Green Operations

Tiremakers Go Green with SmartWay

January 2011, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Mike Manges


It's no secret that fuel efficiency has been a top concern among trucking fleets for many years. However, up until recently, any effort by fleets to reduce fuel consumption and, in turn, their trucks' greenhouse gas emissions, by running low rolling resistance tires on trucks and trailers was strictly voluntary.

That all changed in January 2010 when regulations designed to reduce truck emissions went into effect in California.

The rule, mandated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), requires all 2011 model-year and newer day cab tractors that pull 53-foot or longer box-type trailers in the Golden State to run on low rolling resistance tires that have been verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) list of SmartWay-verified technologies.

It also mandates that 2011 model-year and newer trailers operating in California must be either SmartWay-certified or equipped with low rolling resistance tires and retrofitted with SmartWay-approved aerodynamic technologies.

Created in 2004, the SmartWay label identifies products and services that reduce transportation-related emissions. It has become perhaps the most sought-after designation in the commercial truck tire market. No fewer than eight truck tire manufacturers have placed products on the EPA SmartWay list, with more companies submitting products for consideration.

Setting an Industry Benchmark

The CARB rule applies to all tractors traveling on California highways, regardless of their home base or point of origin. That means fleets from other parts of North America sending trucks into California must equip those vehicles with SmartWay-approved tires to comply with the regulation.

The CARB rule has pushed the SmartWay program into the spotlight, say truck tire manufacturers.

"It's important to understand how the CARB program is affecting line-haul fleets in other parts of the country," said Brian Sheehey, director of Hankook Tire America Corp.'s Commercial Tire Group.

To qualify for SmartWay certification, truck tires must meet EPA-mandated test criteria. Two testing methods are available to tire manufacturers, which may perform their own testing. Several companies also have used third-party labs to evaluate their products.

"The first is a method in which you run a comparison test on a test track against a reference set of tires," said Don Baldwin, product marketing manager, Michelin Americas Truck Tires. The goal is to demonstrate a 3-percent fuel savings benefit.

"The second method is a straightforward measurement of rolling resistance to a prescribed procedure. You run your tires on your own (testing) equipment," Baldwin said.

This method is designed to yield a rolling resistance value at or below target values for specific tire models.

A third method had been available, but the EPA dropped it several months ago. The method was meant to be more inclusive than the first two, but as such, was the least stringent of the three, said John Cooney, director of commercial sales for Yokohama Tire Corp.

"There was no benchmark to measure against. All you had to say was, 'This tire is X percent more fuel-efficient than another tire we sell,' " Cooney said.

Certification according to universal standards is critical because it provides manufacturers "with a tangible goal to achieve through the improvement of features like carcass design and innovations in treads and compounding," Sheehey said. "Before, manufacturers would come out with fuel-efficient tires according to whatever standards we deemed appropriate. This provides a single standard for all of us to achieve."

For dealers and end users, it also "takes the guesswork out of the equation. What's fuel-efficient? What's compliant? Claims from marketing and sales departments now can be verified. Depending on the manufacturer, we may agree or disagree on what the standard should be. But there is one. It provides a goal ... and we can confirm that our tires meet a standard," Sheehey said.

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