they need while on the road. Then there is the question of whether smaller engines will provide the power needed to handle large loads.
Should You Invest In Lightweights?
As long as these questions linger, lightweighting will remain a controversial practice. Detroit hosted a conference on this topic over the summer. We think there will be more talk coming as the interest in reducing truck weights and the resulting reduction in fuel usage won’t ever go away. This may be a fleet management solution we’ll need to consider in the future. Owner-operators will want to keep informed about these developments too.