The proposed Phase 2 GHG rule would take effect with the 2018 model year and would be voluntary for trailer manufacturers until the 2021 model year. Ways to reduce GHG emissions include the use of automatic tire inflation systems, low rolling resistant tires, lower tare weight, and improved aerodynamics.

GHG proposal causes concerns

Nov. 6, 2015
In the wake of Phase 2 proposal, trailer manufacturers still trying to clarify ramifications and educate NHTSA, EPA on industry

WHERE to now?

That’s what trailer manufacturers are asking themselves in the wake of July’s notice of proposed rulemaking in which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) handed down their Phase 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction mandates.

While trying to figure out how to respond in the expanded comment period, many were wondering why this latest round of fuel economy and GHG regulations for commercial vehicles—including truck trailers for the first time—was even necessary.

Their thinking is that it would have made more sense to continue down the road created by the SmartWay program that was launched in 2004 by EPA, but the agencies had a different thought process.

“I think had they just left the process alone, they would probably get a very similar result,” says David de Poincy, president and COO of East Manufacturing Co, #17 on Trailer Body/Builders’ 2015 list of the top North American truck-trailer OEMs. “But we got a mandate and they’re pushing for it.

“I personally think they’re getting involved in something that can’t be policed. All we have the ability to do as manufacturers is to make sure that when we produce the trailers, and they leave our facility in compliance. When tires wear out, if the customer doesn’t want to put low rolling resistance tires back on the trailer, there’s nothing that’s going to keep him from doing that. So now you’re going to have this complicated issue where there’s going to be a tag on a flatbed that says, ‘This is how it was built and it should have automatic tire inflation (ATIS) and low rolling resistance tires.’ A guy puts other tires on it and he’s out of compliance, so you lose that effort after a year, because those tires are going to wear out in a year—two at the most. After that, the trailer is non-compliant, and there’s nothing there that says it has to be.

“The dealers are going to say, ‘Well, if a guy comes in and specs a trailer, we have no control over what spec he wants, so there’s going to be additional cost involved.’ So who’s going to take the hit? The dealer? The manufacturer? The large fleet accounts are going to push back and say, ‘Well, I’ll buy your product, but you have to reduce the price.’ At the end of the day, all of those items roll up into one cost. If he pushes you down for a lower cost, you’re taking a hit on all of those things that are being mandated. So it’s going to cause a lot of issues, no doubt.”

Jamie Scarcelli, VP of corporate strategy and governmental affairs for Wabash National, says he would prefer the program to be voluntary, but understands that’s highly unlikely to happen.

“So we’re cautiously optimistic,” he says. “We have details we need to work through, such as the compliance piece, the reporting piece, different aspects we need to understand in more detail.”

The proposed rule would take effect with the 2018 model year and would be voluntary for trailer manufacturers until the 2021 model year. The requirements will become increasingly stringent until the full impact of the regulation takes effect with the 2027 model year. At full strength, the rule is expected to improve fuel economy between 3% and 8% with a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal will impact most highway trailers. Vans will be the primary target, partly because every conventional means of reducing fuel consumption—aerodynamic devices, low rolling resistance tires, and ATIS—can be applied to them. The proposal creates nine different categories of vans and puts everything else in one big category of “non-box trailers.”

NHTSA and EPA performance levels will vary by trailer type. For example: Partial aero trailers—those trailers that have liftgates or other equipment that limit the ability to install full aerodynamic devices—will not be able to manage aerodynamic drag as effectively. The same is true for shorter trailers. Because they tend to be used in local delivery operations where speeds are lower, the potential for reducing aerodynamic drag in shorter trailers may be less.

Scarcelli says Wabash has been engaged with EPA since 2011, when Phase 1 was announced. The understanding was that NHTSA and EPA would take an interest in trailers in Phase 2, so Wabash tried to give them a better perspective of how the trailer industry operates, because as Scarcelli notes, “It’s drastically different than the truck side of the business. For quite a while, they’ve been open to trying to understand and learn. We’ve had many meetings with them and invited them to come to our facility and go through the plant and see how a trailer is built. One thing we’ve tried to emphasize is that a trailer is customized for a specific application. There is no such thing as a ‘standard trailer.’ ”

Wabash representatives appeared at the EPA’s hearing August 6 in Chicago, saying that the company “supports the objectives of the EPA/NHTSA Phase 2 Proposal and agrees that sensibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions through fuel efficiency solutions is a good thing.”

The company said that “to achieve overall improvements in freight efficiency, consideration should be given to not only programs encouraging the improvement of fuel efficiency, but also to complementary programs and funding that seek to: maintain and improve state and federal highway systems; maximize the freight capacity hauled in any one tractor-trailer load (for example, the measures to allow for pulling twin 33’ semi-trailers on federal highways); and further enhance the safety and durability of semi-trailers. The success of any of these programs—including these Phase 2 proposed rules—will depend, however, on adopting easy to implement policies that reflect the complexity of the trucking industry and the need for flexible solutions.”

Wabash urged EPA and NHTSA to continue to address the following three concerns in promulgating a final rulemaking:

The trailer manufacturer actually has very little leverage in determining what components are and are not included in a specific trailer.

“Contrary to popular belief, a semi-trailer is much more than a box on wheels. Most trailers are designed for a specific freight application and are custom-built for each customer. Additionally, trailers are federally regulated by length, width and height—so any innovations to improve freight capacity or fuel efficiency must also comply with these federal regulations. As a result of these regulations, today’s solutions for improving fuel efficiency rely on devices attached to the trailers. Our customers do not simply accept the addition of these devices (and the resulting additional cost) without proof that they will definitively result in greater overall freight efficiency for their operations.

Not all trailer types or freight carriers will benefit from adopting fuel efficiency technologies.

“For example, tank trailers, flatbed trailers, and other specialty trailer types will not necessarily see benefits from the addition of aerodynamic devices. Wabash supports the EPA/NHTSA decision to exempt these trailers from aero requirements. In addition, even some fleets operating nothing but van semi-trailers will not see benefits from the adoption of aerodynamic devices. This is because these types of trailers and fleets might operate in different duty cycles, created by variations in operating locations and geographies. They may haul locally or regionally and infrequently reach highway speeds, which is where aerodynamic devices provide payback. They may have unique freight-hauling requirements, or operate off-road for a portion of time. The reality is, some fleets and some trailer types simply will never demonstrate fuel savings through the use of aerodynamic devices. Thus, sensible final regulations should include exemptions for particular trailer types or fleets—whether through a fleet exception approval process or by including an extensive list of trailer characteristics that would define an aerodynamic exemption.”

Incentivize early adoption of fuel-efficiency devices.

“With the federal regulation of the height, length and weight of our trailers, our solutions—and our ability to comply with these regulations—rely on our customers accepting the addition of aerodynamic devices to the frame of a trailer. If manufacturers are to be successful in influencing their customers to accept the inclusion of aerodynamic devices on new trailers, the regulations and complementary regulations or legislation should not create disincentives for compliance. Thus, we urge the EPA, NHTSA, other agencies and Congress to support legislation and adoption of rules that: exempt the cost of devices intended to improve fuel efficiency from federal excise tax; exempt the weight of devices intended to improve fuel efficiency from federal freight weight limits; minimize the time, cost and complexity of complying with the reporting obligations under the Phase 2 rulemaking.”

Says Scarcelli, “There are parts of it that we’re happy with. For example they have excluded trailers that would truly not get much benefit from aerodynamic technologies, meaning flatbed trailers, tank trailers, those that have a different duty cycle and don’t drive at highway speed frequently.

“Our biggest thing is we have to emphasize to EPA that we can’t be installing technologies that impact how a trailer operates in its daily line of business. I guess we’re a bit concerned about farther out within the rule—for example, the 2027 requirement. We understand for the 2018 requirements there’s existing technology today that’s already being adopted. When we get out to 2027, while there is some technology that can help us reach those requirements, the technology is still being developed. So we’re cautious about saying we have the technology that works for every fleet and every application.

“At this point, we’re all somewhat prepared for at least the 2018 regulations because we all have some experience in putting devices on to comply with California rules. The requirements on automatic tire inflation systems have us concerned as to whether the manufacturers of these tire inflation systems can keep up with this level of demand. There is still some question as to trailers that are exempt and non-exempt on this rule. Those questions need some clarification.”

De Poincy, who has met with EPA officials on numerous occasions leading up to the NPRM, says EPA had indicated that a small manufacturer—any company listed under 500 employees—might have an additional year before it falls under the guidelines. There are many trailer manufacturers of this size in the industry.

He also says that because of the type of products East manufactures—dump trailers, refuse trailers, and flatbeds—he is looking for ways to have them excluded or exempted.

“There are eight conditions that would allow you to be exempted, and we’re fighting for that,” he says. “I don’t believe flatbeds will be exempted or excluded. The difference between one and the other is that if you’re excluded, you don’t have to report at all, and if you’re exempted, you have to report but don’t have to meet the guidelines. So I’d take either one for dump trailers or refuse trailers.

“The main area we’re pushing is that they’re off-road and for short trips. They’re multi-axle. We’re trying to meet as many of the eight criteria. We have a lot of products over four axles. Because they go off-road, you have a lot of problems with any fairings. You have problems even with ATI systems. For example, when transfer trailers go into landfills, the wheels often get buried deep into trash, and the ATI system can get pulled loose.

“On flatbeds, because there are long hauls, there are people out there who have been experimenting with fairings for flatbeds. There has even been some wind-tunnel testing by one fleet. There may be some exclusions for multi-axles in Michigan and New York, where there’s just no room for fairings. These trailers may just be required to have low rolling resistance tires and ATI systems.

“If we’re forced to meet requirements under flatbeds, then the next thing is this idea that larger manufacturers can use averaging. They can take large volume of vans and reefers and throw their flatbed production into that and average out and as a company meet the requirements. Small manufacturers can’t do that. Averaging will hurt us and put us in a non-competitive position. So that’s the next thing that were fighting. Even though averaging works for the truck guys and may work for the large-volume van and reefer guys, it will not work for the small manufacturer.”

Al Cohn, director of new market development and engineering for Pressure Systems International Inc (PSI), says PSI’s appearance at the hearing in Chicago was designed to clarify EPA’s definition of ATIS and the requirements of a “qualified” ATIS system.

“The definition of automatic tire inflation listed in Subpart 1, Definitions & Other Reference Information, is not consistent with the historical industry definitions,” said Cohn, whose company invented its automatic tire inflation system 22 years ago and markets it in North America as the Meritor Tire Inflation System by PSI. “TMC, The Technology Maintenance Council, of the American Trucking Association, in their Recommended Practice, RP239A—most recently updated in 2014—uses the following widely accepted definition of ATIS: ‘Automatic Tire Inflation Systems maintain tire pressure at a single preset level and are pneumatically or electronically activated. A warning lamp indicates to the driver that the system has been activated and air is being added to a tire. These systems eliminate the need to manually inflate tires.’

“The current definition included in the rulemaking states: ‘ATIS means a system installed on a vehicle to keep each tire inflated to within 10% of the target value with no operator input.’ Assigning an arbitrary number of 10% is not consistent with the laws of tire physics. Tire pressure increases by 15% to 20% when the tire is hot and running on a fully loaded vehicle at 75 mph on asphalt roads on a sunny day. Tires cool back down to the specified tire pressure after a few hours.

“The issue with tires and reduced fuel economy and increased greenhouse gas emissions is because of tire underinflation. ATIS systems assure that tires will always be running at the recommended cold tire inflation pressure.”

Regarding “qualified” automatic tire inflation systems, he says that Page 1026, § Section 1037.107 (Emission standards for trailers) of the proposed rulemaking discusses the use of low rolling resistance tires and that “qualified” automatic tire inflation systems are required on non-box trailers effective MY 2018.

“It is our recommendation that the term ‘qualified’ be expanded,” he says. “SAE Recommended Practice J2848-2, dated June 2011, is an RP on the subject of ATIS. It is the industry standard that details the basic operational requirements for any ATIS. This RP should be referenced in the proposed rulemaking when ‘qualified’ automatic tire inflation systems are discussed.”

Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association (TTMA) engineering manager John Freiler believes the trailer-specific portions of the Phase 2 rulemaking proposal would be costly, inefficient and worsen the trucking industry’s carbon footprint and safety record.

“We’re concerned that this proposal doesn’t seem to recognize that the trailers that would gain benefit from application of SmartWay style technologies have already done so,” Freiler testified at a government hearing.  “Also that the purported gains of this rule seem to come exclusively from theoretical modeling, rather than from real-world experience.

“If this rule is not to have unintended consequences, very careful thought will have to be applied to excluded classes of trailers. Further, some of our members are dubious of EPA’s claims of legal authority to regulate our products at all. We have issues with the widespread requirement of low rolling resistance tires and automatic tire inflation systems. We have issues with the warranties that the government is mandating as well as industry disruptions from averaging. And we have ideas as to how the rule could better be crafted to accomplish its goals with a minimum of cost to the shippers, operators and ultimately all consumers.

“We are not opposed to all regulation. TTMA has a long history of working closely with regulators to help craft sensible regulations that serve to better both the industry and the public. You can see this in the number of times information from TTMA is cited in various regulatory evaluations.  But to accomplish this needs time.”

He said the trailer industry is different than the automotive market. Trailer manufacturers are mostly small businesses, often working in niche markets for a handful of customers, and they need more time to respond.

“While the proposed regulation was crafted over the course of some 16 months, our members have been given just bit over 60 days to respond,” he said. “Just understanding what it means to have our products come under EPA rules is a daunting task that is just one of the unwritten consequences of this proposal in addition to the requirements in the 629 pages of the printed document. We lack the dedicated engineering and legal man-hours needed to properly respond to this rule in the allotted time.

“Therefore, I will end with this plea: We need more time to respond to this proposal. We’ve submitted a petition to the docket to extend the comment period by at least 90 days, and 180 days would more reasonable: it’s still far less than the 500 days the government spent writing it and we could be of great help in actually achieving the agencies’ goals of reducing fuel consumption and GHG emissions.” ♦