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Pros & Cons of New Medium- & Heavy-Duty Truck Fuel Standards

September 30, 2011, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

By Mike Antich

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks comprise 4 percent of the total vehicles on the road, but account for 20 percent of the fuel consumed and 20 percent of the greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted by the transportation sector. Now, for the first-time ever, fuel economy standards for heavy- and medium-duty trucks over 8,500 lbs. will be regulated by the federal government. The new regulations will cover trucks built in 2014 through 2018. Everyone agrees that the immediate impact will be higher acquisition costs, which are estimated to increase by an average of more than $6,000, but will be offset by reduced fuel costs over the life of the vehicle. This will be on top of the $6,000-$10,000 increase in acquisition costs to meet the 2010 diesel emission standards, the all-new cost for diesel exhaust fluid, and the $0.06 cents per gallon increase for ultra-low sulfur diesel.

These new fuel efficiency rules impose different standards on three categories of work trucks: combination tractors (semi-trucks that typically pull trailers); heavy-duty pickups and vans; and vocational vehicles, such as transit buses, garbage trucks, etc.

Combination tractors must achieve up to a 23-percent reduction in fuel consumption and GHG emissions by MY-2018. Heavy-duty trucks and vans must achieve a 10- to 15-percent reduction in fuel economy and a 12- to 17-percent reduction in GHG emissions by MY-2018, depending on whether they run on gasoline or diesel. Vocational trucks, such as delivery trucks, buses, and garbage trucks, must reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions by 9 percent by MY-2018.

Within each of these categories, even more specific targets are laid out based on the design and purpose of the vehicle. For example, there are differentiated standards for nine subcategories of combination tractors, based on three attributes: weight class, cab type, and roof height. The government released no mpg equivalent for the new standards, saying that doing so it would be confusing due to the different vehicle categories, the different vehicle types in each category, and the varying payloads of each.

New Regulations Endorsed by OEMs

The new national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease GHG emissions was endorsed by Navistar, Volvo, Chrysler, Con-way, and the American Trucking Associations, whose members have been pushing for some time for fuel-efficiency standards. Engine and vehicle manufacturers have a number of options to comply with the standards, such as reduce idling, aerodynamic improvements, reduce weight, and the introduction of advanced engine and transmission technologies. According to the Diesel Technology Forum, diesels provide a unique technology platform suitable for expanded use of hybrid powertrains and lower-carbon renewable fuels - both viable strategies for reducing GHG-emissions in the future.

The new fuel-efficiency program is projected to save 30 million barrels of oil and reduce GHG emissions by 270 million metric tons. Presently, truck fleets consume 23 billion gallons of diesel annually. Cumulatively, truck fleets are projected to save $50 billion in reduced fuel expenditures over the life of the plan. Proponents argue that as operating costs decrease, due to more fuel-efficient trucks, business owners can invest that money in goods and services across the economy. Proponents also contend the standards will help the U.S. retain a leadership position in the manufacture of more fuel-efficient and hybrid trucks. However, some proponents complain the standards didn't go far enough. For instance, the standards don't mandate the production of more aerodynamic, lightweight trailers, which, according to these critics, is a missed opportunity to further reduce fuel consumption.

The Other Side of the Story

Nearly 96 percent of the registered motor carriers in the U.S. operate 20 or fewer trucks. One group that opposed the new regulations was the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which has 15,000 members. The association said the new regulations would increase costs for small businesses. The OOIDA said higher acquisition prices will increase pressure to defer replacement and to keep less fuel-efficient, higher-emissions trucks in service for longer periods. Other critics argue that the use of advanced engine and transmission technologies will increase maintenance and repair costs.

These critics point out that the CAFE standards have failed to accomplish their purpose. Oil imports have not decreased. In fact, they have increased from about 35 percent of supply in the mid-1970s to 52 percent today. Likewise, consumption has not decreased. As fuel efficiency improves, consumers have, on average, increased the number of miles driven, offsetting the gains in higher mpg. According to critics, not only has CAFE failed to meet its goals, it has had tragic consequences. As vehicles became lighter to achieve higher mpg to meet the standards, the number of fatalities from crashes has risen. Some studies estimate that between 1975 and 1990, 40,000 people died in crashes who would have survived if they had been traveling in a bigger, heavier vehicle.

Increasing the use of lighter weight materials, such as aluminum, plastics, or composites will reduce fuel consumption, will generate a different set of environmental impacts, and result in different kinds of indirect energy consumption. GHG emissions from the production of substitute materials, such as aluminum, would substantially offset emission reductions achieved through improved fuel economy.

Regardless of where you stand on the pros and cons, this is now the law of the land, which will have a substantial and long-lasting impact on the truck industry for the balance of this decade and beyond.

Let me know what you think.


  1. 1. Elvin [ October 11, 2011 @ 02:10AM ]

    Hi Mike thanks for sharing this nice article. its really interesting.

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Mike Antich

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Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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