US proposes first GHG and fuel efficiency standards for trucks and buses

by Canadian Shipper

WASHINGTON, DC – Heavy and medium duty trucks in the US as well as buses are about to get cleaner and more fuel efficient. The first national standards to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel efficiency of the work horses on US highways were announced today by the US Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA)  and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

EPA and NHTSA are proposing new standards for three categories of heavy trucks: combination tractors, heavy-duty pickups and vans, and vocational vehicles. The categories were established to address specific challenges for manufacturers in each area.  For combination tractors, the agencies are proposing engine and vehicle standards that begin in the 2014 model year and achieve up to a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by 2018 model year.  For heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, the agencies are proposing separate gasoline and diesel truck standards which phase in starting in the 2014 model year and achieve up to a 10 percent reduction for gasoline vehicles and 15 percent reduction for diesel vehicles by 2018 model year (12 and 17 percent respectively if accounting for air conditioning leakage). Lastly, for vocational vehicles, the agencies are proposing engine and vehicle standards starting in the 2014 model year which would achieve up to a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 2018 model year.

The Obama government already has set new rules for cars and light trucks requiring a 35.5 mpg by 2016 and proposed as high as 62 mpg by 2025.

The national program, announced jointly by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is projected to reduce GHG emissions by nearly 250 million metric tons and save 500 million barrels of oil over the lives of the vehicles produced within the program’s first five years.

Calling it a “win-win-win” for the environment, businesses and the American consumer, LaHood said through the new fuel efficiency standards “we will not only reduce transportation’s environmental impact, we’ll reduce the cost of transporting freight.”

Jackson said the proposed regulations provide a steady improvement in fuel efficiency aimed at quick payoffs.

“In addition to cutting greenhouse gas pollution, greater fuel economy will shrink fuel costs for small businesses that depend on pick ups and heavy duty vehicles, shipping companies and cities and towns with fleets of these vehicles.  Those savings can be invested in new jobs at home, rather than heading overseas and increasing our dependence on foreign oil,” she said.

Overall, NHTSA and EPA estimate that the heavy-duty national program would provide $41 billion in net benefits over the lifetime of model year 2014 to 2018 vehicles. With the potential for significant fuel efficiency gains, ranging from seven to 20 percent, drivers and operators could expect to net significant savings over the long-term, the agencies say. For example, it is estimated an operator of a semi truck could pay for the technology upgrades in under a year, and save as much as $74,000 over the truck’s useful life. Vehicles with lower annual miles would typically experience longer payback periods, up to four or five years, but would still reap cost-savings.

EPA and NHTSA are providing a 60-day comment period that begins when the proposal is published in the Federal Register. The rules, with whatever changes are made following this comment period, are expected to be final next summer.

Initial industry reaction was mainly positive – The following is a statement from:

“Dealers support improving fuel economy for medium and heavy-duty trucks,” said Kyle Treadway, chairman of the American Truck Dealers (ATD) and owner of Kenworth Sales Company in Salt Lake City, Utah. “To its credit, the Administration clearly is attempting to tailor its mandates to specific vehicle subclasses and to each manufacturer’s unique production. Compliance flexibility will be essential to the national truck fuel efficiency program’s success and its ability to prevent an unworkable patchwork of state-by-state mandates.”

During the press conference, Jackson stressed that the government is concerned only with setting a consistent and national standard. How truck manufacturers choose to meet that standard – whether through improved engine technology, tire design, aerodynamics or a combination of these and other advancements – will be up to them.

“As we give one consistent national standard, truck manufacturers will rise to find the next level of improvement. We don’t want to pick a winner in terms of technology,” Jackson said.

Treadway, however, was concerned the fuel-economy proposal would add thousands of dollars to the cost per truck.

“These first-ever truck rules will govern how new medium and heavy-duty trucks are built for sale. If technologically feasible and economically practical, they should result in vehicles that commercial fleets, owner/operators and small businesses will want to buy, at prices they can afford. If not, truck dealers, their employees and the economy in general will suffer without environmental and national security benefits being achieved,” Treadway said. “We are concerned that this could price some buyers out of the market,” he said.

When asked during the press conference whether incentives would be put in place to boost adoption of more fuel efficient technologies, a senior government official appeared noncommittal, focusing instead on the money to be saved through quick pay back for the investments made.

The American Trucking Associations meanwhile recently adopted a new policy stating that “carbon emission reduction achieved through national truck fuel economy standards are preferable to government actions that increase fuel prices in an effort to discourage petroleum-based diesel fuel consumption or mandate the use of alternative fuels.”   And Jed Mandel, president of the Engine Manufacturers Association, said in a statement “Because improved efficiency also results in lower greenhouse gas emissions, engine and truck manufacturers’ efforts to improve fuel efficiency for our customers align well with the overall goals of the regulation proposed today.”

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the non-profit Diesel Technology Forum, seized on the announcement as indication there is a future for clean diesel power as the proposal does not include mention of alternative fuels.   

“This proposal clearly envisions clean diesel power as the centerpiece of freight transportation in the clean energy economy of tomorrow,” Schaeffer said.  “For all parties, the challenge of increasing fuel efficiency while maintaining or improving environmental, safety and productivity of commercial vehicles is as important as it is complex.   It is fitting that a key solution for solving this challenge lies in the diesel engine.”

More than 95 percent of all heavy duty trucks are diesel-powered as are a majority of medium duty trucks.

Jackson characterized the proposed standards as a “transition to greater energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions”, once again emphasizing the government wants to leave it to the industry to decide which technologies or fuels are best to use to meet the new standards.

That’s not likely to sit as well with environmental groups which wanted the proposed rules to include  incentives and requirements that would specifically lead to more hybrid trucks on the road.    Heavy duty tractor trailer trucks consume approximately 22 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year, with medium duty trucks consuming a considerable amount as well, so the potential for fuel savings is significant. Over the last 10 years the industry has made great strides with emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses reduced by 99 percent for nitrogen oxides – an ozone precursor – and 9
8 percent for particulate emissions.  This is a considerable accomplishment but the challenge is that increased fuel efficiency and lower emissions are near opposite and competing forces in diesel engine design. An average tractor trailer fully loaded today achieves anywhere from 5.0 to 7.0 mpg.

The proposed rules also don’t address trailers, which could further improve fuel efficiency. EPA’s Jackson said the decision was made to steer away from trailers in the initial rule making because the two government agencies involved had very little experience regulating trailers and the manufacturers involved had little experience dealing with fuel efficiency design issues. She added that although the proposed rules focus on “what is currently possible”, trailer design and its contribution to fuel efficiency is something that could be considered in the future.

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