As companies become more environmentally conscious we see a greater emphasis than ever on filling the roads with fuel efficient vehicles. This has carried over into the trucking industry as well, challenging engineers to raise the bar in efficient semi truck designs and change the way things are hauled.

Models like the Freightliner Evolution and Freightliner Inspiration embody this shift with aerodynamic bodies and a lot of new tech under the hood. In the Evolution’s case drivers have reported between 7-10 MPG, depending on load. That’s pretty solid, but upcoming hybrid projects co-developed with the Department of Energy ran a truly impressive 12.2 MPG in repeated tests.

Freightliner Evolution fuel efficient semi truck

One of the previous contenders was a Cummins/Peterbilt co-developed semi truck that scored around 10 MPG in tests back in 2013. At that time just as now, a roughly 50% increase in fuel efficiency equates to $25k annual savings in fuel based on current diesel prices. That’s a huge win for everyone.

With any semi truck, though, drivers agree that technique has a fair bit to do with MPG as well.

The Growth of Semi Truck Fuel Efficiency

The industry average has hovered around 6.5 MPG for many years. This kind of efficiency gain across the bulk of trucks on the road in America alone will have marked reduction in air pollution — not to mention saving time. Trucks that are able to drive 50% longer between fill ups obviously means less stops and smoother deliveries.

It takes a lot of power to get that much mass in motion and keep it there. A lot of folks are shocked at the different in MPG between semi trucks and your typical family car in this sense, but it’s important to remember the difference in usage.

The total amount of vehicle differs pretty hugely. In 2012 the weight of an average car was 3977 pounds, compared to a semi truck that can weigh up to 20,000 pounds even without a trailer. Depending on the type of trailer attached, a semi truck can max out at 80,000 pounds!

But these recent innovations show that even big engines that need to move tens of thousands of pounds can become more efficient. With the sheer number of trucks on the road on any given day, and the considerable distance some of them travel, it only makes sense to head that direction.

The Semi Truck Evolution: A History

The first manufactured truck, designed by Alexander Winton, was released in 1899. How did he get there?

Winton had originally gone into the business of carriages without horses in 1896. This put him in the car industry, technically. But that would become important a few years later as more and more people began buying the first manufactured cars.

When it was a car here and there, getting them around was fairly straightforward. But as the number of car sales increased, dealers needed a better way of transporting the cars around that wasn’t so expensive. It seemed like if there were some kind of larger vehicle designed to pull a lot of weight would be ideal…

After all, having to manually drive cars to customers’ homes put a lot of wear and tear on the products.

These car-hauling trucks were originally referred to as “automobile haulers”. The term “semi trailers” came years later in 1914 when August Fruehauf created a carriage for folks to transport their boats. It was quite successful, which eventually led to wonders about using similar trailer designs to haul other sorts of large cargo.

Thus the semi trailer was born.

The early version of the semi trailer could only pull one car at a time, but at least served its purpose of a more affordable way to move cars around. The car was moved up a ramp and into the trailer before the trailer mounted to the truck. After loading, the ramp was stored on the semi truck. Modern semi trucks use a similar design in RGN, or removable gooseneck flatbeds.

Aside lugging cars around, the logging industry had the next biggest impact on the emergence of the semi trucking industry. At that time the Peterbilt trucking company started equipping refurbished Army surplus trucks with specialized trailers for logs. The logging industry had, up until this point, transported logs by river or using horse teams.

Just like with the car industry, a much more efficient method had just hit.

From the humble beginnings of a two-wheeled trailer for basic hauls, the semi trucking industry has grown into a massive part of everyday life. Semi trucks in the United States transport 700,000 tons of cargo annually — cargo delivered by roughly 3.7 million truck drivers.

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