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EPA-DOT drop fuel efficiency axe

WASHINGTON -- Starting with model-year 2014 and running through 2018, trucks from class 3 to 8 will have to meet new fuel-efficiency and emissions standards proposed today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Buses will also be included in the mandate but trailers will not, though the latter will be addressed in the future. Off-road vehicles are so far immune.

As expected, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson introduced the rule during a Washington-based telephone press conference today.

At a quick read, the joint proposal is rife with the possibility of confusion in terms of how vehicles are described, and both Jackson and LaHood were decidedly foggy on this point during the press conference. They refer to all these class 3-8 vehicles as "heavy" -- never clearly addressing medium-duty trucks, broadly seen as class 5 to 7, as distinct from class 3-4.

"For purposes of this proposal, the heavy-duty fleet incorporates all on-road vehicles rated at a gross vehicle weight at or above 8,500 lb," a joint EPA/NHTSA press release says.

For heavy tractors pulling trailers, the rule proposes combined engine and vehicle standards that will achieve between a 7 and 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption by 2018. 

Washington doesn't exactly have a sterling
record in predicting the costs associated
with mandates like this one.

For "vocational" vehicles, and we believe medium-duty trucks are included here, the agencies are proposing engine and vehicle standards that would achieve up to a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by the 2018 model year.

For class 3-5 trucks -- oddly characterized by LaHood and Jackson as "light-heavy" vehicles -- the agencies are proposing separate gasoline and diesel truck standards, which phase in starting in the 2014 model year and achieve up to a 10 percent reduction for gasoline vehicles and 15 percent reduction for diesels by 2018. Meeting the mandate for these trucks is voluntary in 2014 and 2015, though not for the other classes.

LaHood suggested that the fuel savings represented in the new rules over the lives of these trucks and buses would account for 500 million barrels of oil and 250 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions within the mandate's first five years.

"Lifetime" wasn't defined during the press conference, and so far we haven't found reference to it in the whopping great 673-page rulemaking proposal.

The jointly proposed performance standards cover not only engines but also the complete vehicle, and the two agencies seem to think that the EPA's well established SmartWay program will provide a model for these mandated efficiency gains with its rating system for tires and aerodynamic aids and the like. The industry agrees, by and large, for at least the early stages of the new rules. After that, new technologies will be required and the price tags attached to them are completely unknown.

During the press conference, however, NHTSA spokesman Ron Medford said linehaul truck operators would see "really quick payback on small investments." Without explaining how the figure was arrived at, he said truck operators would be investing some $5,900 in buying a compliant truck while saving as much as $74,000 at the pump over the vehicle's life.

Washington does not have a sterling record in predicting the costs associated with mandates such as this one, it's worth noting. And in this case, the first-ever attempt to demand specific levels of truck efficiency, the EPA and NHTSA, by their own admission, are working on an assumption that it's possible.

"This is a transition to more fuel efficiency," said the EPA's Jackson, "that allows the private sector to rise and meet the challenge, as it usually does."

Later in the press conference she responded to a todaystrucking.com question by saying that manufacturers -- and truck operators, presumably -- can use any number of means to reach the standard, weight reduction being one of the simpler ones. The proposal also suggests that alternative fuels and technologies hybrid or electric powertrains can be employed.

To their credit, the EPA and NHTSA say they're aware of the danger of "unintended consequences" in forcing the broad variety of work vehicles to adhere to these standards.

They're also aware that not all vehicles carry payloads of goods or equipment, and thus work and efficiency can't be measured the same way across the board.

The press release announcing the proposal puts it this way: "To account for this in the regulatory program, two types of standard metrics are proposed: 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 proposed for vocational vehicles and combination tractors. These proposed metrics account for the fact that the work to move heavier loads burns more fuel, and emits more CO2 than in moving lighter loads."

The proposed rulemaking is both long and complex, so reaction so far has been limited.

Among the most direct was a statement by Kyle Treadway, chairman of the American Truck Dealers.

"Dealers support improving fuel economy for medium and heavy-duty trucks," said the owner of Kenworth Sales in Salt Lake City, Utah. "However, today's fuel-economy proposal for model years 2014-18 is expected to add thousands of dollars to the cost per truck. We are concerned that this could price some buyers out of the market.

"To its credit, the Administration clearly is attempting to tailor its mandates to specific vehicle subclasses and to each manufacturer's unique production.

"These first-ever truck rules will govern how new medium and heavy-duty trucks are built for sale. If technologically feasible and economically practical, they should result in vehicles that commercial fleets, owner/operators and small businesses will want to buy, at prices they can afford. If not, truck dealers, their employees and the economy in general will suffer without environmental and national security benefits being achieved."

Paccar assistant vice president Craig Brewster had this to say: "Now that the proposed rule has been released, it provides more direction for our development programs. There are still many questions and we look forward to working with the EPA to address the open items. We're pleased to have the opportunity to provide input to EPA, prior to publication of the final rule next year."

Look for more coverage of this groundbreaking mandate as we digest the mammoth proposal in more detail.

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All well and good only if the US government them selves abide /mandate to cut fuel consumption of all emiting engines including armed forces and the space program.

The old clich? "it takes two to tango" is very much a fact here: While improving vehicle fuel economy is certainly a laudable goal, our various levels of government must also improve the road surface condition! Potholes, patched-up ashphalt, cracks in cement roadways etc are well known to increase fuel consumption up to 20%. Interstates 69 (MI), I-94 (IL, WI, MN), certain sections of Hwy 401 and Hwy 17 (ON), Hwy 20 & 40 (QC) to name a chosen few, are but a sample of roadways in such deplorable condition!

Moreover, proper driver training and driving with the brain instead of the computer, would probably also result in better fuel economy.

Case in point: During the 3 years I drove my own 1991 Navistar International 8300 highway tractor with a Cummins N14 engine mated to an Eaton-Fuller 15 direct over and 4:1 rears, hauling tri-axle LTL trailers averaging 105,000 lbs gross weights from Toronto to the Canadian Maritimes @ 165,000 miles/year, my fuel consumption average for the entire 36 months was 34.26 L/100 km....or 6.83 mp(US)g for the metrically challenged. Mind you, I kept idling to a minimum; my top speed - cruise-less - at 105 km/h and used a Webasto Heater as well.