Design of a Lightweight Heavy Goods Vehicle Trailer

Design of a Lightweight Heavy Goods Vehicle Trailer


Joel Galos, University of Cambridge


The paper examines the use of lightweight composite materials in semi-trailer design with the aim of reducing vehicle fuel consumption and resulting CO2 emissions.


In road haulage the empty weight of a vehicle is a significant contributor to fuel consumption and resulting CO2 emissions. The application of lightweight materials in design is one avenue that needs to be explored in reducing the carbon footprint of road freight vehicles. There are very few regulations which determine the structural design of typical road freight semi-trailers, providing large scope for innovation in design. Composite trailers can combine aerodynamic and structural functions, leading to significantly reduced weight with improved performance.

A review of previous lightweighting work, as well as, emissions modelling, collaboration with industrial partners and an analysis of UK road freight statistics has helped to identify double-deck type heavy goods vehicle trailers as being particularly suited to lightweighting from both economic and environmental standpoints. Drive cycle analysis has shown that reducing the empty weight of the double-deck type trailer by 30% can reduce mass energy consumption index by 13% and moreover, decrease fuel consumption by approximately 2%. To achieve this targeted 30% weight reduction, structural design tasks have been split in two areas; adopting a 'clean slate' approach in the design of the whole trailer and applying composite solutions for specific components, such as trailer decking and side walls. Conceptual designs are being developed in collaboration with industrial partners with the aim of proving that lightweighting trailers with composites can be economically viable. In particular, a lightweight composite sandwich panel has been designed to replace existing hardwood deck materials currently used in trailers transporting grocery goods. The lightweight sandwich deck, comprised of woven e-glass fibre / polyester face sheets and a balsa wood core, is calculated to be approximately 200kg (40%) lighter than lightest existing birch plywood based deck.


Association for European Transport