Obama orders fuel efficiency standards for trucks

WASHINGTON — For the first time, heavy- and medium-duty trucks will have to comply with national mileage and emissions standards.

President Obama made the announcement this morning at the White House. He ordered the DOT and the EPA to work together in bringing out specific fuel efficiency benchmarks for 2014-2018 model highway and work trucks, with possibly tougher standards expected beyond.

Cars and light trucks will also have to comply with new rules between 2012 and 2016. They will be expected to hit a 40 percent improvement, averaging 35.5 miles per gallon over the next five years.

Commercial truck engines will reduce GHG emissions by 20 percent while increasing fuel efficiency by as much as 25 percent. The specific standard, though, will likely vary depending on vehicle size and type of freight.

Provisions are said to ensure that any such standards applicable to medium and heavy-duty vehicles must be established in a way that "recognizes the commercial needs of the trucking industry and the demands of heavy-duty applications."

It’s likely that regulators will take into account the variety of freight and weight on the highway by measuring fuel efficiency by gallons per ton-mile.

According to Mack Trucks Volvo Trucks’ President Denny Slagle, the rule will also take into consideration "technology improvement opportunities across the entire vehicle and its operation, is compatible with the complexities of the marketplace, and avoids unintended consequences."

Reportedly, many of the measures in the rule aimed at reducing fuel consumed by trucks include familiar EPA SmartWay initiatives such as aerodynamic devices, low rolling- and wide-base single tires, and anti-idling technology.

Much of the trucking industry, including manufacturers and the American Trucking Association, seem to support the rule. The fact that plenty of fuel-saving devices and products already exist and are widely being utilized today appears to have made the standards easy to swallow.

"Cummins recognizes the need for a consistent and responsible set of standards to address the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels," said Cummins Chairman and CEO Tim Solso, who, along with several other OEM leaders, in attendance at the White House event.

North of the border, Canadian truckers are more skeptical — at least over how Canada is planning to piggyback on the Americans’ standard. Rather than simply harmonizing the U.S. rule, the Canadian Trucking Alliance wants Ottawa to work with it on its Envirotruck initiative.

“Trucking is not a homogenous industry,” says David Bradley, adding "you can’t simply take US standards and superimpose them on Canada." 

The standards will also include incentives toward the purchase of electric vehicles — something that is sure to make hybrid vehicle makers happy.

In anticipation today’s announcement, CALSTART released a report touting the benefits of rules that improve truck fuel economy.

The report states that truck owners could save more than US $120,000 per tractor-trailer in less than a decade, if average fuel economy is improved by just 3.7 mpg, assuming fuel prices are at $3.50 per gallon. Of course, the savings would be more as diesel costs rise.

"Smart federal policy, including clear, long-term performance standards and financial incentives, would help truck owners and the industry make the transition and stimulate the economy at the same time," said Van Amburg, senior vice-president of CALSTART. 

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