Tag Archives: SmartWay

Improving Heavy Tractor-Trailer Aerodynamics

My recent road trip to the Black Hills included long transit days each way on Interstate 90 through southern Minnesota and South Dakota. One thing I noticed was that many of the heavy tractor-trailers on this high speed route had streamlined tractors and / or trailers with a variety of aerodynamic devices that appeared useful for reducing drag and fuel consumption. In addition, there were quite a few trucks hauling double trailers.

The trucking industry’s ongoing efforts to improve heavy freight vehicle performance and economics was aided in 2004 by the creation of the SmartWay Transport Partnership, which is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). SmartWay® is a voluntarily program for achieving improved fuel efficiency and reducing the environmental impacts from freight transport. The goal is, “to move more freight, more mile, with lower emissions and less energy.”

EPA SmartWay

SmartWay® is promoting the following strategies to help the heavy trucking industry meet this goal:

  • Idle reduction
  • Speed control
  • Driver training
  • Aerodynamics
  • Tire technologies
  • Lubricants
  • Hybrid power trains
  • Improved freight logistics
  • Vehicle weight reduction
  • Intermodal freight capability
  • Alternative fuels
  • Long combination vehicles (LVCs, such as double trailers)

The SmartWay® website is at the following link:


You’ll find an interesting Fall 2014 presentation on the SmartWay Transport Partnership at the following link:


Key points from this presentation include the following:

  • Freight transportation is a cornerstone of the U.S. economy. As of 2012, U.S. businesses spent $1 trillion to move $12 trillion worth of goods (8.5% of GDP).
  • Freight accounts for 9% of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and trucking is the dominant mode. (Note: There were about 2 million tractor-trailers in active service in the U.S. in 2011).
  • A truck or trailer fitted out with all the essential efficiency features can be sold as a SmartWay® “designated” model. A “designated” tractor-trailer combo can be as much as 20% more fuel-efficient than the comparable standard model.

In May 2012, the Canadian Center for Surface Transportation Technology (CSTT) issued technical report CSTT-HVC-TR-205, which is entitled, “Review of Aerodynamic Drag Reduction Devices for Heavy Trucks and Buses.” In Table 2 of this report, CSTT provides the following illustrative example of the relative power consumption of aerodynamic drag and rolling / accessory drag as a function of vehicle speed.

CSTT truck power consumption tableRelative contributions to total vehicle drag. Source: CSTT

In this example, rolling / accessory drag dominates at lower speeds typical of urban driving. At 50 mph (80 kph) aerodynamic drag and rolling / accessory drag are approximately equal. At higher speeds, aerodynamic drag dominates power consumption. The speed limit on I-90 in South Dakota typically is 80 mph (129 kph). At this speed the aero drag contribution is even higher than shown in the above table

Key points from this CSTT report include the following:

  • For tractor-trailers, pressure drag is the dominant component of vehicle drag, due primarily to the large surface area facing the main flow direction and the large, low-pressure wake resulting from the bluntness of the back end of the vehicle.
  • Aero-tractor models can reduce pressure drag by about 30% over the boxy classic style tractor.
  • Friction drag occurring along the sides and top of tractor-trailers makes only a small contribution to total drag (10% or less), so these areas are not strong candidates for drag-reduction technologies.
  • The gap between the tractor and the trailer has a significant effect on total drag, particularly if the gap is large. Eliminating the gap entirely could reduce total drag by about 7%.
  • Side skirts or underbody boxes prevent airflow from entering the under-trailer region. These types of aero devices could reduce drag by 10 – 15%.
  • Wind-tunnel and road tests have demonstrated that a “boat tail” with a length of 24 – 32 inches is optimal for reducing drag due to the turbulent low-pressure region behind the trailer
  • Adding a second trailer to form an LCV, and thus doubling the freight capacity, results in a very modest increase in drag coefficient (as low as about 10%) when compared to a single trailer vehicle.
  • In cold Canadian climates, the aerodynamic drag in winter can be nearly 20% greater than at standard conditions, due to the ambient air density. For highway tractor-trailers, this results in about a 10% increase in fuel consumption from drag when compared to the reference temperature, further emphasizing the importance of aerodynamic drag reduction strategies for the Canadian climate.

You can read an executive summary of this CSTT report at the following link:


You can download the complete 100-page report here:


The 2012 CSTT report includes a note that Mercedes had introduced a concept trailer that is reported to provide an 18% reduction in drag for a full European tractor-trailer combination.

Mercedes-aero-trailer-4 Source: Mercedes

You can view a short 2012 YouTube video on a similar Mercedes aero tractor-trailer at the following link:


The U.S. firm STEMCO offers two aero kits for improving conventional tractor-trailer aerodynamics:

  • TrailerTail®, which is installed at the back of the trailer, reduces the magnitude of the turbulent low-pressure area that forms behind the trailer at high speeds.
  • EcoSkirt®, which is installed under the trailer, reduces aerodynamic drag under the trailer where air hits the trailer’s rear axles. The side fairings streamline and guide the air around the sides and to the back of the trailer.

Both of these aerodynamic devices are shown in the following figure.     This was a tractor-trailer configuration that I saw frequently on I-90.

Stemco 1794Source: STEMCO

STEMCO allocates the primary sources of tractor-trailer aerodynamic drag as shown in the following figure.

Stemco contributions to semi aero dragSource: STEMCO

STEMCO claims the following benefits from their aero kits:

“TrailerTail® fuel savings complement other aerodynamic technologies. A TrailerTail® reduces aerodynamic drag by over 12% equating to over 5% fuel efficiency improvement at 65 mph (105 kph) and over 12% fuel efficiency improvement when combined with STEMCO’s side skirts and other minor trailer modifications.”

STEMCO TrailerTail® meets the SmartWay® advanced trailer end fairings criteria for a minimum of 5% fuel savings and the STEMCO EcoSkirt® meets the advanced trailer skirts qualifications with greater than 5% fuel savings. The payback period for these aero devices is expected to be about one year.

You’ll find more details on STEMCO’s tractor-trailer drag reduction products, including a short “Aerodynamics 101” video, at the following link:


More details on TrailerTail®, including its automatic deployment and operational use, are shown in a short video at the following link:


Another firm, Aerotech Caps, offers a range of aero kits for improving truck aerodynamics, including aerodynamic wheel covers, aerodynamic trailer skirts, tail fairings and vortex generators. You can see their product line at the following link:


Aero wheel covers

Source: Aerotech Caps

Aerotech Caps claims that its aerodynamic wheel covers deliver about 2.4% increased miles per gallon when installed on rear tractor and all trailer wheels. Payback period for this aero kit is expected to be about one year.

The future of heavy freight vehicles is likely to include increasingly aerodynamic tractor-trailers. One particularly elegant concept vehicle is shown below.

Future TruckjpgConcept aero-optimized heavy freight vehicle. Source: http://forums.fourtitude.com

In spite of all of these opportunities for improving heavy tractor-trailer aerodynamics, there always will be cases when few of these are actually practical. As evidence, I offer the following photo taken at 80 mph on I-90 in South Dakota during my recent road trip. How do you optimize that giant drag coefficient?

DSC_5401Source: Author photo