2021: The Medium-Duty Emissions Odyssey

Medium-duty trucks are going to change in Model Year 2021. GHG Phase 2 emissions rules will require better fuel economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Medium-duty spec’ing processes will change
with the second phase of GHG rules

TORONTO, Ont. — The next round of greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations is due in 2021, but the model year of trucks affected by the rule will actually hit the road about two years from now. And while fleets that operate Class 7 and 8 heavy-duty trucks are already losing sleep over the rule, a significant share of the population operating medium-duty trucks doesn’t even know these rules exist.

They’re the kinds of trucks operated by businesspeople and contractors who sees vehicle as a tool for some other business. Think electricians, landscapers, bakers, and plumbers. Their passion is their business, not the truck they use.

“Back when the 2007 and 2010, soot and NOx emissions rules kicked in. We had to educate our customers on those changes, as dramatic as they were,” says Brian Tabel, executive director of marketing for Isuzu Commercial Truck of America. “Most of them didn’t know the change was in place, but they sure noticed the price jump between 2006 and 2010 [Model Year] trucks. Customers that had bought pre-emissions 2006 trucks and were shopping for another one in 2010 were shocked. They were mostly utterly unaware of the changes that had occurred over the past 10 years.”

Tabel and others in the medium-duty market are hoping there will be some awareness of the next round of changes. With them will come improved fuel efficiency, which they probably will notice, and a more complex vehicle. Ensuring those vehicles comply with the new rules will be challenging.

The regulation, Phase 2 of the Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas and Fuel Efficiency Standards, is a comprehensive set of engine and vehicle standards jointly adopted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Together they promote technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve vehicle fuel efficiency in three stages for model-years 2021, 2024 and 2027. It builds on standards set in 2012 for Model Year 2014 and 2017 vehicles, which is where we are today.

Canada has its own greenhouse gas regulation, aligning Canadian emission standards and test procedures with those in the U.S., while respecting the different regulatory environments — and to some extent, the differences in how Americans and Canadians spec’ and use trucks.

By 2027, the rules that apply to Class 2B and 3 trucks, pickups, and vans will require lower carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption to be 16% lower than those seen in Phase 1. Class 4-6 vehicles will need carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption to be 24% lower than Phase 1.

These are significant changes for vehicles that won’t maximize the benefit of improved aerodynamics.

In the on-highway sector, a high percentage of the overall reduction in exhaust emissions will come from enhanced aerodynamics. In the medium-duty and vocational sectors, improvements will come from changes in engine and powertrain efficiency, lightweighting, Low Rolling Resistance tires, and tire pressure management.

Developing strategies

It’s still early in the development phase, but OEMs are establishing strategies to comply with the rules. Few were willing to share what they are working on, but Darren Gosbee, Navistar’s vice-president of engineering, says the improvement in medium-duty vehicles will come from the engine and the chassis separately. In this case, we’re talking about straight trucks and delivery vans in Class 3-6 territory.

“On the engine side, OEMs will be working to improve combustion efficiency as well as the gas exchange process — how efficiently you get the outside air into the combustion chamber and back out again — and to reduce parasitic or friction losses within the engine — oil and water pumps, engine gear train, piston rings, etc.,” Gosbee says. “Mild-hybridization is going to factor in the medium-duty environment. You’ll probably see engine stop/start technology coupled with energy recovery mechanisms such as regenerative braking and more-efficient electric technology, depending on the class and duty cycle.”

On the chassis side, the reductions in carbon dioxide will come from shedding weight, reducing parasitic losses in the powertrain through more efficient axles, and with Low Rolling Resistance tires and tire pressure management systems.

“Transmissions have a big role to play, too,” Gosbee says. “It comes down to the relative efficiencies of torque-convertor automatics versus dual-clutch automated transmission, versus manual with direct gearing. Manual transmissions are the most efficient, technically speaking, but the least popular with medium-duty consumers.”

On the heavy-duty side, customers will have options to get vehicles to comply, and the OEMs will earn greenhouse gas credits based on how efficient the vehicle turns out to be. The OEs will be incentivizing certain technologies to ensure more of them are adopted. Since there are fewer options to tinker with in the medium-duty domain, the manufacturers will be building trucks that help with their compliance pathway, with less input from the customer.

“In medium duty, the choices are more limited and the OE’s choices for controlling greenhouse gas take on a different form,” says Gosbee. “Technology may have to be forced onto a truck that customers may not necessarily want.”

Tabel says many of Isuzu’s traditional customer base many not be aware of the pending changes to their equipment, and they probably won’t worry about it. Where it will matter is on the maintenance and operational side.

“Most of our customer base don’t know much about truck maintenance,” he says. “We went through all this with the 2007 and 2010 changes. When the check-engine-light came on they ignored it, and some face some pretty expensive repairs. We be doing a whole new round of customer training and education when the 2021 trucks hit the street.”

The case for electric

Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) could be ideal candidates to replace conventionally powered light- and medium-duty trucks in segments where the technology suits the application. There’s a lot of talk about range anxiety, but a recent study by National Renewable Energy Laboratories of a delivery fleet in the Seattle area shows that matching the routes to a truck’s capability — rather than forcing the electric truck to replicate diesel duty cycles — was a better indicator of their potential to replace some diesel trucks.

In studying PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America diesel and electric vehicles, the organization found that average daily driving time for both electric and diesel units was just 1.5 hours, with most of the electric vehicles running less than 70 km per day and consuming significantly less (55 kWh) than the battery’s 80-kWh capacity.

Details of this study were described in the recently released guidance report from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, Electric Trucks Where They Make Sense.

Tabel says Isuzu customers have traditionally bought one truck for all their routes.

“There’s room there to optimize the truck to the route — long routes for the diesels, and shorter for gasoline or maybe electric trucks,” he says. “When you look at the possible complexity of the 2021 and beyond vehicle, battery-electric truck could make a lot of sense for the consumer.”

Isuzu now has five trucks set to go into a year-long customer field test to see if they will stand up to the way customers use them, as opposed to building a truck based on expected or theoretical algorithms.

There are already many viable electric vehicles in medium-duty service bearing nameplates like Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Chanje, BYD, Workhorse, and others. We now have electric refuse vehicles from Mack, Volvo, and Daimler. But where are the medium-duty freight trucks from the big-four? Navistar has announced that, in partnership with Volkswagen Truck & Bus, it will have a medium-duty BEV truck and an electric school bus available “probably by the 2020 timeframe.”

Volvo has just announced two BEV platforms the will run in Europe by 2019. It’s pure speculation on our part, but could those trucks, with VNR cabs, be ready for North America by 2021?

Today’s Trucking contacted several OEM for this story, including General Motors, Fuso, Paccar, and others, but they declined to offer comments.

With a range of up to 300 km, Volvo’s FE electric Class 7 will be in service in Europe by 2019. Will we see it with a VNR cab here in 2021?

BEVs & GHG Phase 2

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Phase 2 rules for 2021 could be what jump starts the electric revolution. It won’t be Tesla’s Electric Semi that first hits the streets, but more likely a panel van or delivery truck from the likes of Workhorse, Chanje, Mitsubishi Fuso, Isuzu, or even Volvo or Navistar. Within the medium-duty domain, hundreds of Class 4,5 and 6 trucks and vans are already in revenue service in many parts of the U.S. (few if any are here in Canada so far), with big carriers like United Parcel Service, FedEx, Frito Lay, and others.

As regulations put the squeeze on carbon dioxide emissions for vocational and medium-duty trucks, truck makers will be looking for ways to generate emissions credits and to offset any potential credit imbalance. Through the magic of credits earned on more-efficient vehicles — like battery-electric vehicles (BEV) — manufactures could afford to apply less drastic measures to their fleet of conventionally powered vehicles. The U.S. and Canadian regulations for BEVs include credit multipliers as incentives to OEMs thinking about qualifying advanced technologies into their vehicles.

“For every battery electric vehicle an OEM puts into the medium-duty domain, there is a multiplier that can offset, I believe, up to five diesel trucks,” says Darren Gosbee, vice-president of engineering at Navistar. “It will be very advantageous to an OEM to have electric vehicles in their portfolio to help with corporate averaging.”

According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), “… adopting multipliers in this range would make these technologies much more competitive with the conventional technologies, and could allow manufacturers to more easily generate a viable business case to develop these technologies and bring them to market at a competitive price.”

Producers of electric vehicles will also be earning greenhouse gas credits on electric vehicles they sell, but they are useless to the producers because there’s no need to offset non-conforming vehicles. They can, however, sell those credits to companies that make diesels.

“Valuation of credits in the averaging, banking and trading model has been questioned because why would a company sell a credit to a competitor,” says Rick Mihelic, North American Council for Freight Efficiency program manager and co-author of the recently published guidance report, Electric Trucks Where They Make Sense.

“In the case of a company that makes just electric vehicles, it’s a great opportunity to help offset the cost of those electric trucks by selling their useless GHG credits to manufacturers that need them.”





Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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