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New fuel efficiency standards for trucks applauded

by Tim Linden | August 11, 2011

It is a rare government regulation that receives universal high marks, but such is seemingly the case with the new truck fuel efficiency standard announced Aug. 9 by the Obama administration.

For the first time ever, fuel efficiency standards have been established for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that haul the nation’s freight from coast to coast, including the majority of its fresh fruits and vegetables. The new standards were applauded by representatives of the truck manufacturing industry, as well as truckers and environmentalists.

“It’s great to see Washington get something so right,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement to the press. “Thanks to these new standards, everybody wins: Truck drivers save money at the pump, America imports less foreign oil and we all get to breathe cleaner air.”

His comments were echoed by others. Glen Kedzie, vice president and environmental counsel for the American Trucking Association, said that throughout the last decade new regulations have meant writing a check for the increased costs they required and getting nothing in return.

In fact, he said that most new regulations have involved lowering emissions standards, which results in double costs: the cost of compliance and the fuel economy penalty, as those stricter standards have cut the fuel efficiency of the trucks.

“In this case, most definitely there will be a return on investment,” Mr. Kedzie said. “In fact, within three to four years you should be getting more than you paid in return, which will go directly to improving the bottom line.”

Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs for the Truck Manufacturers Association, agreed. “The savings in fuel economy should pay for the added costs,” he said.

The new regulations establish standards that should improve fuel efficiency by close to 20 percent between now and 2017. Mr. Suchecki said that the improvements will be measured by gallons per ton mile, so it is much more difficult to convey the fuel efficiency standards to the public than simply announcing an increase in gallons per mile.

But he said that the standards are fair and that the first benchmark for 2014 can be achieved by simply instituting technologies already in existence, such as using more fuel-efficient tires and using aerodynamic technology on the design of the trucks and trailers.

As stricter standards come into play toward 2017, Mr. Suchecki said that new technologies such as using duel-fuel systems might be necessary. However, he said that for the most part, these new standards do not require big leaps in technology to be achieved.

Mr. Kedzie concurred, saying, “These new standards are asking the industry to go after the low-hanging fruit. Oftentimes standards are designed to force the development of new technology. That is not the case this time.”

Mr. Suchecki of TMA said that it might seem odd that trucks have never had a fuel-efficiency standard in the past, but he said it was not considered necessary “because on the commercial side, fuel efficiency has always been very important to our customers.”

He said that the buyers of commercial trucks demanded top fuel efficiency and the manufacturers complied. “Unlike passenger automobiles, where fuel efficiency is not a driver, truck manufacturers have always strived to deliver good fuel economy,” Mr. Suchecki said.

However, they have not shown great improvements in recent years, which gave rise to these new standards. Mr. Kedzie said that manufacturers have developed add-ons to improve fuel efficiency, such as fuel-efficient tires, but the baseline engines have not shown much improvement over the past several decades

“Trucks have gotten 6 to 6.5 gallons per mile for the last quarter century,” he said.

That should change over the next six years.