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GHG image A The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the first US national standards targeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fuel efficiency in heavy-duty trucks. Unveiled October 25, the new standards begin to take effect in 2014 and are expected to boost the price of a new truck by several thousand dollars.

The proposed standards focus on three categories of heavy trucks: combination tractors, vocational vehicles, and heavy-duty pickups and vans. The proposed standards will be phased in and are intended to achieve from 7% to 20% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (specifically CO2) and fuel consumption from 2010 baseline Class 8 tractors.

GHG image E The targets, which will be achieved from both engine and truck advancements, will largely employ off-the-shelf technologies such as low-rolling-resistance tires, improved aerodynamics, and other measures currently recognized by EPA's SmartWay Program. Incremental cost increases for combination tractors are projected to be $5,900 in 2014, while price increases in other truck categories should be in the $200 to $400 range per vehicle, according to industry experts. Trailers were not addressed in the current proposal.

Federal officials estimate that the new standards will reduce greenhouse gases by about 250 million metric tons and save 500 million barrels of oil over the lives of the vehicles produced between the years 2014-2018. Overall, the new standards for commercial trucks could provide $41 billion in net benefits over the lifetime of the vehicles. Using an example of a typical semi truck operator, the government estimates that new technology upgrades could be paid for within one year from the savings in fuel and that over the length of that truck's lifespan, that vehicle could save as much as $74,000 for the operator.

“These new standards resulted from a historic effort by EPA and DOT over the past 20 months,” EPA Administrator Lisa P Jackson said during an October 25 press conference. “We've said all along that such regulations offer a transition to lower pollution and less energy use by the transportation sector. This is a performance standard that will enable truck and engine manufacturers to meet most, if not all, of the requirements with existing technology. At the same time, it will stimulate investments in new green technologies.”

Restrained reception

The new heavy-duty truck emission and GHG standards are getting a restrained reception from industry. “Truck dealers support improving fuel economy for medium- and heavy-duty trucks,” said Kyle Treadway, American Truck Dealers chairman and owner of Kenworth Sales Company in Salt Lake City UT. “However, the fuel economy proposal for model years 2014-2018 is expected to add thousands of dollars to the cost per truck. We are concerned that this could price some buyers out of the market.

“Compliance flexibility will be essential to the national fuel-efficiency program's success. 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.”

American Trucking Associations (ATA) officials expressed optimism about the proposal. “Through ATA's ongoing dialogue with both the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation, we are encouraged that the proposal takes into account the wide diversity of operations within our industry and the need to build flexibility into the rulemaking process,” says Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “We are pleased by the (Obama) Administration's focus on reducing carbon output and improving fuel efficiency from our sector, and we look forward to working with both agencies throughout the rulemaking process.”

Glen Kedzie, ATA vice-president and environmental counsel, adds: “The trucking industry strongly supports fuel economy standards that are both economically and technologically feasible as one of several preferred methods in reducing its carbon footprint. We believe the regulations proposed by EPA and (DOT's) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can be attained through technologies currently available to motor carriers with expected returns on investment of between 12 to 24 months.”

Industry panel

Even before the proposed rules were formally announced, they were getting plenty of attention from the trucking industry. A two-part panel discussed the federal government's plans to develop truck fuel economy standards and regulate truck carbon emissions during the American Trucking Associations' 2010 Management Conference held October 16-19 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Panelists represented truck manufacturers and diesel engine builders, and they discussed what will be needed to meet the proposed requirements and how that will impact trucking companies. Panelists stressed that fuel economy standards for automobiles cannot be applied directly to trucks. The same goes for carbon emission regulations.

Martin Daum, president and chief executive officer of Daimler Trucks North America, said regulators need to remember that trucks exist to haul freight and keep the US economy moving. Further, Class 8 trucks are a critical component in the US transportation system. They can't be replaced by small trucks with limited range and cargo capacity. The regulators writing the proposed standards targeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fuel efficiency in heavy-duty trucks must keep that in mind.

Tony Greszler, vice-president of government and industry relations for Volvo Powertrain, added that Washington DC officials and industry see the economics of vehicle emissions reductions from vastly different perspectives. For instance, the trucking industry looks at a four-year trade cycle. Fleets want a two-year payback on fuel efficiency technology equating to a savings of $450 per 1% fuel saved based on diesel priced at $3 a gallon. By contrast, federal officials are calculating the regulatory benefits on the basis of a 10-year vehicle life. That comes out to a saving of $4,530 per 1% of fuel saved. Federal officials also factor in a societal value of $6,000 per 1% fuel saved.

Fewer choices

Panelists cautioned that truck buyers may have fewer specification choices, and they may not be completely happy with what truck builders are able to offer. In addition, greater technological complexity will push more US truck builders to the sort of vertical integration that already dominates the European truck market.

Craig Brewster, Paccar assistant vice-president, said that vocational truck applications could be hurt by the proposed rules covering greenhouse gas reductions and fuel efficiency. “Making the correct technology choices will be very important,” he said. “We have to improve efficiency without sacrificing vehicle reliability and durability.”

GHG image C Panelists agreed that they should be able to meet the initial regulatory targets with existing technologies and without significant cost increases. The targets that take effect in 2018 (20% reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption) are a different story.

“We can handle the 2014 requirements with off-the-self components,” said Jack Allen, president, North American Truck Group, Navistar International Corp. “The 2018 requirements will be tougher and will call for technological advancements, such as recovery of exhaust waste heat.”

Steve Charlton, chief technical officer at Cummins Inc, said it is critical for the regulators to do all they can to limit confusion with the new rules. “We need regulatory certainty to encourage the technical developments needed to comply with the regulations,” he said. “It's important to avoid unintended consequences. Most importantly, the regulators need to encourage the use of existing technologies.”

Daum pointed out that industry would need as much flexibility as possible to develop engines and trucks that meet the federal requirements in a cost-effective manner that doesn't sacrifice performance. “We need a free-market approach to develop the best technology solutions,” he said. “If we are forced to focus on a single solution, we will miss other options for improvement. We can benefit from a worldwide race for improvement.”

GHG image D Panelists expressed concern that Obama Administration regulators seem to be trying to push the trucking industry away from petroleum-based fuel, specifically diesel. “Diesel will be with us for many more years,” Daum said. “Hybrid-electric power and natural gas will not replace diesel. Diesel is a plentiful and cost-effective fuel, and it is what the trucking industry needs to use.”

EPA and DOT (through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) are providing a 60-day comment period that begins when the proposal is published in the Federal Register. The proposal and information about how to submit comments is at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regulations.htm and http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy. End of feature