Putting a muzzle on the guzzle

PICKUPS and sport utility vehicles have long been called “gas guzzlers,” particularly by those who move down the road on four wheels and four cylinders.

Can the term “diesel guzzlers” be far behind now that the federal government has announced its intent to place fuel economy standards on medium and heavy trucks?

As of January 1, 2010, exhaust emission limits went into effect that were virtually unimaginable to achieve a few years ago. Somehow, truck and engine manufacturers met the challenge. The 2010 trucks actually are capable, in some conditions, of emitting cleaner at the tailpipe than what is taken in at the intake manifold. Engineers achieved that goal while keeping the tops of frame rails clean and without appreciably affecting our industry's ability to install truck bodies and equipment.

Now truck and engine manufacturers are being asked to work similar magic in the area of fuel economy.

With some degree of fanfare, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency last month jointly announced a regulatory first: fuel economy standards on medium- and heavy-duty trucks. In the mind of the regulators, that means any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating at or above 8500 pounds. That threshold, of course, means the regulation will apply to virtually every vehicle that our industry touches — from ¾-ton pickups upfit with a ladder rack to the highway tractors that pull the trailers we sell.

The proposal addresses three classes of vehicles: highway tractors, pickups and vans with GVW ratings at or above 8500 pounds, and vocational trucks. In addition to regulations addresses fuel economy, EPA is planning additional rules on air-conditioning-related emissions of pickups, vans, and tractors.

It's a far-reaching program, but one that the regulators say will provide a wide range of benefits to society in general and even for the folks who are being regulated. They believe their ideas will result in:

  • A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 250 million metric tons.

  • Savings of approximately 500 million barrels of oil over the life of those vehicles sold during 2014 to 2018 model years.

  • A decrease in CO2 emissions from the US heavy-duty fleet of approximately 72 million metric tons by 2030.

EPA and NHTSA estimate that the regulations would cost the truck buyers approximately $7.7 billion, but society would benefit to the tune of $49 billion. Some of the benefit would go directly to the owners of the trucks. EPA and NHTSA estimate the improved fuel economy would pay for the increased purchase price of the trucks in one to five years, depending upon annual miles driven.

The early response has been generally favorable, but in certain cases tempered by the realization that if this proposal isn't implemented, the feds will go with a more painful plan instead. For example, the American Trucking Associations immediately voiced its support. In the opinion of ATA, “carbon emission reductions achieved through national truck fuel economy standards are preferable to government actions that increase fuel prices in an effort to discourage petroleum-based diesel fuel consumption or mandate the use of alternative fuels.”

Can truck manufacturers offer vehicles with 20% better fuel economy? Immediately after the government announced its plans, Navistar responded that it would work with EPA and NHTSA to achieve these goals. And even before the government's announcement, Isuzu said at the NTEA Truck Product Conference that it has achieved a 20% fuel economy improvement on its new NPR cabover chassis (see story, Page 34).

The diesel exhaust regulations that took effect this year had little effect on truck upfitters, thanks to the efforts chassis manufacturers made to keep exhaust components out of the way of common truck equipment installations. But the fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations may have more impact. That's because the standards will apply to the entire vehicle and not just the engine. Because heavier vehicles burn more fuel and emit more CO2, the weight of bodies, equipment, and payload will become more important than ever.

For those who manufacture and sell commercial trucks and trailers, will the proposed standards make lighter tare weights and superior aerodynamic designs the battleground where sales are won or lost? Stay tuned.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting trailer-bodybuilders.com and clicking on “Contact Us.”

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