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One-year payback predicted when fuel economy standards take effect

DALLAS, Texas -- When phase one of the NHTSA/EPA fuel economy standards for medium and heavy trucks goes into effect with model year 2014 vehicles, most progressive fleets will not have to spec' trucks any differently than they do today.


DALLAS, Texas — When phase one of the NHTSA/EPA fuel economy standards for medium and heavy trucks goes into effect with model year 2014 vehicles, most progressive fleets will not have to spec’ trucks any differently than they do today.

If you’re currently spec’ing fuel-efficient trucks, the early requirements are already likely being met. Which begs the question: ‘Why bother, then?’

Faced with that very question at the American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition, Cheryl Bynum, manager of the EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership, noted 80% of US trucks belong to fleets with 20 or fewer vehicles, and they’re not necessarily spec’ing the most fuel-efficient trucks.

“Leading fleets are already doing a lot of this,” Bynum admitted, when listing some of the technologies that will be employed by OEMs to meet the 2014 standard. “But there are a lot of trucks on the road that are not operated by leading fleets.”

Some of the technologies that may be used to meet the 2014 fuel standard include: chassis fairings; low rolling resistance tires; lightweight components; speed governing; anti-idling devices; and auto-shutdown features. Bynum said the NHTSA and EPA had a hard time figuring out why said technologies weren’t already being used by all trucking companies?

“This was one of the primary discussions we had,” she said. “If these technologies pay back in three years or less, why isn’t everyone using them if the trucking industry has thin profit margins and fuel is the second highest cost after the driver?”

The government’s answer was to mandate their use. The new fuel economy standards will focus both on the truck and the engine. The trailer escapes the NHTSA/EPA’s scrutiny, for now.

“When EPA/NHTSA began looking at this, we realized trailers are very complicated,” she said. “We felt that for right now, it was better to defer action on trailers. We did state the intention at some point in the future to regulate trailers but we’re not doing it as part of this rulemaking.”

The new requirements will see truck fuel efficiency improve from 10-23% between 2014 and 2018, depending on vehicle type. Phase one will focus on currently available technologies while the more aggressive 2017 standard will require advanced technologies such as waste heat recovery.

“There is going to be a tremendous amount of fuel savings from this rule,” Bynum said. “It’s going to be the most beneficial rule we’ve done for vehicles since the EPA began regulating vehicles.”

The onus will be on the truck and engine manufacturers to increase the uptake on their fuel-saving options. There will, however, be changes to how fleets spec’ trucks as a result of the rules.

Take for example speed limiters. OEMs will receive credits for selling a speed-limited truck, but only if the speed setting is hardwired and tamper-proof. If a fleet wishes to spec’ a speed-limited truck with a setting that expires at a certain mileage (prior to resale, perhaps), or one that provides drivers with an extra boost of power for passing or to reward fuel-efficient driving, the OEM will be docked credits accordingly. Therefore, you can expect manufacturers to encourage fleets to order trucks that will be permanently governed.

One fleet manager in attendance wondered aloud if trucking companies will enjoy extra leverage with OEMs when spec’ing options that allow the truck and engine manufacturer to maximize the credits they earn on the sale.

The biggest change, Bynum noted, is that truck dealers and manufacturers will now have a greater incentive to encourage the uptake of fuel-saving technologies.

“Manufacturers didn’t have an incentive to offer a lot of aluminum on the truck unless the fleet asked for it, now they have incentive,” she said. “There wasn’t an incentive to talk to fleets about vehicle speed limiters, now they have an incentive.”

She also suggested fleets will benefit because the latter stages of the program will require OEs to spend the money to develop more efficient engines.

“You as a fleet may not have the clout to convince the engine manufacturers to spend millions of dollars to design new engines. This is going to help the engine manufacturers improve the efficiency of their engines,” she said.

When asked how the NHTSA and EPA will ensure fuel-saving options aren’t tampered with (chassis fairings removed, for example), Bynum didn’t have an answer. She said an upcoming compliance workshop will look to provide some answers on how to ensure a fuel-efficient truck stays that way throughout its useful life.

Some fleet managers in attendance, nervous that they’ll be forced to use devices that are not practical in their application, were assured they will continue to have access to trucks that don’t meet the standard. Manufacturers will be measured across all their sales, so while not every vehicle they sell will have to meet the standards, the average must fall within the accepted range. OEMs also will have the opportunity to collect credits in advance of the 2014 standard if they comply with the fuel standard early – and it seems likely they will. Freightliner officials indicated at a press event preceding the ATA convention that they hope to meet the 2014 standard by next year.

EPA’s Bynum repeatedly emphasized the benefits for trucking companies. She indicated a Class 8 truck in 2018 may cost $6,220 more than today, but over its lifetime it will reduce fuel consumption by 26,150 gallons providing a lifetime fuel savings of US$79,100 based on $3/gallon fuel. That translates to a one-year payback. A medium-duty vocational truck, meanwhile, will see its purchase price increase only $380, saving 2,000 gallons of fuel over its lifetime, delivering US$5,900 in fuel savings and also providing a one-year payback.

“Fleets said they wanted an 18- to 24-month payback,” she said. “That’s what we aimed for and I think we did a good job of doing that.”


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