Stiffer truck fuel economy rules urged

A coalition of environmental groups and unions praised the proposed federal rules setting fuel economy and greenhouse gas reduction standards but urged even stronger requirements.

Speaking in a media conference call Nov. 15 prior to a public hearing held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, representatives said the fuel savings could be greater by using existing technologies and including the trailer as well as the tractor.

“The proposed rule represents a significant improvement in truck fuel economy and put many of today’s existing technologies to work across the truck fleet by 2018,” said Don Anair, an engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But even greater savings are possible than proposed. To maximize the fuel savings and emissions benefits of the standards would be to make improvements across the entire vehicle.”

He said a review of the technologies available in the 2014 to 2018 timeframe by the National Academy of Sciences showed a potential for more than a 35 percent reduction in fuel consumption from these vehicles. The proposal sets a 20 percent reduction standard for these vehicles. “The biggest remaining opportunity is trailers,” Anair said. “The proposal doesn’t include improvements on the trailers, which could include tires and improved aerodynamics. Many of these technologies are available today.”

In response to a question about how trailer standards could enhance the overall fuel economy improvements, Anair said trailers could increase fuel economy by one-fourth to one-third. He noted that one of the barriers to including the trailer in fuel efficiency standards is the truck operator often doesn’t own the trailer. “He may not have control over the type of trailer he’s pulling,” he added.

Another questioner said the EPA announced it omitted trailers from the proposal because of a lack of regulatory experience with trailers. Anair noted that the agency indicated its intent to include trailers in future regulations. He said that current aftermarket technologies exist to improve tractor-trailer fuel efficiency. “If you look at the manufacturing sector for these trailers, the five largest trailer manufacturers represent about 90 percent of new trailers sold,” he said. 

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Another opportunity remains on the vocational trucks. Anair said the standard is focusing on engine improvements and tires on these vehicles and doesn’t account for additional technologies such as advanced transmissions, weight savings and hybrid technologies, some of which are in the market today. “Before EPA and DOT finalize these standards they should consider all of the available technologies across the range,” Anair said.