‘Aerodynamics for city trucks?’


I lose count of the number of times I’ve heard this comment – the view that there’s no point in fitting aerodynamics to trucks which operate only in urban areas. After all, the forces of drag that build up below 30 mph are negligible … aren’t they?

Time to think again
The science of aerodynamic drag demonstrates with crystal clarity that this assumption is simply false. Where better to look than the evidence?

When a truck moves, the engine has to combat three main forces –

  1. Drive train friction – the loss of power in the drive train, an area in which all OEMs are striving to improve efficiencies. Let’s leave them to it.
  2. Tyre rolling resistance (vehicle weight) – the heavier the vehicle, the more the power needed to move it.

  1. Aerodynamic drag – this relates to the shape of the vehicle. Think Formula One car versus double-decker bus! This is easy to test. As a car passenger, (taking great care with potential obstacles!), put your arm horizontally out of the window. Then bend your arm at the elbow so that your palm points up. See the difference? In the vertical plane, you can feel your hand pushed back – but in a horizontal plane, the forces are much less!

Now let’s turn our attention to two weights of vehicle and the amount of drag they generate at a variety of speeds.

Here’s a graph for an 18-ton rigid vehicle –

As the vehicle doubles its speed, it needs 2x power to overcome its weight and 8x power to overcome aero drag.

The vertical axis shows the engine power required (in BHP). The horizontal axis shows the vehicle speed.  In this first example below, aerodynamic drag starts to use engine power at around 10MPH.  At 30mph, 56% (35 BHP) is being used to overcome weight and 44% (27 BHP), aero drag. Our key interest is at the 30 mph point.

Now, look at this second graph – the same scenario but for a 3.5-ton vehicle.

At 30mph, only 36% (8 BHP) is being used to overcome weight … but 64% (14 BHP) of the engine power is overcoming aero drag.

Check out the dramatic increase between 12 and 30mph.

Low-speed aerodynamics do count

This evidence leaves no room for doubt. The lighter the vehicle, the lower the speed required to see a benefit from aerodynamic improvements.  Every company operating 3.5-ton trucks in urban areas should ensure their aerodynamics are up to scratch. We know of fleets achieving  over 20% fuel-saving benefit – reducing operating costs and Co2 levels.  This is the perfect win-win. A win for the bottom line and a win for the environment!

Reynolds Catering achieved over 20% fuel-saving with the below deflector and side-wing kit.

% of Power (at rear wheels) used to overcome aerodynamic drag
Weight 30mph 45mph 60mph
3.5 tons 57% 74% 84%
10 tons 40% 59% 73%
18 tons 28% 46% 61%