I had no idea going into this interview with CFO Darron Ming and National Accounts Sales Representative Asa Hazelwood that mudflaps were so relevant to safety on our highways. Eco Flaps, based in Brentwood, Tennessee, is on a mission to save lives and make Class A vehicles on the road more environmentally sound and cost-efficient for drivers and trucking companies.
The story of Eco Flaps is about what one person can accomplish with an idea. The company began with Barry Anderson, who was a truck driver before going on to become an owner/operator and having drivers work under him. He drove a tanker trailer and worked for Praxair and Linde, working in Atlanta, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“It was raining cats and dogs one day, and he couldn’t see anything on the road. He became frustrated and decided to do something about that. Mudflaps were kicking up dirt and spray, so he took it upon himself to design Eco Flaps as a safety product, first and foremost. Eco Flaps made it safer to drive in the rain,” says Asa.
Anything that can be done to save lives is important, but through the testing of the product, he realized that it also saved fuel. Hence, the name Eco Flaps. Testing was accomplished at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at its simulation center, and drag coefficients were calculated to determine if fuel costs were reduced.
It just so happened that there were a few people from NASA at the testing facility that day and they looked at the design of the Eco Flap. Barry was advised to make a couple of changes by getting rid of the rounded edges and reshaping the front of the flap like an airplane wing to increase the resulting fuel savings.
“It was pretty cool to be unofficially reviewed by NASA and to have engineers like that behind your product – along with some Paccar engineers and the backing of US Xpress as well,” says Asa. Paccar is the parent company of truck manufacturers Kenworth and Peterbilt, while US Xpress is one of the nation’s largest trucking companies.
This is not like a simple mudflap. A fleet will need to replace between fifteen to twenty percent of all its flaps within a year, but this is not the case with Eco Flaps. US Xpress has 14,000 of the flaps on its vehicles and only lost forty last year from blown tires or brackets coming off. No driver wants to be hit by a flying slab of mudflap from a passing truck, so losing fewer flaps is a clear indicator of increased safety. Not only is it a financial saving in terms of fuel and replacement flaps, but it is eco-friendly because companies are not wasting plastic or rubber materials.
Of all the aerodynamic device that can be added to trucks or trailers, mudflaps are the only one that is legally mandated. Since the feature must appear on any truck or trailer, why not have one that helps make the roads safer and saves money on fuel and maintenance costs?
“You can’t do anything aerodynamic to a tanker trailer. Skirts do not go on, because it adds weight, and flatbeds are typically on tough job sites, ripping stuff off equipment. These are the niche markets we go after, because you can’t do anything aerodynamic but change out the mudflaps, and those mudflaps on the tanker market weigh out at twenty-four pounds on the quarter-fender. An Eco Flap weighs only three pounds, so that is a savings of nine pounds per flap as they use three-foot-long flaps on the quarter fender of the tank,” says Asa.
Eco Flaps is verified with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay program. Shippers will side with the greenest fleet, because it lowers their shipping costs, and Eco Flaps can alleviate wind and air disturbance around a trailer and, in the process, reduce fuel use.
“What it means to be verified is that we are proven to save fuel. This is massive for the company, partners, and carriers that they can put on a mudflap and see a one percent fuel savings. A tanker or flatbed company that can’t do anything additionally on their trailer to add fuel efficiency can add the Eco Flaps and help their shippers and customers,” says Darron.
GHG2 or ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles-Phase 2’ first put into play under the Obama administration but has recently been voted against during the Trump administration except for the attempts by the state of California to reinstate it for the start of January 2020. The heavy-duty engine manufacturers and trailer manufacturers were asked for ideas of how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and increase fuel savings.
“In that first year, they had to prove a savings of at least five percent on fuel. They put on a skirt and were good to go, but for weight-conscious companies, the skirt won’t work,” says Asa. Skirts are the wall-like attachments, down the sides under a semi-trailer and are used to reduce the aerodynamic drag produced by air turbulence. “Now you can put on low-rolling tires with Eco Flaps and save five percent on fuel. It’s huge for us to do that.”
Eco Flaps is the only mudflap manufacturer to be both SmartWay and GHG2-verified. “Unlike our competitors, we have spent quite a bit of money testing our product. It has been tested by many different testing organizations, and it proves to our customers that we do what we say we can do,” says Darron.
SmartWay verification shows that Eco Flaps has gone through a lot of rigorous testing. Clients know it is going to work. What is interesting to note is that the Eco Flaps do better in real-world conditions, making it, unlike any other product. For the third-party testing needed to get a SmartWay and GHG2 verification, winds need to be below eleven miles per hour, but the average wind speed in the U.S. is eighteen miles per hour.
The company has seen double-digit growth over the last few years and that comes down to the product itself. “We have some great partners, customers, and trucking companies that believe in the product because once they start buying, they never buy regular mudflaps again. They start buying because the product is phenomenal, and our customer service is outstanding,” says Asa.
Eco Flaps has over eight independent third-party tests and avoids going through the same configuration of tests repeatedly. “You can say that a mudflap saves on fuel all day long until you are blue in the face, but we’ve gone through eight different configurations of testing that proves Eco Flaps save money,” says Darron.
“We are the only company that has any sort of warranty. We stand behind the product and know it works. Here is why we are going with Eco Flaps instead of the traditional flap,” says Asa.
“Cars used to travel at forty miles per hour, and now they are going at sixty miles per hour,” says Asa, noting that mudflaps had not changed since 1961 when their primary purpose was to prevent rocks and mud from being kicked up by the tires. “When we ask trailer manufacturers about how much a trailer has changed since 1961, how about how much has a phone changed since 1961?” says Asa.
The company would like to see the eradication of solid mudflaps and have Eco Flaps be standard on every tractor and trailer, resulting in highway fatalities going down and fuel economy increasing. The company sold less than one percent of the thirty to thirty-five million other mudflaps out there in just the Class-A market so the potential is huge.
Going forward, Eco Flaps will be looking at expanding into Europe where the cost of fuel is quite high, and people are more conscious of safety and fuel economy.