Trucking Inc. (GTI) is not unlike thousands of carriers in the U.S.
The company needed to be greener because its customers were demanding
it. Shippers wanted to partner with a company that was doing all it
could to be environmentally responsible. So GTI did what it had to do
and started adopting technologies that either reduced fuel consumption
directly or as an ancillary benefit, thereby improving its overall
“The customers we do business with have pushed us on some fronts,”
says Steve Gordon, chief operating officer. “They're looking to
partner with good carriers” focused on sustainability.
Gordon, which operates in the Lower 48 states as well as Canada, has
about 1,700 trucks — 1,500 company-owned and another 200 leased to
owner-operators. It provides local, regional and transcontinental
truckload services, including temperature control and regional
For Gordon, going green has been a long process filled with plenty of
due diligence along the way. “It's got to have some payback,” Gordon
says. “We can't afford, in our business with our margins, to invest in
something without a payback.”
That is why the installation of side skirts on the company's nearly
5,000 trailers took almost seven years to finally be green-lighted. To
date, Gordon has installed the skirts — Freight Wing AeroFlex models —
on about half of its trailers. According to Kirk Altrichter, vice
president of maintenance, the company began testing side skirts in
2003. Those early models, though, did not provide the necessary return
on investment, due in part to materials that could not withstand the
pounding the skirts took.
But as fuel prices began to rise, materials improved, and California
started taking a hard look at truck aerodynamics, the idea of adding
skirts gained steam. “As fuel prices rise, the payback is much
quicker,” Altrichter says.
“We'll have a larger advantage with the technology as fuel prices
rise,” Gordon adds. Altrichter says the skirts are producing about a
3-3.5% fuel savings.
The AeroFlex skirts, made from HDPE plastic sheets, have another
benefit as well, the company has learned. Drivers have indicated
handling characteristics of the tractor-trailer units with the skirts
is improved over those units without the skirts.
AeroFlex fairings “divert more airflow along the side of the trailer,
away from drag-inducing rear wheels, axle components and
crossmembers,” according to a description of the product on Freight
Wing's website. Altrichter hopes the devices last the life of the
trailers, about 10 years in GTI's case.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
One of the problems with fleets embracing green technologies, Gordon
says, is history. “The industry in general doesn't have a history of
being aggressive, but that's because you're making a 5- to 10-year bet
[on equipment],” he says. “Nobody can afford to make an investment and
just flush it down the drain.”
At the same time, “fleets that aren't aggressive installing devices
can sometimes be behind the curve,” he adds. “We pretty much have to
meet the most aggressive state standards.”
And that means California, which seems to be in a never-ending state
of regulatory change. “It's that continual tweaking of the regulatory
environment that makes it hard to see in our crystal ball,” Altrichter
says. “If you're trying to meet the regulatory requirements, you don't
try to do it all at one time.”
The installation of side skirts is one bet that is paying off in a big
way for Gordon.