The $94.5 Million Jackpot

The new energy bill will fuel growth of the already-booming idle-reduction industry.

Because of the bad experience, Drake faced a hard sell when he asked Kruepke to investigate new TriPac APUs offered by Thermo King. But in the end, Kruepke saw enough improvement in the technology that he was willing to try the APU solution one more time.

"What steered us to TriPac is they were using off-the-shelf reefer parts from the Thermo King line, so this is obviously proven technology, proven components," he says. "There have been cooling constraints with these that a lot of the manufacturers have solved now. I think they're putting in better components, not using ‘car parts.'"

According to Drake, the 25 trucks fitted with the new APUs are already averaging 70 percent reductions in idling time, and have not needed any increased maintenance. The tractors are brought in every 10,000 miles for "mini-serve" PMs, and every 20,000 miles for a full PM. The APUs are serviced at every mini-serve. "We might be stretching the hours a little bit on it, but we're just going to do it every 10,000 miles," he says. "On these units, we only have to service the air filter once a year, we change the oil and the filter every 10,000 miles, check the belts and hoses and look her over. It takes about an hour."

The fleet is so pleased with the new APUs that they are ordering units for 32 more trucks, and Kruepke couldn't be happier. "We're pretty conservative in our ROI calculations," he says, "and from what we've seen we're going to be pretty close. And the price of fuel is going to bring that ROI down, and make it more attractive.

"So it seemed like we were ready, the products were ready, the regulations were making us ready, and it seemed to be the right time to jump into this technology," Kruepke says. "In life and in business, there aren't many easy answers, but this one was."

As pleased as he is, Kruepke considers the new APUs a three-to-five year solution, and says he will consider whatever new fuel-saving technology becomes available in the future. Down the line, Freightliner's Randall and Harris suggest, that could mean more aerodynamic cabs and better cab insulation. Meleck sees the movement to truck stop electrification moving forward quickly, but admits that there is a long road ahead. In the short term, Brian Lawrence suggests, "synergies" between idle-reduction technology providers may point the way.

"I think where you're going to see your next technological advancements are going to be in the synergies between battery, shore power and APU systems," Lawrence says. "You're going to use storage technology in batteries, and inverter technology, in particular power control, which Xantrex is able to bring, so that you can run the diesel APU as little as possible. Use it when you need it, as an efficient method of recharging the storage batteries on the vehicle, and by doing so, you can address some of the issues that plague both inverter systems and APU systems. You can reduce the size and weight of the APU, because it won't need to run all the time. And from the inverter standpoint, adding a small diesel generator means you can reduce the size and weight of the battery pack, and you can address that issue when you've got a large load, like if you're sitting in Phoenix, AZ, in August, and it's so hot and the air conditioner is trying to go all the time—that's a difficult load for a battery pack to support, and that's where an APU would shine.

"If you combine them both, you can have a smaller, smarter package that pollutes less, and by running the diesel engine on the APU less, you can increase the maintenance intervals, so they more line up with that of the truck. That's been one of the major drawbacks of APUs, is that they require more maintenance, or more regular maintenance, than the truck does. That adds to the cost, so if you can service the APU at the exact same time you're servicing the truck, that would certainly make it a more attractive option. That's where we see the industry going."

"I definitely think there's going to be a next generation and I'm sure it'll be coming through the OEMs," says fleet director Kruepke. "We would talk to the OEMs we deal with two or three years ago, and they would say, ‘Yes, we know about this, but we're busy working on our '04 engines.' But if you look today, I think you'd see that every manufacturer is going down some R&D path. I would think that within five years you're going to have that option from the manufacturers."

We Recommend