Attention Contractors!

Big Trucks Will Have to Get Cleaner - And Industry Is Fine With That

By Robert J. Bowman, SupplyChainBrain
October 10, 2016

Federal regulators are mandating drastic reductions in emissions from heavy-duty trucks over the next 10 years. And truck manufacturers and big shippers alike are applauding the move.

New standards released by the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency call for reductions of up to 25 percent in carbon emissions from big tractor-trailer rigs. Smaller cuts will be required of delivery fleets and buses.

The new standards will slash carbon emissions by 1.1bn tons, and oil consumption by 2bn barrels, DOT and EPA are claiming.

The announcement marks the second phase of a two-part set of climate pollution and fuel-efficiency standards for heavy trucks, the first of which took effect in 2014. The beginning of phase two, applying to vehicles beginning in model year 2018 and extending to 2027, kicks in next year.

As one might expect, environmental interests are cheering the new standards. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement that they will “reduce climate pollution, protect public health, make us more energy-independent, and save money for both truckers and consumers.”

Less obvious, perhaps, is the support coming from truck manufacturers, fleet operators and shippers. Among those giving a thumbs-up to more stringent standards are PepsiCo, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., General Mills, and Campbell Soup Co. Trucking companies on board include RFX Global and Dillon Transport. All told, said EDF, more than 300 companies have urged the adoption of stronger rules on truck emissions.

From the trucking side, there’s a strong element of self-interest. According to EPA and DOT, the rules will save truck owners some $170bn in fuel costs over the lifetime of their vehicles. Shippers, too, will benefit from big cuts in fuel usage, the largest single expense incurred by truck fleets. As EDF points out, today’s typical semi truck burns 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year, equal to the consumption of 50 new passenger cars.

Don’t get any notions, however, about the new standards leading to a net reduction in vehicle emissions in the U.S. When expected growth in vehicle miles is favored in, pollution levels from trucks will merely remain constant, says Jason Mathers, EDF’s director of supply chain for corporate partnerships program. “We’re going to continue to need to make greater gains in fuel efficiency post-2030,” he says.

Mathers says EDF is pleased with the support that the rules have received from industry. DOT and EPA were “very solicitous” of corporate engagement, he says. “They did a phenomenal job of working with all [interests].”

He’s especially gratified that big shippers are realizing that more fuel-efficient trucks are good for business. And manufacturers such as Cummins, Inc. can hardly be unhappy over the prospect of selling thousands of new units to fleet owners.

Strategies for hitting the regulatory targets vary. Manufacturers will have to lean heavily on new technology to create more efficient engines and exhaust systems. Ideas include new methods for reducing engine friction, and the use of waste heat recovery systems that convert energy lost off the tailpipe to help turn the wheels.

On the vehicle design side, manufacturers will have to explore lighter materials and more aerodynamic bodies, Mathers says. Rolling resistance on trailers can be lessened. And transmissions can be better integrated with engines. All are technologies available today, and being deployed at various stages.

Interestingly, the trucking industry chose not to emulate the strong opposition displayed over the years by automakers to regulators’ efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of passenger cars. Mathers says manufacturers today are responding to customer demands for greener vehicles, and backing “commonsense” standards through proactive engagement. Even on the light-vehicle side, automakers joined with environmental advocates in support of President Obama’s call in 2011 for a new set of fuel-economy standards.

There’s always the chance that individual states could attempt to impose even tougher pollution standards. But Mathers notes that DOT and EPA worked closely with the California Air Resources Board – perhaps the nation’s most aggressive state agency when it comes to regulating air quality – to develop the federal rules.

While Mathers views the new standards as “a good solid step,” he believes federal regulators can go even further in curbing truck emissions. For now, EDF is working with major shippers to encourage “fuel-smart” driving, including a reduction in idling. Such steps, including minimizing speed and hard braking, are easier to track with today’s vehicle-monitoring technology, creating an incentive for drivers to cooperate.

The goal is cleaner air, but benefits also drive to the bottom line for both shippers and carriers. That’s why the rules have attracted wide industry support. Says Mathers: “It’s really powerful that we saw shippers engage, urge strong final rules, and applaud them.”

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