WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following-up his State of the Union address in January, US President Barack Obama has detailed the changes he expects the trucking industry to adopt.
In a plan the White House says is designed to bolster energy security, cut carbon pollution and spur manufacturing innovation, Obama has given the industry a March 2016 deadline for developing the next round of fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Under this directive, he expects the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DoT) to “issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by March 2015,” at which time the proposed changes would be opened up for public comments and review. This round of fuel efficiency standards is expected to build upon the ones set for 2014-2018 vehicles.
The president expects the new fuel efficiency standards to come about in a number of ways, including:
Having the EPA and National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) work with manufacturers, labour, states, NGOs, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other stakeholders to “develop standards that provide long-term certainty and promote innovation.”
Having the EPA and NHTSA “assess advanced technologies that may not currently be in production,” including engine and powertrain efficiency improvements, aerodynamics, weight reduction, improved tire rolling resistance, hybridization, automatic engine shutdown, and improvements to accessories such as water pumps, fans, auxiliary power units, and air conditioning.
As well, Obama has taken steps to reiterate the National Clean Fleets Partnership, a public-private program (P3) created with the goal of helping corporate fleets adopt alternative fuels, electric vehicles and other fuel-saving measures. In today’s announcement, Obama ordered the Department of Energy (DoE) to provide “specialized resources, technical expertise and support in developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce fuel use” to any company looking for assistance through the SmartWay Transport Partnership. To date, the White House says 23 national companies are participating in the partnership, including Con-Way, Staples and Coca-Cola.
Today’s announcement also referenced the government’s SuperTruck program, which was launched in 2010 and created to improve freight hauling efficiency of Class 8 trucks 50% by 2015. According to White House figures, while working with the program Cummins and Peterbuilt have demonstrated a “20% increase in engine efficiency and a 70%increase in freight efficiency, reaching over 10 miles per gallon under real-world driving conditions.” Other participants in the project, Daimler and Volvo have also seen engine efficiency gains of 50% and 48% respectively.
In addition, Obama asked the US Congress to end subsidies for oil and gas producers and to create an energy security trust fund to pay for research into new vehicle technologies.
In response to today’s announcement, organizations have been quickly issuing statements reflecting their own positions. Coming out whole-heartedly for the directives, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) applauds efforts to improve efficiency, on the basis it will save shoppers money.
“We know that the fuel costs associated with shipping goods across the country heavily impact the price of everything from a carton of mile to a pair of shoes. Achievable standards that cut fuel use by nearly 50% would put US$29.5 billion dollars back into the pockets of Americans,” said CFA director of research Dr. Mark Cooper.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) also offered an enthusiastic response.
"ACEEE strongly supports the president's work to continue the improvements in heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency initiated through the first phase of standards, adopted in 2011. There are major opportunities to further reduce heavy-duty truck fuel consumption while saving truck owners thousands of dollars per year, and the actions announced today will help to ensure that these savings are realized.
"The president rightly highlights the potential for efficiency through technologies that have not yet fully entered the heavy-duty vehicle market, including advanced engines and powertrains, hybridization, and advanced aerodynamics. His citation of the SuperTruck program, which is demonstrating the feasibility of cutting tractor-trailers' fuel consumption in half by 2015, gives an indication of how significant savings from a strong second phase of the standards could be,” said ACEEE Transportation Program Director Therese Langer.
Reaction from the trucking industry, however, has been mixed. Some companies like Cummins Inc., whose participation in the P3 program was cited by the White House, were very supportive of Obama’s approach.
"The first phase of these regulations provides a strong foundation that recognizes the needs of business while offering clear direction to create innovative technologies. With the announcement today, it is clear that the government will again take a collaborative approach. We look forward to working with regulators, our customers and others on the next phase of standards that will lead to even greater reductions in greenhouse gases and fuel consumption," said Rich Freeland, Cummins vice-president and president of the engine business.
The Diesel Technology Forum broached the proposed changes more cautiously by emphasizing its past accomplishments.
“Today’s announcement sets up the next challenge for clean diesel technology to further improve efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial vehicles including medium and heavy duty trucks and buses,” said Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of the Forum. “Engine and vehicle makers have all met the first set of Phase I standards for higher fuel efficiency in the current 2014 products that are now certified and for sale. Driven by customer's fuel efficiency demands, OEMs made improvements which enabled them to meet requirements of Phase I.”
American Trucking Associations (ATA) executives counselled that a careful, thoughtful and cautious approach is needed to Phase II changes.
“We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the President and his administration in 2011 when the historic first fuel efficiency standards were set for heavy-duty vehicles. As we begin this new round of standards, ATA hopes the administration will set forth a path that is both based on the best science and research available and economically achievable,” said ATA president and CEO Bill Graves.
“Fuel is one of our industry’s largest expenses, so it makes sense that as an industry we would support proposals to use less of it. However, we should make sure that new rules don’t conflict with safety or other environmental regulations, nor should they force specific types of technology onto the market before they are fully tested and ready,” he added.
ATA chair Phil Byrd, president of Bulldog Hiway Express, in Charleston, S.C. also offered his thoughts.
“Trucking is a very diverse industry, and as such, whatever standards the administration sets should reflect that diversity and whatever tests are devised should accurately reflect what drivers face on the roads every day.”
Sandeep Kar, the automotive and transportation global research director for Mountain View, Calif.-based research firm Frost & Sullivan, offered his perspective on Obama's plan.
"The president's decision to elevate fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks is definitely a strategic move. While it presents short-term pain for the industry, it will indeed deliver long-term gain both locally and globally.
"Trucks featuring better fuel-efficiency and economy will cost higher than the current breed of trucks, but will deliver reduced fuel expenses for fleets thereby reducts thereby reducing life-cycle costs and hence total cost off ownership, while simultaneously reducing freight transportation's carbon footprint.
"While the standards are not yet formalized, it will be safe to assume that the limits that will be proposed could be met through some technologies that are already in the market, albeit in limited application areas.
"Fuel costs have already become the most expensive portion of a fleet's operating expenses, and any change that reduces fuel costs in a volatile fuel price environment will be welcomed by the end-users.
"Moreover, this will give a unique edge to American truck and powertrain systems markers to develop once, test once, and sell advanced fuel-efficiency enhancement technologies and products all over the world in the next 5 to 10 years, as global emission regulations get harmonized with North American and European standards.
"While these mandates will challenge OEMs and tier-1 suppliers, I feel that this is not an insurmountable challenge and one that will pay rich dividends to all corners of the American trucking industry," said Kar.