Under a recently announced rule, the nation's fleet of medium- and heavy-duty trucks must meet fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for the first time beginning with model year 2014. This impacts vehicles from semi trucks to the largest pickups and vans, and all types and sizes of work trucks and buses in between.
For the purposes of the rule, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) define a heavy-duty fleet as all trucks with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) at or above 8,500 lbs. They estimate that the rules will save about 530 million barrels of oil over the life of vehicles built for the 2014 to 2018 model years. This reduced fuel use will allow vehicle owners to realize $50 billion in fuel savings, or $42 billion in net savings when considering technology costs.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) support the efforts to increase fuel economy. "ATA and our members unveiled a sustainability plan for our industry in May of 2008," recalls Glen Kedzie, ATA vice president and environmental counsel. "One of the six pillars in the plan was to support fuel economy standards for trucks that were both economically and technologically feasible. Fuel and labor are the top two operating expenses in the trucking industry. The fuel economy for long-haul trucks has been virtually flatlined over the last 25 years at around 6.0 to 6.5 mpg."
But regulating fuel economy for heavy trucks is much different than setting Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger vehicles. The rule not only addresses trucks that carry freight, but certain vehicles that also transport passengers. Two types of standard metrics were therefore adopted: payload-dependent gram per mile (and gallon per 100 mile) standards for pickups and vans; and gram per ton-mile (and gallon per 1,000 ton-mile) standards for vocational vehicles and combination tractors. These metrics acknowledge that moving heavier loads burns more fuel and emits more CO2 than moving lighter loads.
Complexity addresses different needs
The EPA and NHTSA standards divide heavy trucks into three main categories: combination tractors, heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans and vocational vehicles. Regulation targets will be phased in with model years 2014 through 2018.
Certain combination tractors (also known as semi trucks) will be required to achieve approximately 20% reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018. This would save of up to 4 gal. of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.
For heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, separate standards are required for gas- and diesel-powered models. These vehicles will be required to achieve up to about a 15% reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018.
Vocational vehicles must reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 10% by model year 2018. This could save an average of 1 gal. of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.
At first glance, the heavy truck fuel standards seem complex. This was by design. "We are not a one-size-fits-all type of industry," says Kedzie. The EPA and NHTSA worked closely with the entire industry, including engine, truck and tire manufacturers.
The ATA was also intimately involved in every stage. "We tried to make sure regulators understood the difference between regulation of automobiles and light-duty vehicles with CAFE standards and the regulation of trucks," says Kedzie.
The result is there are different targets depending upon the type of truck and its intended application. "A lot of thought went into this," Kedzie explains. "The different bins that you are placed into will have different targets, both on the vehicle side of the equation and the engine side of the equation. It is a very different and very unique approach compared to CAFE standards for cars."