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July 22, 2011

Heavy-duty Fuel Efficiency Regs on the Horizon

In case you missed it, the heavy-duty fuel efficiency regulation that the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced jointly last October goes into effect in 2014. This set of mpg rules for medium and heavy trucks was crafted in response to President Bush’s 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act and the Obama Administration’s call for greenhouse gas emissions reduction technologies for commercial vehicles.

Never mind that commercial considerations provide a major incentive for engine and truck manufacturers to deliver the best fuel economy at the most affordable price. It’s yet another example of how regulators and lawmakers are out of touch with the real world. The danger is that fuel economy mandates will bring unintended consequences – like additional costs for technology that don’t pay back over the life of the truck.

The new fuel economy rules will only apply to engines and powered vehicles. Grudgingly, I admit that the agencies have acknowledged that there are different vocations and configurations so the corporate averaging fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards forced on the car guys years ago will not apply in medium and heavy duty. And they have also acknowledged that ton-miles per gallon is a much better yardstick than mpg.

The first regulation hits in 2014 with another standard in 2018 that will raise truck fuel efficiency requirements by 7% to 20% depending on truck type, vocation etc. The consensus from two panels at last November’s American Trucking Associations ATA) annual meeting and more recently at the spring meeting of ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council is that 2014 should not be hard to achieve.

Indeed, a fleet spec’ing EPA SmartWay-recommended fuel-saving components today is likely already at the 2014 fuel savings level and any fleet worth its salt should be doing all it can today to get those savings. More aerodynamic cabs, low rolling resistance tires and so on are what get you there.

An unintended consequence likely will be a reduction in the number of truck models available. Kenworth’s Bill Kozak says this fuel efficiency mandate does sound the death knell for the bluff-fronted traditional tractor typified by his company’s W900L and Peterbilt’s 389.

The retro-look LoneStar, the eye-boggling, sleek-sided, pointy-nosed statement of independence from the International stable will likely remain in the marketplace alongside diehards like the Western Star.

But I digress.

While 2014 is doable with some pain and an available payback in lower fuel use, the next step, 2018, will demand new technologies like turbocompounding, electricity generating surface treatments and so on that will make trucks more expensive. Way more expensive.

This is all on top of the incremental costs imposed by the successive emissions restrictions since October 2002, which, with the latest hitting at the beginning of this year, have added more than $20,000 to the price of a heavy-duty truck chassis.

Outgoing ATA President Tommy Hodges, championing the fleet membership of ATA, pressed hard on this point and shared the general disappointment that as the second shoe drops, fuel economy is something fleets are going to have to pay for, not embrace as a savings.

These mandates are on truck manufacturers, not end users. The OEMs have to deliver, so it makes no difference to fleet operations. However, the way things are going, it may not be long before fleets are required to show how they are reducing their “carbon footprints”. Then individual fuel economy and a shift to biofuels may come into the equation as well.

Greening is enough to make you turn grey.


  1. One concern is that auto makers will produce much lighter cars in order to meet the CAFE regulations. Lighter cars are great for mpg but not so great in case of an accident.
    Car Dealers Omaha

  2. i sure hope people are prepared to face rising shipping costs because thats what is coming in order to offset the rising cost of equipment upgrades, which i feel is a butt load of crap!!!