Acquisition, maintenance cost worries stand out in post-2018 efficiency standards conversation

user-gravatar Headshot

DOT Secretary fuel-efficiency image

As owner-operators were reacting in various ways to news of President Obama’s announced plan to impose greater fuel-efficiency and emissions standards on post-2018 truck equipment, the image above came across the wall of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s Facebook page. While it may be accurate, it brought to the minds of some the old CSX railroad ad messages on PBS and NPR, which through some creative calculation proclaimed ad nauseum between news spots a few years back that “our trains can move a ton of freight 436 miles on just a single gallon of fuel.”

Wrote trucker Daniel McCreary, responding to the image on Facebook: “I hope this graphic doesn’t indicate the level of intellect that will go into this regulation. Four percent of vehicles, but what percent of miles? What percent of ton-miles? A 3,000-lb. vehicle that gets 30 mpg moves 1 ton 20 miles with 1 gallon of fuel. An 80,000 lb. truck that gets 6 mpg moves 1 ton 240 miles with 1 gallon of fuel, if my calculations are correct.” 

It was clear, at least, that the administration was out to put a smiling face on the need for greater standards in heavy-duty vehicles. Some readers worried that it would only lead to further cost hikes — from purchase prices to maintenance. A commenter posting here at as MarsRiver pointed to difficulties he’s had recently with an engine from the 2007-09 round of emissions specs: “I’m guilty of owning one of those so-called ‘green’ tractors,” the commenter wrote, “an ’08 Peterbilt with the DPF system. I just put a serious amount of money into a bumper-to-bumper clean-up” of the system. Three weeks later, he said, it wouldn’t build up enough heat to clear out soot so “I’m in for more money during the slower period. I get a call from the mechanics at Caterpillar telling me I’m the only one they know of who kept the unit long enough to use the expected life term of this system.” The truck had 751,333 miles on it at the time, and the “replacement is going to run between $5-$8K. The parts alone I’m told will be $3-$4K. Real bad part is Cat got out since the specs were so tight and they didn’t see it as a viable alternative and lost too much of their own money on it before they pulled the plug.” 

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers
The ALL NEW Rand Tablet
Presented by Rand McNally

Among engine manufacturers weighing in on the announcement were Volvo and Cummins, who both issued press releases committing to work with the EPA and NHTSA to develop appropriate standards. Cummins’ road-tested 10.7 mpg Peterbilt SuperTruck was something of an exhibit in the President’s announcement. 

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association issued a word of caution. It’s reminiscent of what former Motor Carrier Safety Adivsory Committee chairman Dave Parker of Great West Casualty had to say about safety-equipment mandates at the Feb. 9-12 MCSAC meeting. As committee members built a laundry list of recommendations from varying stakeholders to present to Congress as potential action items for the next highway bill, Parker urged committee members not to go too far down the road of “dictating stuff on equipment that’s really easy [to implement] if I’ve got 10,000 trucks, but not if I have only two trucks. Future reauthorizations should keep in mind … how do you promulgate rules and regulations to the small truckers? As you start coming up with new technology, are you going to say, ‘If you’re not big enough to absorb that, you should get out of business?'”

OOIDA worried that “the standards will continue to push the cost of new trucks skyward, thereby forcing many small-business truckers and fleet owners to hold on to older trucks and put off buying new equipment as long as they can,” somewhat counterintuitive to the goal of short-term emissions reductions. 

EPA’s own estimate of the price premium resulting from the 2014-18 fuel-efficiency standards was $6,200, OOIDA pointed out. 

Perhaps ominously, the plan also included direction for EPA and NHTSA to work with the California Air Resources Board to ensure “that the next phase of standards allows manufacturers to continue to build a single national fleet.”

Some watchers, as previously reported, have predicted CARB-style retroactive regs to flow across the country in future — with any luck, this new push from the administration doesn’t result in a national retrofit-or-retire mandate.

Other voices on the announcement:
Jim Stewart: I think I will just keep my 1983 model a little longer. It’s been paid for now 25 years. We’re on the second rebuild of the Big Cam III at 6.3 average miles per gallon, and it is doing better than most the new trucks my buddies have with all their shop time and payment plans. My payments go toward retirement (maybe a little more chrome), not the dealerships or finance companies. They’re doing just fine according to Wall Street!

John S.: Is it not funny how the government deregulated the trucking industry to reduce costs to consumers, only to increase regulations for vehicles, drivers and trucking companies themselves. The government never walked away from regulation in trucking, just zeroed in on certain aspects of it. They could care less about low wages, high turnover, increased operating costs. But they do care about driver fatigue, truck mpg and emissions. 

Joe Rajkovacz: Regulate trailers? They are not even a “motor vehicle” as defined in federal law (capable of self-propulsion). Even CARB has admitted their only source of authority to try and regulate trailers comes from state law — not the Clean Air Act. Gotta love the “end subsidies for oil and gas companies” jargon. Just another way to say, “eliminate legitimate business deductions and redirect the increased tax revenues.”

Don Smith: I drive a 20-year-old truck with no APU and average 7, so 10 is not really out of the question. A 30 percent savings in fuel would equal $20,000 to me.

Marc Maccione: I see used truck sales going up after this.

Manuel Casarez: Up until the 2013 models DEF/DPF systems have had issues, but newer trucks (with newer emissions systems) have far less of those problems. I’ve put a little over 200,000 miles on my ’13 Cascadia with DD15 engine with no powertrain or emissions system issues whatsoever…. Not that I agree with Obama’s over-regulation, by any means, but my biggest problem with it is that it seems too drastic a change. The regs should be implemented gradually. 

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the Partners in Business book, updated annually.
Partners in Business Issue Cover