How one fleet leverages technology and best practices to reduce operating expenses

Some fleets are ahead of the curve when it comes to trying and testing new equipment. Take Mesilla Valley Transportation, El Paso, TX, for example. One of the largest locally-owned transportation providers in Western Texas and Southern New Mexico, it specializes in time-sensitive service between major manufacturing areas in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Its willingness to try new things has evolved the company into a very technology-advanced and fuel-efficient fleet.

“We do all we can to optimize fuel economy,” says Royal Jones, president and CEO of Mesilla Valley. He boasts that many of the company’s drivers are averaging more than 10 mpg.

With a fleet of 1,300 power units and 4,700 trailers, Jones says he learned very quickly that he had to come up with competitive advantages in order to counteract his geographic location.

“El Paso is a great place to live, but when we started out, we were really at a disadvantage when it came to loads. Not much originated here in the 1980s. So, in order to be competitive, we had to excel at reducing our costs, and fuel was a big one.

“In trucking, all we do is fight wind,” he continues. “We’ve always looked at ways to cut through the air to reduce our drag. We look at ways to save fuel when we’re parked as well.”

 

EXCESSIVE IDLE TIME

Jones says 10 years ago, the Mesilla Valley fleet averaged nearly 50 percent in idle time.

“We started putting on diesel auxiliary power units (APUs) and drove down our idle time, but we also began dealing with another engine which meant belt replacements and other maintenance items. When California started requiring diesel particulate filters on APUs, that boosted the prices of them.”

The fleet turned to battery-powered APUs and had mixed success with battery life – especially in blistering summer heat. “That’s gotten better since we changed brands,” he says. “We’re now standard with the Idle Free system which has shorepower connections.”

Shorepower is a technology that allows truck drivers to turn off their engines and plug their vehicles into all-weather electrical and communication outlets during rest periods.

Today, 98 percent of the Mesilla Valley fleet features an APU – the majority battery-powered. Fleet-wide, idle time is between 3 and 4 percent during the winter and spring months. But that can rise to 10 percent in the summer months when engines need to kick on to refresh the HVAC system’s battery bank.

 

SHOREPOWER CONNECTIVITY

“Since we do have shorepower connectivity, our drivers plug in when they can,” explains Jones. “The benefit of shorepower is it runs our trucks’ hotel loads and the HVAC system, plus it recharges the trucks’ batteries.

“We feel shorepower is a perfect complement to our battery system and it’s been a long time coming to the trucking industry. If you go to an RV park, there are plug-ins. If you go to a marina, all the pleasure boats are plugged in. More truckstops are offering the electrical pedestals, but not near enough.”

While Mesilla Valley vehicles are fully APU outfitted to use batteries and shorepower when available, a high percentage of its sleeper cabs don’t have an APU. For those, the only way to run the HVAC system is to idle – at the cost of about a gallon of diesel per hour, Jones says.

 

A BIG DIFFERENCE

That’s when AC power at truckstops can make a huge difference, says Alan Bates, vice president of marketing for Shorepower Technologies, a transportation electrification infrastructure company that provides truckstop electrification and electrified park space services and technology nationwide

In most states, for six months of the year there are temperatures below 45 degrees F, he observes. “Instead of idling the truck to stay warm, at about $4 an hour, a driver can use shorepower to run a space heater at a dollar per hour to stay comfortable. The driver can also plug in his laptop, hot plate, microwave, etc.”

Nowadays, a higher percentage of trucks are coming off the production line with AC receptacles and inverter chargers to take advantage of shorepower, says Bates. The next step up is to run an APU – either battery or diesel – which has shorepower connectivity.

Today, most APU manufacturers offer that as an option, and such APUs are available as a factory build on new trucks and in the aftermarket.

If a tractor is not pre-wired for shorepower, there are a range of options, he notes, including:

  • Simple wiring harness. This is a shorepower outlet mounted on the outside of the cab and running wiring into the sleeper berth with traditional household outlets.
  • Electric HVAC system.
  • Hybrid APU.
  • Extension cord run through a crack in a window or door.

 

LONG-TIME SUPPORTER

A long-time supporter of plug-in power is Volvo Trucks North America (www.volvotrucks.com/trucks/na/en-us), having offered plug-in-power compatible systems on its vehicles since 1996, says Frank Bio, the company’s product manager - trucks. “Today, the majority of Volvo’s large sleepers are specified with shorepower.”

The reason for that popularity, he says, is clear. “I bet every driver has electricity in their home. Why would they not want to make life on the road as good as it is at home?”

Bio says factory-installed systems provide a favorable return on investment and add to resale value and marketability.

 

PEDAL EXPANSION

Shorepower Technologies recently completed installation of its shorepower pedestals along the I-5 corridor, from Seattle to San Diego. There are now 14 truckstops on I-5 or adjacent Highway 99 where trucks can plug in.

The company currently has 63 sites in 30 states with 1,800 electrified parking spaces. The goal, says the company’s Bates, is to have 250 locations with 10,000 electrified parking spaces in the next five years.

Meanwhile, it seems more and more fleets are considering shorepower connectivity as they continue their efforts to reduce fuel expenses, exhaust emissions and maintenance costs, plus provide a better night’s sleep for drivers. Plugging in results in less vehicle noise and vibration since the engine doesn’t have to run.

“We certainly want power pedestals at truckstops,” says Mesilla Valley’s Jones, “and we know others do as well. Not only will shorepower be good for the environment and show the industry is going green, but it will be good for the green that goes back into our wallets.”

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