First-ever truck fuel efficiency rules unveiled

WASHINGTON –Heavy-duty tractor-trailers will be required to reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by over 20 percent compared to current baselines over the next six years.

The Obama administration today unveiled some of the details of its previously announced program to achieve stringent fuel consumption targets from nine to 23 percent for commercial vehicles depending on the design and purpose of the vehicle.

Different measuring sticks will be applied to each vehicle category, covering semi trucks, heavy-duty pickups and vans, and vocational vehicles.

The program — developed jointly by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with stakeholders from the trucking industry and environmental groups — was supposed to be unveiled at a facility in Springfield, Va., but the trip was abruptly cancelled. The president instead made the announcement at the White House.

In order to meet lofty fuel and GHG reduction
targets, only a fraction of savings
will be found at the power source.

According to the blueprint announced today, model 2014-2018 semi trucks are expected to save an average of 4 gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled by 2017, depending on the type of vehicle. The rules take effect in 2014.

Semi trucks and vocational truck standards are calculated by dividing gallons of fuel consumed and grams of CO2 emissions per mile by tons of freight hauled.

Specifically, the agencies have adopted separate yearly standards for nine subcategories of combination tractors based on three main attributes — weight class; cab type (day cab or sleeper); and roof height (low, medium, and high roof).

"This flexible structure allows serious but achievable fuel efficiency improvement goals charted for each year and for each vehicle category and type," the agencies said in a press release.

For heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, separate standards are required for gasoline-powered and diesel trucks. Gasoline trucks will be have to achieve up to 10 percent savings in fuel consumption and GHG emissions by model year 2018, while diesel trucks will have to reach 15-percent.

These trucks are expected to save about one gallon for every 100 miles.

The same goes for vocational vehicles — including delivery trucks, buses, and garbage trucks – which will need to hit 10-percent savings by 2017.

Trailers are not covered because, the agency says, of the "first-ever nature of this program and the agencies’ limited experience working in a compliance context with the trailer manufacturing industry."

However, trailers as individual components, aren’t off the hook. "We intend to include them in a future rulemaking," the agencies say.

EPA has additionally adopted standards to control HFC leakage from air conditioning systems in pickups and vans and combination tractors.

The joint standards, "cover not only engines but also complete vehicles, allowing the agencies to achieve the greatest possible reductions in fuel consumption and GHG emissions, while avoiding unintended consequences."

In order to meet the lofty targets, it’s widely believed that only a fraction of the carbon and emissions savings will be found at the power source.

Gains will also need to be achieved through various combinations of improvements to tires, aerodynamic designs and add-ons as well as anti-idling devices and other technologies, such as those commonly used by fleets participating in EPA’s voluntary SmartWay program.

In fact, the agencies say the new rules are rooted in SmartWay.

"In developing this HD National Program, the agencies have drawn from the SmartWay Transport Partnership Program experience to identify technologies as well as operational approaches that fleet owners, drivers, and freight customers can incorporate."

Reaction from the truck manufacturing community is expected to be generally positive.

Navistar International was one of the first OEMs to comment on the announcement:

"With this rule, EPA and NHTSA have now set an example for what could be a worldwide GHG and fuel efficiency regulation for heavy duty trucks and engines."

Meanwhile, Canada continues to work on its own like-minded regulatory framework.

Environment Canada says it is committed to reducing total emissions from trucks by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

For complete details of the US standards and how they pertain to various truck classes and types, click here

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