Aero Hoods, Fenders and Headlamps

The characteristic shapes of aerodynamic sleeper models generally have rounded leading edges, especially at the crown and grille edges, cab A-pillars, and sleeper roof edges. They also generally have conformal headlamps integrated into fenders, curved outer ends to bumpers, bumper air dams, hoods that slope downward at the front, aerodynamic cab access steps, chassis fairings with ground effects skirting, and sleeper extenders. These features are mandatory for vehicles to be classified by the EPA as SmartWay tractors.

Since the early 2000s, aerodynamic sleepers have become the predominant type of tractors in production. Classic sleepers still exist with long and tall hoods, but sacrifice as much as 30% in fuel savings.

Headlamps on aerodynamic tractors are designed as integral parts of the hood shape. Some the OEMs have contoured the headlamps to conform to the body shape. Other OEM models may offer headlamp alternatives, but the aerodynamic flagship models have been aerodynamically optimized around single shapes.

Benefits

Due to lower drag

Drivers can see objects directly in front of the vehicle and to the forward right and left sides of the tractor

Challenges

Vehicle cooling systems require air flow over a given amount of radiator surface, so there is always a required amount of the hood that is open for air flow.

TRACTOR AERODYNAMICS

What Fleets are Saying

“We continue to update our fleet with more fuel efficient post-2014 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emission compliant engines, install aerodynamic devices on our tractors, and equip our trailers with trailer blades, which all lead to meaningful improvement in fuel efficiency.” — Knight Transportation

“Appearance and detail of our equipment means a lot to our drivers. Drive wheel fairings don’t just save us money, but our drivers like them too.” — Brad Pinchuk, Hirschbach

“Sleeper tractor aerodynamics have been finely tuned by all OEMs. Eliminating various features can add 10% to a fleet’s fuel expense,” — Chief engineer at a major truck builder.

Decision-Making Tools

The Confidence Matrix has been issued to help fleets make decisions about tractor aerodynamic devices.

Conclusions

  • Fleets should use the standard, optimized aerodynamic packages developed by tractor manufacturers and should not remove aerodynamic options that are included in the base model. Depending on the features removed, fleets will see as much as a 10% decrease in fuel efficiency.
  • Tractor and trailer heights should be matched for as many miles driven as possible as the fuel economy reduction from mismatched heights is in excess of 10%.
  • Fleets operating day cab tractors should pursue greater adoption of tractor aerodynamics than is common today, as many day cabs operate at highway speeds during nearly all of their duty cycle, where aerodynamics can offer as much as 13% gain fuel efficiency. Even day cabs operating in start-stop city driving will see savings from certain aerodynamic technologies.
  • Tractor manufacturers should design and make available aerodynamic features for day cab tractors as the industry migration to shorter hauls will likely result in more day cabs seeing significant highway and interstate miles.
  • Aerodynamics have not been fully developed for all day cab configurations, including natural gas, and the tractor manufacturers should develop and release these components.
  • Alternative fueled vehicles including battery electric and hybrid electric are subjected to the same aerodynamic forces as diesel-powered vehicles. Manufacturers need to keep that in mind as they design these alternative fueled vehicles so they are optimized for aerodynamics. In addition, manufacturers of add-on aerodynamic devices need to begin work on adapting their products so they can be used with alternative-fueled tractor.
  • Future EPA and NHTSA Greenhouse Gas regulations will challenge tractor builders to continue to improve the aerodynamic drag of these vehicles in excess of what has been demonstrated in the Department of Energy SuperTruck I and II programs. OEMs should start planning for this today, as the lead time required to design new models is significant and can be costly.

Manufacturers

  • Daimler Trucks North America
  • International
  • Kenworth Truck Co.
  • Mack Trucks
  • Peterbilt Motors
  • Volvo Trucks North America