New EPA standards are a big win for truckers

New EPA standards are a big win for truckers

Big rig
Flickr Curtis Perry

This article first appeared at JustMeans.

In 2010, heavy-duty trucks and buses accounted for 23 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gases, even though they compose less than 5 percent of all vehicles. In response to this, the Obama administration issued a directive in August 2011 setting new fuel efficiency targets for heavy duty trucks.

With 2014 being the first year the new standards are in place, the results have been remarkable. Because trucks are primarily used for commercial purposes, businesses are very interested in high efficiency as it contributes directly to their bottom line.

Sales of heavy trucks are soaring. October sales surpassed 22,000 units, the highest since 2006. Overall sales year-to-date have been running 20 percent higher than a year ago. Some of that is because buyers waited for the new models to come out. Fuel economy is a big reason why. While a typical tractor-trailer on the road today gets 5.8 mpg, those equipped with the latest engines get as much as 9 mpg. A new demonstration model SuperTruck has been running up and down the highways, getting over 10 mpg under real world conditions. That’s an increase of 70 percent in fuel economy. Imagine what that can due to a trucker’s operating cost.

Transportation analyst John G. Larkin said “the superior fuel efficiency of the newer engines” was a key factor in the swelling sales. The fact that Daimler is already sold out of its most efficient drive trains for 2014 bears this out. Other manufacturers are having similar success stories. Big trucks today are the most efficient they've been.

This is all good news for truck makers and those that depend on them for their living. But what does it mean for the environment?

The new EPA standards, through 2018, are expected to:

  • reduce CO2 emissions by about 270 million metric tons
  • save about 530 million barrels of oil
  • provide $49 billion in net program benefits

The regulations are a great example of smart policy that balances the need to maintain the environment with the realities of the business world. While the industry greeted the regulations with suspicion at the outset,  it is now singing their praises.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, referred to them as “very good examples of regulations that work well. We’re hoping for something similar with the next phase [post-2018] — challenging but good for everyone.”

Another round of standards is waiting to be rolled out to cover the period through 2025. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is lobbying for an achievable but ambitious 40 percent increase in fuel economy. That would certainly have a big impact, saving 1.4 million barrels of oil per day. It also would save your typical truck driver $30,000 a year in fuel costs, which would, of course, trickle down to consumers.

A range of technological tools already are available to help meet this goal, including:

  • hybrid powertrains
  • direct injection technology
  • turbochargers
  • low-friction lubricants
  • reduced idling practices
  • improved aerodynamics
  • reducing weight through lightweight materials
  • low resistance tires
  • use of auxiliary power units during breaks and overnights

Given that, it really shouldn’t be that big a stretch at all.