The folks in Washington should take a page from last month's Obama administration announcement that two federal agencies would be working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the fuel efficiency of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
The signing of a presidential memorandum calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop national fuel economy and GHG standards is a perfect example of what government and industry can accomplish working together.
On the stage with the president at the May 21 Rose Garden ceremony were chief executives from major manufacturers, as well as the trucking industry, signaling broad industry support for the new policy.
On hand were Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, Dennis Slagle, president and CEO of Volvo North American Trucks, Tim Solso, CEO of Cummins, Daniel Ustian, president and CEO of Navistar, G. Tommy Hodges, chairman of American Trucking Associations, and Anthony Dunkley, a driver for Waste Management. They all pledged their support for the administration's efforts.
It could have been a disaster. Three years ago, the Senate was considering legislation that would have mandated a 4 percent annual increase in heavy truck fuel economy. In an industry where truck makers battle over who's the fuel economy leader, if that were possible, it would already have been done. But industry groups such as the Engine Manufacturers Association, the Truck Manufacturers Association, the Diesel Technology Forum, and the ATA pressed for a more rational approach.
What came out of that effort was the National Academy of Sciences study, which outlines a thoughtful, responsible and informed approach to this complex problem, and which will be used by these agencies as they move forward with this project.
You can read more about the future of fuel efficiency in detail in this month's cover story. In the meantime, kudos to these groups and to the individual engine and truck makers for having a forward-thinking policy and for working with the federal government to make it happen. Compare that to the foot-dragging we have seen from the automotive sector on fuel economy standards (standards which might have helped the Big Three compete against their more fuel-thrifty foreign cousins.)
Improving fuel efficiency, if done right, can be a win-win for everyone. No matter where you stand on the greenhouse gases/global warming debate, on a national level, it's hard to argue against something that on a national level will help reduce our dependence on oil. And it's not just foreign oil we have to be concerned about now, either, as the BP oil spill at this writing continues to pump crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental commentators have likened the spill to the Chernobyl disaster; it could have as chilling an effect on additional oil drilling as the Soviet reactor meltdown had on the perception of nuclear power.
From the trucking industry's perspective, saving money on fuel is a good thing - as long as it can be done in a cost-effective manner. It doesn't help much to have better fuel economy if the new technology's so expensive you can't afford the fuel to put in the tank. The federal agencies reportedly will start out by looking at existing technologies that are already proving their ROI in use at many forward-thinking fleets.
Now if we could just get the politicians to take the same kind of rational approach on the competing climate-change bills on Capitol Hill. Reducing greenhouse gases through improved fuel efficiency is a great first step.
From the June 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.