Sometimes rules help

Sept. 6, 2016
Phase 2 GHG offers a clear outline for the future

The future just got a bit clearer for anyone running trucks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally released the rules that will shape truck fuel economy through 2027, giving manufacturers and their engineers well-defined targets as they explore ways to push truck efficiency to some very high levels.

I know that some people still find it more convenient to deny global warming, but science has pretty much closed the door on that argument.  No matter where you fall on the issue though, there is a general consensus in most of the developed world that steps must be taken to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHG) that are not-so-gradually creating a hotter climate. 

In this country, medium- and heavy- duty trucks are estimated to produce about 20% of all GHG emissions while accounting for only about 5% of the vehicles on the road.  That makes them a logical and large target for reduction efforts. In general, trucking has had some bad experiences with government regulation, especially when it comes to truck emissions. But this is one case where, at least potentially, the news could be quite positive for both fleets and environmental objectives.

GHG reduction is a complex issue, and this newest set of rules—running almost 1,700 pages—is equally complex.  We’ve reported extensively both online and in print on just what the rules contain and how they’ll impact trucking, and we’ll continue to provide that insight as things develop.  But the bottom line is that you reduce GHG emissions from trucks by reducing fuel consumption, which is an outcome any fleet should welcome. At least if it comes without an unaffordable price tag or unworkable technical complexity.

“The bottom line is that you reduce GHG emissions by reducing [vehicle] fuel consumption.”

The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which co-developed the new rules, estimate a two-year payback on fuel savings for any new technology needed to reach the 2027 targets.  Since it isn’t clear what technologies will be needed, you need to take that estimate with a grain of salt. However, the 2027 target is about a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency, so maybe their estimate isn’t too optimistic.  And since it covers linehaul and vocational medium- and heavy-duty trucks and trailers, not to mention full-size pickups and vans, that could add up to $170 billion in fuel savings over the life of those vehicles while cutting carbon emissions by 1.1 billion metric tons.  All big numbers.

Officially, the new rules are known as Phase 2. That’s because we’re actually in the middle of Phase 1,  a two-step process that brought some simpler fuel efficiency reductions in 2014. The second step of Phase 1 (confused yet?) actually takes effect next year.  Since the gains are measured in a complex “freight efficiency” formula that takes weights, vehicle configurations, and vocations into consideration, there’s no single mpg number to point to, but suffice it to say it’s significant.  So significant that you’re about to see almost every OEM introduce all-new models and highly refined powertrains in 2017.

Meeting the 2017 GHG requirements wasn’t without challenges, but early word is the new trucks and power­trains will deliver meaningful fuel economy improvements without compromising reliability or durability. If they live up to that promise, it bodes well for Phase 2 implementation.

Despite the unknown hurdles to be jumped between now and 2027, it does look like Phase 2 is a positive development for trucking.  It lays out clear GHG reduction targets that have been crafted with industry input to accommodate trucking’s diverse applications. More importantly, it should deliver a large contribution to carbon reduction while also offering the industry cost reductions. That’s a 180-deg. turnaround from previous truck emissions initiatives.

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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