Article

Flawed Economy Rules: Fuel Efficiency

October 2011, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Commentary Rolf Lockwood, Editor at Large

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By all means, let's improve fuel economy in our trucks as well as in our cars.
Rolf Lockwood, Editor at Large
Rolf Lockwood, Editor at Large
By all means, let's reduce emissions. But let's do it sensibly, without using a regulatory sledgehammer.

"Sensible" is not, I fear, a word I can apply to describe Washington's new truck fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas emission standards. But "sledgehammer" seems to fit.

The new regime, penned by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, is contained in a monster 958-page document. It's a wildly complex rule - how could it be anything else? - that affects trucks (and buses) built for model years 2014 through 2018. It covers everything from Class 2b vehicles grossing 8,500 pounds up to Class 8 trucks and tractors. The mandate is to improve fuel efficiency on the average tractor-trailer by 20% as of 2018 compared to 2010.

I'm convinced it could change your spec'ing process rather a lot, quite possibly the very nature of your operation. Plan on spending more money too, for sure.

Only a few dissenting voices can be heard, my tinny little sound among them. Everyone in the big-fleet and manufacturer corners of trucking has applauded, but at least one OEM - way off the record - has told me they're not happy either. Like all the others, they probably saw no choice but to sign on and bang the drum. It's a variation on the political correctness theme, nothing more.

I'd go so far as to call the new mandate simply reckless.

Yet who am I to argue with the veteran truck engineers and others who helped draft the U.S. National Research Council report on which this flawed command is based? So call me unhumble. It seems to me like a massively bandwagonish and uncoordinated approach to our environmental and energy-security concerns.

The OEM I mentioned says economic and competitive forces would have driven them to continue improving fuel economy even without this regulation. And they would have reached 20%.

Other dissenters include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the natural gas lobby (NGVAmerica), and the American Road & Trans­portation Builders Association.

The present voluntary EPA SmartWay spec is really the foundation for meeting the 2014 standards, with minimal extra cost for many folks, but by 2018 new technologies will be required. Nobody knows what they'll be, nor how much they'll cost and how that will affect the little guys of trucking.

That's where "reckless" comes in, because Washington just says we'll get there somehow.

Going back to my nameless OEM, they agree that new engine technologies will be needed, along with all the development costs.

OOIDA calls the new regime a "one-size-fits-all rule" that effectively mandates SmartWay participation.

I fear that you'll no longer be able to spec a truck precisely, won't be able to make it fit the job in order to achieve maximum operational or fuel efficiency. I can readily envision situations where trucks will be square pegs jammed into round holes - and will then actually do worse on the fuel-efficiency front.

Manufacturers won't have free rein to design your truck the way you need it, because they'll be working with a limited databook based on approved SmartWay bits and pieces like tires and fairings and such.

NGVAmerica says the new rule doesn't acknowledge the difference that natural gas trucks can make, providing just a 20% fuel economy credit for such vehicles.

ARTBA warns that the impact of the new rules for light and heavy-duty vehicles combined will bring a huge drop in fuel taxes deposited into the Highway Trust Fund. A loss of revenue for road and bridge improvements through 2025 of a projected $75 billion.

Overall, I'll concede that those 958 pages will save us some fuel. But I don't trust Washington's numbers on what this rule can achieve for a second. And I'm arrogant enough to suggest that I ­- and most of you ­- could achieve the same result with ideas easily contained on just one page. Maybe two.

From the September 2011 issue of HDT.

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