EPA Proposes Fuel Efficiency Standards for Heavy Trucks, Buses

November 10, 2010

Anyone who's ever sat in traffic behind a large truck belching clouds of black smoke has wondered whether those vehicles would ever be forced to clean up their act. On Oct. 25, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed the first US standards to cut carbon emissions and increase fuel efficiency for new heavy-duty trucks and buses produced beginning in 2014.

The standards (now in a 60-day comment period) cover three types of heavy trucks — from 3/4-ton pickups and vans to delivery trucks and big rigs:

  1. Combination tractors: Proposed incremental engine and vehicle standards that would start in the 2014 model year. By the 2018 model year, they would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and fuel consumption by 20%.
  2. Heavy-duty pickups and vans: Separate gasoline and diesel standards are proposed for this vehicle class. Phase-in would start in the 2014 model year. By 2018, it would achieve up to 10% reductions in fuel use and emissions for gasoline vehicles; 15% for diesel. (EPA notes this could increase to 12% and 17% respectively "if accounting for air conditioning leakage.")
  3. Vocational vehicles (special-purpose vehicles such as garbage, utility, delivery, dump, cement, and tow trucks; transit, shuttle and school buses; emergency vehicles; etc.): Proposed standards would phase in beginning in the 2014 model year and by the 2018 model year achieve 10% reduction in emissions and fuel use.

According to an article by John M. Broder in the New York Times of October 25, 2010, agencies hope the new standards will capitalize on trucking technology advances such as low-rolling-resistance tires, improved aerodynamics, better engines, hybrid-electric drive systems, and idling controls.

IEEE Spectrum noted, in an October 26, 2010, article by Bill Sweet: "The standards do not seem to owe much, however, to T. Boone Pickens' proposal to switch trucks to natural gas."

These standards would not apply to trucks built before the 2014 model year.

According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, lower fuel costs for truckers would "more than cover the costs of the technology used to meet the new standards and would create jobs in truck manufacturing and related industries."

Even though it would probably increase the cost of new trucks, the American Trucking Associations support the Administration's proposal. The ATA notes: "Incremental cost increases for combination tractors are projected to be $5,900 in 2014 while other truck categories are expected to see minimal price increases in the range of $200-$400 per vehicle. Trailers are not currently being addressed in the proposal."

The proposed standards are based largely on the recommendations in this March 2010 National Research Council study. NRC press: Sara Frueh or Alison Burnette, 202-334-2138, email.

For more insight into how all kinds of commercial, government, and institutional vehicle fleets (even those that include heavy vehicles) could minimize or eliminate fossil fuel use, see Clean Fleet Report, edited by SEJer John Addison.