Just as I warned in my column “Face Reality” a few months ago, the US government is done skirting around with reducing greenhouse gas emisisons from trucks. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) division are calling for an improvement in overall fuel efficiency on class 8 long-haul vehicles of up to 20% by 2018, using 2010 as a baseline. Expect Canada to follow suit.
Heavy truck engines will have to be tweaked to contribute a 3% improvement in fuel consumption by 2014, but the remaining gains in efficiency will have to be found through decreased tire rolling resistance, lower tare weights, reduced idling and one thing some drivers won’t be happy about: improved aerodynamics. That’s right, more of those “slippery” trucks as some of you like to call them.
If the high fuel prices we saw earlier this decade and the low rates we are seeing now were not enough to kill the classic long nose conventional, over the next decade this legislation certainly will. This classic design, which is the hands down choice of many owner/operators (and company drivers if they could convince management to get into one) used to account for 25% of Class 8 sales back in 2000 but has now dropped to less than 6% of the North American market.
But that’s a very vocal 6%, as I found out this year after penning a couple of columns predicting the end of the long nose conventional in our industry. The folks that drive them just don’t want to let them go. Many have bought into the image of a long haul trucker as being behind the wheel of this classic design. And they were not too happy when I suggested they should perhaps think otherwise. I’m still getting angry calls about those columns.
Well, folks, this new legislation is a sharp dose of reality. The long nose conventional is doomed. It really is the dinosaur everyone outside North America thinks it to be, and will not make it past the next decade without significant redesign. But don’t take my word for it, read what Automotive World had to say in a recent article: “Those iconic flat-fronted, long bonneted heavy trucks, often dripping with chrome, which are beloved of many North American drivers and other transport traditionalists, are set to be outlawed by US fuel efficiency/CO2 emission standards. Or listen to what Bill Kozek, general manager of Paccar’s Kenworth division, believes: He told the American Trucking Associations recently that ‘long and tall cowboy trucks will go away’, citing as an example his own company’s W900 tractor range. Why? Because their aerodynamic drag would incur unacceptable penalties under the new CO2/fuel-efficiency rules.
The outward appearance of the traditional long nose conventional has not changed much since the 1950s; it’s too much of a sacred cow. As a result they are heavier, carry less payload, and suck up more gas.
Killing this sacred cow has nothing to do with disrespect for image or tradition. It has everything to do with coming up with an efficient design most likely to give fleets and owner/operators a chance to improve their bottom lines.
And at the end of the day, that’s what smart business decisions should be about.
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis