Friday, July 10, 2015

‘11’ is the new 10 mpg, and one Wisconsin trucker thinks he can get there

By his own admission, OOIDA member Michael Niss puts the “hyper” in hyper-miler.

“Just hyper,” he says with a laugh when asked if he embraces the label. “Or crazy? There’s other words for it.”

Michael Niss
You could add “bold” to the list of descriptors as well. The 53-year-old from Wausau, Wis., is putting the finishing touches on his own super-truck, one that he hopes will surpass not just the “Holy Grail” of 10 mpg, but go even further. All the way past 11.

“Two years ago, I sat with one of my advisers, and I’d taken my truck that was getting 6.1 mpg and with the change to a better rolling-resistance Michelin tire, I’d gotten it up to somewhere in the 7s, and I asked him for an unrealistic goal and he said 11.”

When combining those fuel savings with reduced downtime from a “more reliable, pre-EGR” Detroit Diesel engine, Niss said he believes he’ll see a huge increase in his bottom line a year from now.

“I’m convinced that everything I’m doing, compared to the last rig I owned and operated, I’m going to save over $30,000 per year between the fuel savings, maintenance savings, and increased productivity,” he said.

As of Aug. 4, he’s going to be “up and down highways, pulling 40,000-pound loads through the Rocky Mountains.”

“I started out this whole pursuit looking at profitability primarily through fuel efficiency, because my first truck I was spending $70,000 per year on fuel.”

Turns out, Niss came up with four areas that he can have an impact on to maximize his profitability. Those four areas are:

  1. Fuel efficiency
  2. Maintenance costs
  3. Downtime (from being in the shop)
  4. Emissions and environmental impact

 “As I started looking at the maintenance costs and what it was costing me, I had a two-year-old truck that I was spending many, many thousands of dollars on … and I shouldn’t have spent that much money maintaining a two-year-old truck.”

There’s plenty more information about the specs and modifications Niss is making to his truck on his website,, but he’s taking a 2015 Kenworth T660 glider, with an 86-inch AeroCab Aerodyne sleeper. Under the hood, he’s got a remanufactured Detroit Diesel 12.7-liter 60 Series engine with an Eaton Fuller 13-speed transmission. He pulls a 2015 MAC aluminum low-ride flatbed covered with a custom-made contoured Quick Draw Tarp system.

The custom-tarp system is one of the most critical components to achieving the remarkable mileage goal. Niss said the contoured tarp will create an arched profile around his tractor and trailer, helping to maximize the aerodynamics.

Niss says he did a lot of experimenting on his first tractor-trailer with “off-the-shelf” items and homemade prototypes to maximize his fuel economy. Now, he’s taking some of the lessons he’s learned and designing his own custom rig to help him achieve a seemingly impossible goal.

“The science tells us the air will travel better over that arched surface,” he said. “The whole thing is based on trying to maximize an aerodynamic contour between the truck and trailer.”

Niss admits he’s only been in trucking for a relatively short time, (driving school and one year with Roehl Transport of out Marshfield, Wis., and now three years with Long Haul Trucking as a company driver, hauling flatbed loads). He said he hopes his website and social media presence will become a forum for interaction with other drivers who are experimenting with ways of maximizing their profitability and efficiency.

“I’m not trying to keep anything proprietary. “A lot of the stuff I’m doing, whether it’s Michelin tires or Chevron lubricants, I have no personal proprietary angle on any of this,” he said. “So I don’t mind sharing with hundreds of people what some of my successes are. I want to put this out there; I want to share information with as many people as possible. I’m looking for feedback.”

Up until one week ago, Niss said the project was completely self-funded. Since then, he’s received product funding from Truck Systems Technology for their tire-monitoring equipment; Centramatic, for their wheel balancers (which will be installed on the steer, drive and trailer tires); and Bergstrom Climate Control Systems, which is providing him with a battery-powered NITE Phoenix heating and air-conditioning system.

“Not everything I’m doing is applicable across the board to every trucker, but there are many of the things (I’m doing) that they can use as a resource,” he said.

While on the road, Niss said he typically stays in the 65 mph range.

“Anything over 55 and your aerodynamic curve is really going up,” he said. “In a truly scientific ideal world, I might be dropping down to 61 or 60, but I believe that since I’ve added so many aerodynamic features to help me overcome a little bit of the drag, that I can drive 65.”

He also keeps his trailer profile low, to reduce drag.

“I run down the road at 44 inches,” he said. “If a dock requires it, I have an over-inflation valve that gets me up to a 48-inch dock. … I’ve really tried to look at different ways to let the air to start to come over that truck, and then carefully address how it leaves the trailer.”

What he’s got under the hood may be even more impressive. A pre-EGR, Detroit Diesel Series 60, with a horizontal “weed-burner” exhaust.

Niss said the track record of the Detroit Diesel engine, for its durability and longevity, made it the ideal choice for this experiment.

“We chose it for fuel efficiency, less downtime, and an easier engine to maintain,” he said. “Now with that choice, the first arrow that’s slung my way is ‘What are you going to do about emissions?’ If I have a truck that is absolutely running its best, with the best internal lubricants, the best airflow, and every advantage that I’ve given that truck – the least restriction for the exhaust – my baseline is pretty good. I’m not saying that baseline is going to meet the EPA requirements, but for my grams of emissions per horsepower hour, I’m at a good starting point.”

From that baseline, Niss said he plans to experiment with after-market technologies to help address the emissions issues, including spherical crankshaft filtrations and muffler systems. He said in the meantime, if he has to “miss out on the opportunity” to haul loads in California, he will.

“California’s not a big part of my freight routes,” he said. “I get maybe one or two loads there per year.”

As he gets rolling next month, Niss said he plans to spend more time “carefully scrutinizing” cost versus payback. He also said he plans to post his “monthly fuel averages, only” on the website each month.

He said he hopes his project will inspire other drivers who are looking for a “realistic approach” to getting the most out of their equipment and their business.

“This is a truck that’s spec’ed by a truck driver, for a truck driver,” he said. “I don’t have any low-hanging components that are going to get ripped off on railroad tracks or anything that’s going to get in the way of me delivering freight.”