Feds mandate fuel economy rules for medium- and heavy-duty trucks

The first federal fuel economy standard for medium- and heavy-duty trucks was announced Monday by U S Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The new regulation, coming on the heels of newly implemented diesel emission requirements, will set fuel economy standards for a wide range of vehicles, including work trucks, school buses, and highway tractors, beginning with the 2014 model year.

The proposal covers only trucks and tractors. However, when asked at the end of the press briefing why trailers were not included, Jackson responded that the role of trailers in the production of greenhouse gases would have to be the subject of future rulemaking. She said that neither trailer manufacturers nor EPA have much experience in this area.

Because of their high-mileage operation, Class 8 tractors are primary targets for the rulemaking. However, the regulations will also apply to the higher-GVWR versions of pickups, vans, and chassis cabs—including the Ford F-Series, Dodge Ram, and Chevrolet Silverado.

The new mandate is in addition to regulations affecting new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs. Those vehicles will need to reach 35.5 mpg by 2016. The federal government also plans raise the fuel economy standard for light vehicles to as high as 62 mpg by 2025.

The fuel economy standards for medium and heavy trucks have been in development for some time. In May, the White House announced its intention in an event attended by truck manufacturers and union leaders. President Obama estimated then that the fuel efficiency of tractor-trailers could be improved by 25% simply by using existing technologies. The improvements in fuel efficiency are supposed to come through a combination of more efficient engines, tires designed for low rolling resistance, and improved aerodynamics.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects the measure will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 250 million metric tons and save 500 million barrels of oil over the lives of the vehicles produced within the program’s first five years.

“These new standards are another step in our work to develop a new generation of clean, fuel-efficient American vehicles that will improve our environment and strengthen our economy,” Jackson said. “In addition to cutting greenhouse gas pollution, greater fuel economy will shrink fuel costs for small businesses that depend on pickups and heavy duty vehicles, shipping companies and cities and towns with fleets of these vehicles. Those savings can be invested in new jobs at home, rather than heading overseas and increasing our dependence on foreign oil.”

“Through new fuel-efficiency standards for trucks and buses, we will not only reduce transportation’s environmental impact, we’ll reduce the cost of transporting freight,” said LaHood. “This is a win-win-win for the environment, businesses and the American consumer.”

For highway tractors, the agencies are proposing engine and vehicle standards that begin in the 2014 model year and achieve up to a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption by the 2018 model year.

For heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, 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% reduction for gasoline vehicles and 15% reduction for diesel vehicles by 2018 model year. This increases to 12% and 17% respectively if accounting for air conditioning leakage.

For vocational vehicles, the agencies are proposing engine and vehicle standards starting in the 2014 model year which would achieve up to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 2018 model year.

Overall, NHTSA and EPA estimate that the program would provide $41 billion in net benefits over the lifetime of model year 2014 to 2018 vehicles, with the potential for significant fuel efficiency gains, ranging from seven to 20%.

According to their estimates, an operator of a highway tractor could pay for the technology upgrades in under a year and save as much as $74,000 over the truck’s useful life. Vehicles with lower annual miles would typically experience longer payback periods, up to four or five years, but would still reap cost-savings.

EPA and NHTSA are providing a 60-day comment period that begins when the proposal is published in the Federal Register. The proposal and information about how to submit comments is at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regulations.htm and http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy .

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