Fuel Smarts

Commentary: Good News Coming?

March 2015, TruckingInfo.com - Editorial

by Rolf Lockwood

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Rolf Lockwood, Executive Contributing Editor
Rolf Lockwood, Executive Contributing Editor

You should hear some important news this month, and it might eventually save you a buck.

A year ago, President Obama decreed that a new set of rules regarding greenhouse-gas emissions and fuel economy should be proposed, as of this month, covering medium- and heavy-duty trucks built in 2020 and beyond. Not sure I’d hold my breath about the timing, but he charged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with figuring out how to go even further than we’ve already gone. And that’s quite a way.

The 2020 rules represent Phase 2 of an effort that began with another presidential decree back in 2010 demanding serious GHG and fuel consumption cuts for the 2014-2019 period. That was Phase 1 of the long-term plan, and it seemed complex and arbitrary. But if you’ve bought trucks in the last year, I’ll bet you didn’t even notice a change unless you examined what should be lower fuel bills.

And that’s a far cry from all the wrangling and arguing — not to mention the paying — that accompanied previous emissions regimes.

The GHG targets are mainly carbon dioxide, but also methane and nitrous oxide. The thing is, when you cut CO2, you also increase fuel economy. Official projections tell us that Phase 1 will save 530 million barrels of oil, 270 million metric tons of GHGs, and $50 billion in fuel costs. Government projections being what they are, who knows how accurate those estimates might actually be, but for the first time in recorded history, the EPA and NHTSA are sort of your friends.

Yes, as in the past, the cost of engines will rise, but this time there will be fuel savings to bring a fairly quick payback.

Things really have gone pretty quiet on the diesel front, and it hasn’t been this way since the EPA started tinkering with things back in the 1990s.

In fact, they were at it as early as 1974, though the broad and heavy crunch came later. It really began in 1997 when the EPA set the standard for model years 2004-2006. But after all the trouble and woe brought on then and later with the 2007 emissions regime — which linger on for many of you — the 2010-spec heavy-duty diesel has proven to be a big improvement in terms of both reliability and fuel economy.

Are we back to where we were a dozen-plus years ago? No, but compared to EPA 2007, we’re way ahead.

The present 2014-2019 rules say that tractors must achieve as much as a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by 2017, a little more by 2019. Mixers, refuse haulers, and other vocational machines have to get to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption by 2017.

None of this caused a stir last year, and targets were met with ordinary improvements of existing hardware and software. Things will get tougher as 2017 approaches, but radically new hardware such as waste-heat recovery won’t be required.

Phase 2 will clearly demand even tougher CO2 and fuel-consumption reductions, and we know that the final regulation will appear some time in 2016. Our firm knowledge stops there.

I’m almost sitting on the edge of my seat, anxious to see the draft rules soon. And for the first time ever, I have the feeling that a major government intervention might actually bring good news.

Holy moly, did I just write that?


  1. 1. alamo [ March 17, 2015 @ 03:05AM ]

    Holy moly, did I just read that?!

  2. 2. Big Picture [ March 17, 2015 @ 06:28AM ]

    Obviously, you haven't had to pay for the maintenance on one of these 2014 engines. Our charge back for warranty is almost 6 cents per mile. I cringe to think of what it will cost the day the warranty period ends.

  3. 3. toughstuff [ March 17, 2015 @ 06:57AM ]

    The maintenance problems are forcing people to trade trucks every 2-3 years, because the problems are unfixable after that.

    I wonder if they have factored in the "green cost" of throwing a truck away after 3 years compared to a normal useful life of a million miles or more?

  4. 4. KENT HARRIS [ March 17, 2015 @ 09:33AM ]

    Is there a website to compare number of repairs per 100,000 miles for the various engines? I know J.D. Powers contacts new vehicle purchasers and asks number of repairs and miles on vehicle after one year. But I've never seen the data from that quiz.
    Fuel mileage reporting always seems to be an off the cuff "3 to 5% better than before. A chart with hard fuel mileage and repair data would be wonderful.


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