The Right Way

There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to do just about anything, some say, but in fact there’s always a zillion variations on right and probably about as many on wrong. Hardly ever — except maybe in mathematics — is there a single option in either case. The result is what counts.

That said, I’ve long maintained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — followed by Ottawa — has been just plain wrong in its approach to heavy-duty diesel emissions.

Sure, the result has been clean diesels, but our part of the North American industrial economy has spent untold billions of dollars to get there. We’ve done a remarkable job, and in most cases today’s motor exhausts air that’s cleaner than the stuff it sucked in to get the fire going. But the extraordinary expense and the extreme disruption were not, in my unhumble opinion, worth it because we could have achieved the same result by other, less draconian means.

I think that a legislated campaign to limit idling, and even the promotion of route-optimization software, would have gone a long way in reducing fuel consumption and thus the amount of harmful emissions. Combine those two with further gains in aerodynamics from truck and trailer manufacturers and especially with fuel-efficiency improvements from engine makers and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with a collective net emissions tally not far off where we are now.

As it is, we’ve lost serious ground on the fuel-economy front, having wasted at least 5 percent, maybe 10 percent or even more in some cases, on the various emissions-control strategies that the engine folks have had to employ since 2002. The untold billions of dollars spent on emissions since then, money that will never be recovered by the added cost of $10,000 or so per engine, could have been more profitably spent on combustion efficiency and the like. We’ve done that anyway, but every gain there has been more than offset by the emissions penalty.

But I’ll even allow that the EPA could also have established emissions standards. They could likely have been less rigorous and achieved the same result, I think, in combination with the other means I’ve described. And the whole thing could have been accomplished without the pre-buy phenomenon if some imagination and a broad view had been applied to the task.

What we have yet to see, and what could still make a huge difference, is a system of incentives and disincentives to encourage adoption — instead of avoidance — of the latest clean engines. I write this after having spent quite a lot of time lately in Europe, talking about engines and emissions with three different manufacturers.

Truck makers there can’t keep up with the demand, partly because of Russia’s exploding economy. But also because of the European approach to new emissions legislation.

Rather than creating ugly pre-buy situations, incentives — national, not Europe-wide — have made it attractive for fleets to comply with both the current standard and even the next one. Euro 4 rules, for instance, came into effect in 2005, but truck buyers have been able to buy Euro 5 vehicles since last year even though the standard doesn’t apply until October 2008 (it’s roughly equivalent to EPA ’07). Euro 6 may be very similar to EPA 2010, but it’s not yet formed and won’t come before October 2012.

Nonetheless, engine makers say they’ll have Euro 6 engines on the street ASAP.

In some countries the incentives are very real, and the disincentives severe. In Austria, for instance, there’s a night-driving ban on trucks that don’t meet the Euro 5 standard. In London, trucks face a fee of about $500 — per day! — to enter the city if they aren’t up to at least the Euro 4 standard and employ a diesel particulate filter.

Germany has offered a significant per-kilometer road-toll discount — two Euro cents per kilometer — since 2005 for trucks employing Euro 4 or Euro 5 technology. In England there’s a $1000 discount on annual registration fees for Euro 5 trucks, and it continues for the life of the truck, not just for the first owner.

Not surprisingly, given that the upcharge for Euro 5 over Euro 4 is only about $2200 net, most big fleets are going with the newest technology. And by ‘most’, I mean almost all — at DAF, anyway, 95 percent of new truck sales are for Euro 5 machines.

There’s a political side to this too. Fleets over there like to be seen going ‘green’, I’m told, and that’s not to mention better resale value enjoyed by trucks built to the latest spec.

Could it be any more different than the situation we have here? Not much. Is it better? Yep.

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

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