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August 14, 2017 5:30 PM, EDT
Diesel Climbs 1.7¢ to $2.598 a Gallon for Seventh Consecutive Gain
Diesel John Sommers II for Transport Topics

The U.S. average retail price of diesel rose 1.7 cents to $2.598 even as the cost of crude retreated from its monthly high amid persistent concerns over excess supply and recent falling demand in China, experts said.

Diesel now costs 28.8 cents more than it did a year ago, when it was $2.310 a gallon, the Department of Energy said Aug. 14.

Prices for trucking’s main fuel rose in all regions except the Gulf Coast, where the price was unchanged at $2.410.

It was diesel’s seventh consecutive increase, totaling 13.3 cents.

The U.S. average price for regular gasoline rose 0.6 cent to $2.384 a gallon. The cost is 23.5 cents more than it was a year ago, DOE’s Energy Information Administration said.

Weekly gasoline prices rose in four regions and fell in five others, EIA said.

“The biggest way to help fleets’ bottom line is fuel economy,” Patrick Mendenhall, fleet sales manager at Cumberland International, told Transport Topics.

Since 2013, the Nashville, Tenn.-based truck dealership has been offering prospective customers the chance to drive a more fuel-efficient over-the-road tractor — most recently an International LT model powered by a Cummins X15 engine and Eaton 10-speed transmission with aerodynamic features.

The biggest way to help fleets’ bottom line is fuel economy.

— Patrick Mendenhall

The latest fleet test covered 10,868 miles through Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and California. The truck, known as NextGen C10, achieved an average fuel mileage of 9.5 miles per gallon. In top gear, in which the truck spent 90% of its time, it was 10.18 mpg, according to an engine control module summary of the trip dated Aug. 9.

The industry’s generally accepted average fuel mileage is 6.5 mpg.

“Opening the minds of decision-makers has really been a big deal for us,” Mendenhall said.

The truck also spent 15.1 gallons of diesel idling during the trip.

Another company, eNow, is selling customized solar panels mounted on the roof of a truck or trailer to power APUs instead of by engine idling.

The system takes solar power and stores it in auxiliary or primary batteries on the truck. A charge controller monitors the battery and manages the amount of power coming from the solar panels, the Warwick, R.I.-based company said.

“Even with fuel at $2 a gallon [hypothetically] because of the cost of taking diesel fuel and changing it into electricity, you are looking at about $1.07 per kilowatt hour. Once you amortize the cost of the solar, you are getting energy in the 15 cents to 20 cents range,” eNow Founder and President Jeff Flath told TT.

Truckload carrier Mesilla Valley Transportation, based Las Cruces, N.M., purchased 1,000 systems and saved three gallons of fuel per truck per day with the solar alternative to idling, according to eNow.

“They were running the batteries down so low [operating diesel-powered APUs], they were destroying the batteries after six to nine months versus every three years. So they had a tremendous cost of doing that on a monthly basis in addition to any road service calls they had,” Flath added.

Mesilla Valley Transportation ranks No. 72 on the TT 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Freightliner, a unit of Daimler Trucks North America, has made the eNow system an option, Flath said.

“We believe the commercial trucking industry is going electrified,” Flath said, emphasizing the systems in the truck, “not off a belt off the engine.”

At the same time, demand for diesel has been strong, EIA said.

Distillate fuel product supplied — which is primarily ultra-low sulfur diesel and a marker for domestic demand — has averaged about 4.3 million barrels a day from Aug. 4 to Aug. 11. That is up 15.9% compared with the same period last year, EIA said.

Meanwhile, oil tumbled by the most in more than five weeks as fears of falling oil demand in China overshadowed news that Libya’s crude supply was disrupted, Bloomberg News reported Aug. 14.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at $45.59 per barrel Aug. 14, compared with $49.31 on Aug. 7.

There’s currently no consensus on a “long-term price anchor” [for oil] due to the “disruptive nature of U.S. shale oil,” renowned oil trader Andy Hall said in a letter, according to Bloomberg.

“Oil price bulls argue that the shale oil business model is a flawed one and is unsustainable, at least at current prices,” Hall said, according to Bloomberg. “Bears, on the other hand, say technology is allowing these companies to continuously drive costs lower, as well as add to recoverable reserves.”