Volvo waiting for details on Obama’s greenhouse gas plan

ROANOKE, VA. The announcement last week by President Obama to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to create fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks has fans among Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA), but there remains some hesitation about the proposal

ROANOKE, VA. The announcement last week by President Obama to direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to create fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks has fans among Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA), but there remains some hesitation about the proposal.

“I guess the reaction is one of caution,” Tony Greszler, vp-government and industry relations for Volvo Powertrain North America, said during a meeting with reporters at VTNA’s powertrain facility in Hagerstown, MD, this week. Greszler added that it’s difficult to offer full reaction since the President’s proposals are just a first step.

How realistic the targets are will depend on what technologies are needed to meet the eventual goals, which Obama wants phased in starting with the 2014 model year, Greszler said.

The 2014 target date is too soon to develop and test new technologies, he noted, so manufacturers must meet the goal with existing technology.

While using SmartWay-approved devices is one way to meet the new fuel efficiency/GHG targets, even deploying all the technologies on the market may not be enough, Greszler added – though he believes the use of aerodynamic devices on trailers is a big area that will be exploited.

Denny Slagle, president & CEO of VTNA parent North American Trucks, who attended the White House Rose Garden ceremony last week announcing the new fuel efficiency/GHG mandates, said he was happy with President Obama’s directive.

“We would have liked to have had a breather … particularly on the R&D level to do some other things on the truck” Slagle told reporters in a separate roundtable meeting in Roanoke, VA, this week. “We’re comfortable what was signed last week is a good document, but it’s conceptual at this point.

“I think we’re headed to reducing greenhouse gas,” he added, “but one of the agreed upon terms is a focus on existing technologies.”

Slagle went on to note that the “best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to burn less” fuel. To achieve that, Volvo Powertrain’s Greszler added, could be a combination between aerodynamic devices, new transmissions such as Volvo’s automated iShift product line, driver training, and perhaps even new technologies not yet developed.

The new fuel economy and GHG standards for trucks follow similar rules issues earlier this year for cars and light trucks. The Obama administration estimates that commercial trucks consume more than two million barrels of oil every day, with an average 6.1 mpg, while also emitting 20% of GHG pollution related to transportation.

Ironically, Greszler pointed out that the focus the last several years on oxides of nitrogen (NOx) reduction may have taken away from fuel efficiency gains that could have been achieved if research funds had been directed in that direction. He estimated that if trucks had not had to meet emissions requirements, they could be operating with 10% or greater fuel efficiency than they do today.
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