Hopping on the regulatory bandwagon

THE new federal regulations that set standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions on medium and heavy trucks must be one phenomenal piece of rulemaking.

It's hard for us to conclude anything else after being deluged with e-mails from various organizations either applauding the action or taking credit for it.

Truth be told, we have not quite gotten around to reading all 958 pages that were scheduled to be jammed into The Federal Register shortly after the announcement August 9. Although the regulations had not yet appeared at the time this page was composed, a web version of the regulation could be reviewed at http://www.gpo.gov/.

These regs pick up where the car and light truck standards leave off. Trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings above 8500 pounds GVWR will have to conform. This means virtually every truck being upfit for commercial service or being used to pull any trailer this industry builds or sells will be affected. In spite of its scope, it does not appear the measure will have a major impact on truck body and equipment companies — and the standard does not apply to trailers. It will, however, affect truck customers and manufacturers.

The American Trucking Associations were one of the first groups to weigh in on this issue. Not a huge shock that ATA would applaud a regulation that in effect mandates lower fuel costs for its members.

Somewhat surprising was the reaction of the truck manufacturers. While truck buyers stand to profit from the regulation (we are guessing that lower fuel costs will more than offset the anticipated higher price for new trucks), it's the truck OEMs who will have to figure out how to make their trucks squeeze as much as 20% more miles from a gallon of diesel fuel.

A lot has changed since the original Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards were written for passenger cars shortly after the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. At a time when Detroit was in angst over the growing popularity of fuel-sipping import cars, US manufacturers opposed the regulations. It was as if American car makers were saying, “Please, Uncle Sam. Don't make us build cars that our customers want.”

US motor companies have learned a lot since then. Rather than protest the “unobtainable” fuel economy standards that eventually were obtained, today's truck manufacturers used the August 9 announcement by the President as an opportunity to say, “Hey, we are already working on it. It will be a challenge, but we will be ready.”

Good response for an industry that could always use a few more friends. The Sierra Club, for example, seized the opportunity to complain about the amount of fuel that heavy trucks use. The organization issued a statement that said “despite representing only 4% of all the vehicles on the road, the trucks covered by today's announcement consume 20% of all on-road transportation fuel used each year, but have never been subject to federal fuel efficiency or carbon pollution standards.” They characterized the regulations as “a starting point.”

What a wonderful world it would be if we could just fit our freight into the back of a Honda Ridgeline, a truck that the California Air Resources Board has classified as an ultra-low emissions vehicle. And with its 1546-pound payload rating and combined 17-mpg fuel consumption rate, the Ridgeline can transport almost 26,300 pounds one mile on a gallon of gasoline. By contrast, one of those smoke-belching 18 wheelers can move approximately 324,000 pounds on a gallon of diesel (assuming a 54,000-pound payload and 6 mpg). And, yes, it can transport a wind turbine blade to a remote wind farm for use in producing green energy, a task that is problematical with a Ridgeline. Bottom line: trucks move loads quite efficiently now, and they will become more fuel efficient in the future.

The United Auto Workers Union weighed in with a joint statement made with the National Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation. They praised the measure as a way to create jobs. The union said that 151,168 US workers are employed at automotive suppliers that make components for clean, fuel-efficient vehicles — a number that is bound to increase as companies engineer and produce the technology needed to improve fuel economy.

In announcing the fuel economy standards, much was made about how regulators and truck manufacturers worked together to draw up the regulations. That makes life easier for all of us. The result was rulemaking that a wide variety of organizations have applauded. We in turn applaud those who hammered out a major regulation that appears to work for just about everyone.

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