This Class 8 tractor-trailer by heavy-duty manufacturers Cummins and Peterbilt reaches more than 10 miles per gallon under real world driving conditions. The truck was on display at the Energy Department today. | Photo by <a href="/contributors/sarah-gerrity">Sarah Gerrity</a>, Energy Department

Pedestrians passing by the Energy Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. today saw quite a strange sight – an ultra-modern 18-wheeler, Class 8 tractor-trailer parked outside our building!  This is no ordinary truck  – it’s called a SuperTruck, a demonstration vehicle that is part of the Energy Department’s SuperTruck initiative.  This program’s goal is to develop tractor-trailers that are 50% more efficient than baseline models by 2015. 

The truck on display, developed by heavy-duty manufacturers Cummins and Peterbilt, has exceeded this goal. Since 2010, the truck has demonstrated a 20% increase in engine efficiency and a 70% increase in freight efficiency, reaching over 10 miles per gallon under real world driving conditions on a Class 8 tractor-trailer.  In comparison, an average Class 8 truck typically gets 5.8 miles to the gallon. This accomplishment is so impressive that on Tuesday, the SuperTruck served as a backdrop to President Obama’s announcement of new fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

Improving the efficiency of long-haul tractor-trailers is one of the many ways that the United States can reduce the amount of petroleum we use and the carbon pollution we produce.  Commercial trucks, which include Class 8 vehicles, haul as much as 80% of the goods transported in the country.  Although they only make up 4% of vehicles on the road, they use about 20% of the fuel consumed.  

Increasing these vehicles’ efficiency can also benefit our overall economy.  In general, the long-haul truck fleet is quick to adopt technologies that improve fuel efficiency and lower costs for owner-operators.  Based on the current price of diesel, these technologies should save truck operators more than $20,000 per year on fuel costs. 

Lowering these trucks’ fuel costs reduces the amount companies need to spend on transportation and can allow retailers to charge less for their goods.  If all Class 8 trucks in the U.S. were SuperTrucks, the country would consume nearly 300 million fewer barrels of oil and spend nearly $30 billion less on fuel each year.

SuperTruck also supports the Energy Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative – a broad effort to strengthen U.S. manufacturing and competitiveness. Companies will integrate these technologies into trucks built right here in the U.S. When Cummins and Peterbilt adopt these fuel-saving technologies in their product lines, they will be manufacturing them in their facilities in Indiana, New York, and Texas.

In addition to Cummins, there are three other companies that have been working with the Energy Department since 2009 to develop SuperTrucks.  Each company has its own unique approach, but at least 20% of the efficiency improvements will come from advances in the trucks’ internal combustion engines. Companies may also improve the vehicles’ aerodynamics, reduce their weight, reduce rolling resistance with high-efficiency tires, and install equipment that limits idle time. 

From the Energy Department to the highway, SuperTrucks are set to improve our country’s economic, environmental, and energy sustainability.

Shannon Brescher Shea
Shannon Brescher Shea ( is the social media manager and senior writer/editor in the Office of Science’s Office of Communication and Public Affairs.
more by this author