Slim down your work trucks

Published in the September 2016 issue of Fleet Affiliation

Job demands in the vocational field have typically become more complex through the years. Expectations of increased output continue to rise. The staple response has often been “more work, bigger trucks.”

Back in the day, if a frame broke, the solution was easy: buy a bigger frame. Snow plow failure? Simple. Get a bigger snow plow. In turn, this could lead to oversized trucks.

Unfortunately, this is not a sustainable solution; at some point comes time to cut the fat.

In this day and age, it can be necessary to design smarter, more efficient trucks. However, right-sizing trucks (which can be code for downsizing) may be met with resistance from operators, as they are often conditioned to believe that bigger is always better.

As a fleet manager, it is important to understand the needs of the operation and provide optimal equipment to perform the job. Often this is a balancing act between the wants and needs of end user operators.

Where’s the weight?

Weight reduction means reducing energy requirements. Less energy requires less fuel, which can ultimately put money back into your operations. Where to begin? Start by understanding the fleet’s operations.

  • Fuel requirements. This can be an instant weight saver. Operations in the vocational sector rarely require several days’ worth of of fuel to carry on board. At approximately seven pounds to the gallon, diesel is heavy. An extra fifty gallons of fuel can increase your weight by 400 pounds. Look at historical daily trip logs and spec fuel tank size accordingly. Another option is to  ditch steel tanks and utilize aluminum or alloy tanks – not only are they lighter, they have much better resistance to corrosion.
  • Frames. Bigger is always better, at least in the eyes of operators. But frames carry a huge weight penalty and get heavy in a hurry. Although caution must be used, dramatic weight reduction can be achieved by properly spec’ing frames that match the application.
  • Tires. Over-spec’ed tires sound great on paper, but they add a decent amount of weight and will cause more rolling resistance going down the road. Do operations really need lug tread tires? These weigh more. Consider super-singles; these save weight and reduce rolling resistance.

Horsepower torque…finding that sweet spot
In the fleet world, professionals will usually at some point have a lemon of a truck – underpowered and often overloaded for the task it was designed to do. Adding horsepower often appeases users, but horsepower can be one of the most expensive components of vocational work trucks. Many trucks are often overpowered because the powertrain was not properly designed. Properly designing the entire powertrain will ensure engines run within their most efficient set of parameters.

Work with your dealers and truck manufacturers to dial in a more efficient work truck, rather than just spec’ing a bigger engine. Provide them with operational parameters such as gross vehicle combination weight, maximum road speed, operational road conditions (on-road/off road), starting and reserve gradability. Properly optimizing powertrains can reduce fuel consumption, as well as bottom line acquisition cost.

Understand the user
Many of us don’t likes change, so these tactics can be difficult for some end users that cannot get beyond the fact that change can be positive. As a fleet manager, understand end user needs to best optimize the trucks and services provided. Although the outcome might not be downsized vehicles, weight reduction can bridge the gap and prevent increased vehicle size.

Reduced weight on the vehicle design will allow for more payload. Optimizing powertrains can save financial resources by correctly matching components rather than spec’ing larger engines. In the end, fleet managers will have to make compromises, as there is rarely the perfect vocational work truck. As a good first step, leverage all available resources with truck designs.

If you would like to discuss this, or any other fleet issue, contact NTEA Fleet Relations Director Chris Lyon at