WHERE’S THE LEADERSHIP?

Rolf Lockwood

October 7, 2009 Vol. 5, No. 20

Those of you who read this newsletter more or less regularly will know that I have an international perspective on trucks and trucking. Canadian I may be, but there’s really not enough happening here on the cutting edge to hold my interest for very long at all. For the most part, our efforts to push the technology envelope are weak or old hat or both.

As an industry we seek political support and government funding for our forays into ‘high tech’ trucking efficiency by parading old ideas before the politicians. Like trailer skirts and APUs and such. Don’t get me wrong — those gizmos work, and good aerodynamics in particular can mean very serious fuel savings. Fleets that don’t exploit those possibilities to the nth degree are just plain dumb.

But the problem is that politicians are dumber, and they’re led to believe that such tools are the best we can achieve. So incentive funding has been pretty much limited to getting a couple of grand to help buy those skirts and APUs. Not good enough.

There’s simply no urge at the political level to leap any further. Sure, the diesel/electric hybrid is getting some traction these days, as it should, and there’s now a little bit of funding to bolster practical development of that technology at street level. But really, we’re nowhere in terms of government leadership. Nowhere at all.

So it’s left to individual fleets and fleet managers to explore the possible. One of the best is Chris Hill who runs the City of Hamilton fleet. He has a sense of techno-adventure and wins awards to prove it. There are others, of course, mostly amongst the municipal and utility fleets.

No wonder, then, that I look elsewhere. Turning to Washington and other points to my immediate south is fruitful. Obviously, in this context size matters. Economies of scale are at work here so it’s no surprise that more is happening here. Of course, almost all the relevant manufacturers are resident there as well.

It goes beyond that, though. Perhaps because energy security is such a big issue in the U.S., there’s real interest in technological exploration. I think some of the decisions made by the likes of the Environmental Protection Agency and the draconian California Air Resources Board are crudely conceived, sometimes ill-advised, but at least there’s serious money being set aside for innovation.

The U.S. House, if anybody doesn’t know this, recently passed a bill that would authorize additional appropriations totaling US$2.85 billion over the 2010-2014 period for the Department of Energy to support a broad range of research activities for advanced technology vehicles. Not small change.

And every once in a while I hear sensible things said, and sincerely, I think. I was struck, for example, by words recently attributed to Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator, air and radiation, for the EPA. Speaking at the Clean Diesel Technology showcase held in Washington a couple of weeks back, she said that more financial tools are needed to help small trucking outfits keep up with the big fleets in buying cleaner trucks. If only to speed up the process of getting rid of older machinery that’s not so air-friendly. Nor as efficient in cost terms, of course.

I’ll never hear such common sense from a Canadian bureaucrat or politician.

But I turn to Europe when I’m looking for serious attempts to embrace new technologies. Energy security is obviously an issue there too, and fuel costs are three times those in the U.S., twice what’s paid in Canada, so they have to be on the cutting edge across the pond.

Rolf Lockwood

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

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