The “Trailer 2011” show in Belgium features an aerodynamic trailer by Mercedes Benz that offers a reduction in wind resistance by up to 18%, with an accompanying decrease in fuel consumption by almost 5%.  In the U.S alone that’s a big part of a million barrels a day of crude oil not used.

Mercedes Aerodynamic Truck Side View. Click image for the largest view.

And it’s a fine looking truck.  Mercedes caught the beautiful bug for cars nearly two decades ago and looks to lead the efficiency fight for trucks with attractiveness built in.

Mercedes Aerodynamic Truck Rear View. Click image for the largest view.

Mercedes-Benz says that the 18% reduction would result in a reduction in fuel consumption amounting to almost 5% in real-life road traffic. In the case of an average mileage of 150,000 km (93,200 miles) a year this means a saving of some 2,000 liters (528 gallons US) of diesel fuel and a reduction of more than five metric tons of CO2.

Several individual measures drastically lower the wind resistance of the entire semi truck unit. A front airdam on the trailer front end reduces the distance to the tractor unit and lowers the wind resistance by one percent. Meanwhile side trim panels, which now are often seen added on to U.S. trucks, contribute an eight-percent improvement. The Mercedes units are slightly drawn-in at the front and characterized by an opening at the rear. This steers the air in the direction of the striking rear diffuser. The diffuser has the shape of a parallelogram and links up with the underbody paneling. This improves the wind resistance by one to two percent.

The newest piece is a rear end taper measuring slightly more than 400 mm (just under 16 inches) in length forming a crucial part of the aerodynamic concept. It features folding elements to facilitate access to the load compartment. The rear end taper improves wind resistance by a further seven percent.

The dimensions of the cargo bay remain the same in the design. The familiar box, in European custom is 13.6 meters in length, 2.55 meters in width and with an overall height of 4 meters – remains available for the freight, just as before. The aero trailer’s only restriction is the fact that its length measurement exceeds the currently permissible length limit by almost half a meter, due to the tail-end extension. That is a fifty states as well as Federal problem for U.S. adoption.

According to Mercedes-Benz the handling and maneuverability are not compromised by the rear taper.  This does highlight the need for changes to current statutes, as in the case of tail lifts and transportable fork-lift trucks, for instance, where exceptions of a similar magnitude are already granted, the company suggested.

The aero trailer is the flagship of the new “Truck and Trailer 7plus” initiative being launched by Mercedes-Benz. By taking a holistic approach to the tractor unit and trailer the initiative aims to considerably cut the fuel consumption even further than current models. The basis of the “Truck and Trailer 7plus” formula is the fuel consumption of the new Mercedes-Benz Actros, which more than 7% lower than its predecessor model.

In typical thorough German fashion tests in the wind tunnel and on the road prove that considerable further consumption progress is possible for semi-trailer tractors. As an example, measurements taken in the wind tunnel at Mercedes-Benz have shown that a side trim panel on the trailer cuts wind resistance by 8%.  More proof of this can be seen on all U.S. truck routes with all those new side skirts.

The Europeans have what’s called the “Record Run Route”, a kind of real life test where the new truck design at 40 metric tons (88,000 lbs.) improved 2%, saving about 750 liters (165 gallons) of fuel.

Mercedes has pushed for a working group of truck and trailer manufacturers under the umbrella of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, which has carried out further tests on the aerodynamics of semi-trailer tractors. Within the framework of the study, measurements in the wind tunnel at Mercedes-Benz concluded that modifications to the cab such as a supposedly aerodynamic extension result in merely minimal improvements where wind resistance is concerned.

They also learned there is much more potential in aerodynamic measures at the tail end of the trailer; a minor extension of the tail end in the form of a “boat tail” brings significant benefits. Four flaps measuring just 400 mm in length and positioned at an angle reduce the wind resistance of the entire semi-trailer tractor by nearly 10%. In arithmetical terms this corresponds to virtually 3% less fuel consumption or more than 1,000 liters of diesel a year. This is also shown by the simulations, which have been carried out for the aero trailer.

Mercedes-Benz is working on further measures in its “Truck and Trailer 7plus” initiative aimed at lowering fuel consumption.  One of the projects involves the inclusion of information on the trailer’s tires in the tire pressure display in the cab of the new Actros truck line.

Now others have been working at truck aerodynamics for decades, but the economics of capital cost, labor, insurance and other costs have to be included.  But a steady diet of +$4 diesel will push a lot more capital to lower fuel consumption.

Meanwhile, shipping costs have had an important impact on the cost of goods we buy.  So any improvement will be appreciated.

When efficiency and utility look as good as Mercedes has managed, those lower costs can’t come soon enough.


3 Comments so far

  1. Anybody see these on the road yet? (Transport trailer add-on taper) - Page 6 - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum - on December 16, 2011 7:23 AM

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  2. Relevant EAM CMMS, Cable, and Lodging News for 12-2-2011 on June 13, 2012 1:35 PM

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