Schneider's 'Green Wheels'

Schneider National is looking for fuel savings close to the road — from its wheels. The company says it will deploy a $50 aerodynamic wheel cover on its tractors that will make them almost 1 percent more fuel efficient. That might not sound like much, but put those wheel covers on 12,000 tractors and it amounts to 1.8 million gallons of diesel. That would translate to about $5.4 million in savings, if diesel hits $3 a gallon.

It’s a breakthrough for Schneider National and John Fleck, the entrepreneur who created the latest green transportation product, the Deflecktor Aero Wheel Cover. Fleck first came up with the idea for an aerodynamic wheel cover almost 20 years ago. “Since the deep-inset wheel creates aerodynamic resistance when the tractor is in motion, I knew that smoothing wheel contours with a simple, lightweight device would reduce the overall coefficient of drag and thereby increase energy efficiency,” Fleck explains.

In 1991 he designed an aluminum wheel cover that in tests delivered a 1.5 to 2 percent gain in fuel efficiency. But the metal covers were clunky and hard to install — and fuel was cheap.

Fast forward to 2006, when Fleck began experimenting with lighter materials. He developed a new wheel cover made of fabric, not metal, and Schneider National began testing it. “We spent over two years testing this device, and the results we got were consistently positive in regard to fuel savings: almost 1 percent per tractor,” said Steve Duley, vice president of purchasing.

Although the covers are made of fabric, they are extremely durable, he said, even in the toughest winter conditions.

Now the company will put the covers into widespread use, adding them to the four drive positions of each Schneider tractor. So far, 6,000 units have been installed on 1,500 tractors. The company will install 48,000 covers altogether — and that’s without outfitting its trailer fleet. Schneider is still considering that.

An expense? Yes, but not for long.

“The fuel savings we generate will allow us to pay for the devices in just under one year,” Duley said.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com

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