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August 17, 2011 Vol. 7, No. 17

Man, is there really such mass acceptance of Washington’s new truck fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas emission standards? They made it all official a week ago, and since then everyone and his mother in the big-fleet and manufacturer corners of trucking has applauded. But not all players are pleased.

As well as little old yours truly, the natural gas lobby and OOIDA (the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association) are also less than impressed. The three of us seem to be alone. I’ll get to the doubts and objections in a minute.

To review the new regime very briefly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation penned a whopping big 958-page document, originally demanded directly by President Obama, that will change your spec’ing process rather a lot. And quite possibly the nature of your operation. Plan on spending more money too, of course.

It’s a wildly complex rule — how could it be anything else? — that affects trucks (and buses) built in 2014 through 2018. It covers pretty much everything from class 2b vehicles grossing 8500 lb on up to class 8 trucks and tractors. The joint DOT/EPA program aims to improve fuel efficiency on the average tractor-trailer by something like 20% by 2018.

Given the wide divergence of tractor-trailers out there, that improvement percentage varies a lot. The range is actually 9 to 23%, compared to a 2010 baseline.

A crucial fact in here is that we’re talking about fuel-economy and emissions standards as achieved by the whole truck, not just its engine. That means things like tires and aerodynamic devices will be factored in, as they should be.

The new regs define three vehicle categories: heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans; tractors; and vocational vehicles. There are sub-classes within those groups, acknowledging the difference between, for example, a day cab tractor and one with a high-roof sleeper. Standards will be applied in different ways and will be phased in at different rates depending on the nature of the truck’s job, because it’s obvious that efficiency can’t be measured the same way in all cases.

Vocational-vehicle improvements will be in the 6-9% range, and heavy pickups and vans will need to improve by 17% for diesel-powered vehicles, 12% for gasoline-engined trucks.

I don’t have anywhere near enough space here to go much deeper into this, though I should add that truck-makers will be able to do all manner of banking and trading and averaging to achieve these goals.

I should also note that the basic SmartWay spec is really the foundation for meeting the early standards in 2014, but by 2018 new technologies of some sort will be required. And nobody knows what they’ll be.

THAT’S WHERE MY OWN DOUBTS BEGIN, namely the seemingly reckless assumption by Washington that we’ll get there somehow. They even admitted that they’re taking a flyer here when all this was announced last year. Now, I do have faith in the engineers and chemists who’ll be working on this, and I do believe we’ll get there, but at what cost? Especially, at what cost to the little guys of trucking?

I also fear that you’ll no longer be able to spec a truck precisely, won’t be able to make it fit the job in order to achieve maximum operational or more specific fuel and emissions efficiency.

Our trucks come in so many widely divergent shapes and sizes and do such a huge variety of work that I believe you can’t possibly write rules to accommodate all of them. Some spend long hours at constant speeds on flat highways, some roll slowly around construction sites. Some need a heavy spec, some can be light as a feather. It goes on and on.

The EPA and DOT have tried to account for the differences by measuring CO2 emissions in grams per ton-mile and fuel economy in gallons per ton-miles. Well, in my view it doesn’t account for the differences because the work is just too varied. Unless you limit the truck maker’s model lineup, squeeze the buyer’s spec’ing choices, and in some cases, maybe many, force the wrong truck to do the job. I think that’s exactly what will happen.

Manufacturers won’t actually have free rein to design your truck the way you need it because they’ll be working with a limited databook based on SmartWay specs with approved bits and pieces like tires and fairings and such. And nothing else.

What happens when the wrong truck is shoehorned into a given job? Efficiency is almost always lost. Durability and maybe even safety are compromised too.

, it seems to me, and I have to wonder if they’ve been reading my editorials. Fine by me. The association calls the new regime "a flawed, one-size-fits-all rule."

I agree with them heartily when they say, “This rulemaking basically takes EPA’s SmartWay program and mandates participation – regardless of whether certain technologies are appropriate for a particular operation.”

OOIDA also claims that Washington ignored input from small-business trucking, overlooks less expensive options to achieve EPA goals of reduced emissions, and will ultimately increase new truck costs.

The main less expensive option? Driver training, something I’ve been bleating about for years, because the difference between the best and worst driver in terms of fuel economy is as much as 35%. OOIDA says that "should have been the priority.”
The association charges that "EPA ignored the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and instead developed a rule that will cause many small businesses to keep and rebuild older equipment. In 2010, the academy found evidence that driver training offers potential fuel savings for the trucking sector that rivals the savings available from technology add-ons and mandates. The Academy called for consideration of this alternative before any regulation was developed."

of the stick in all this? Sure did, according to NGVAmerica, the trade association representing the natural gas industry in the vehicle world.

“The rules include some regulatory incentives and flexibility for natural gas trucks but should have gone much further in recognizing the benefits of NGVs,” says NGVAmerica president, Richard Kolodziej. “The rules are designed to address the urgent and closely intertwined challenges of dependence on oil, energy security, urban emissions and global climate change. Natural gas vehicles help achieve all these goals and more.”

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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