New
All Things Fuel
Who’d a thunk it?
Lawmakers now want heavy trucks to be included in a mpg mandate

By David Tanner
staff writer

Apples and oranges can sometimes be compared – they both have seeds and grow on trees – but a government effort to compare fuel-mileage standards for passenger vehicles and heavy trucks simply isn’t a sound comparison, manufacturers say.

Truck and engine manufacturers have struck back against a U.S. Senate bill that would amend the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards to include heavy trucks for the first time.

The manufacturers call the proposal for the so-called CAFE standards “unworkable and unnecessary.”

“The whole basis on which light-vehicle CAFE standards are constructed just does not carry over to the heavy vehicle arena,” Truck Manufacturers Association President Robert M. Clarke told Land Line. “It’s a direct mimic of what is going on in light vehicles.”

The comparison, he said, would be an apples-to-oranges scenario.

“It overlooks a whole lot of fundamental basic facts, that trucks are work products – tools – and that they are commercial products and not consumer products,” Clarke said. “People buy them out of needs rather than preferences.”

The action and reaction began in early May when a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, to amend the CAFE standards for passenger vehicles was revised by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to include medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks.

Commissioners lumped it all in together and threw in another facet – an annual 4-percent increase in fuel mileage for heavy trucks for each of the 20 years following enactment.
The committee’s reasoning was consumer-oriented.

“This aggressive but thoughtful approach will move fuel economy forward,” Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-HI, said in a press release. “Consumers will spend less at the pump and the nation will be a more secure place.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, rolled the Feinstein bill into a larger energy package introduced as S1419. It was awaiting Senate action as of press time.

Even if the intention seems OK, tossing heavy trucks into the mix has thrown the heavy-duty manufacturers for a loop, Clarke said.

“This appeared out of the blue and what has happened is, we’ve been swept up in the notion that what is good for light vehicles is good for heavy vehicles as well,” he said.

The Truck Manufacturers Association tried to intervene by sending a letter to the Senate committee to ward off the proposals in the CAFE bill.

“Medium and heavy trucks are built in a wide variety of highly tailored configurations, body types and power-train configurations to meet the specific needs of truck operators who use them in hundreds of varied vocations,” Clarke wrote.

“There are literally tens of thousands of these vehicle combinations, and the production runs on many of these unique vehicles are extremely small compared to light vehicle production volumes.”

When that letter fell on deaf ears, the Truck Manufacturers Association teamed up with the Engine Manufacturers Association to issue a joint position paper. The comparison again, the paper stated, is apples to oranges.

“The concept of fuel economy as proposed in the bill is impossible to implement for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles because of the diverse nature of the industry and the fact that the ultimate owner-operator chooses individual components and operates in different and varied ways based on their business needs,” manufacturing officials stated in the document.

Engine Manufacturers Association spokesman Joseph Suchecki told Land Line that market factors and consumers are driving manufacturers to produce more efficient equipment.

“Fuel economy is obviously very important to customers,” Suchecki said. “We think there are different short-term ways to increase efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases … CAFE is not the way to go on this.”

Some of the options outlined in the position paper to increase efficiency and reduce harmful emissions include stricter idling restrictions, increased use of renewable diesel fuels and expanding government tax-credit programs for owner-operators who implement idle reduction technology, such as auxiliary power units.

“Fuel economy is high on everybody’s focus,” Clarke said. “As business operators, people are keenly aware of what their fuel costs are and do everything that they can to minimize those costs.”

The purpose of CAFE
Born back durning the fuel shortages of the early 1970s, the CAFE standards require manufacturers of passenger vehicles to achieve an improved level of fuel economy in phases. The standards have not been amended for 16 years.

The provisions in S1419 would give the U.S. Department of Transportation the power to prescribe fuel economy for passenger vehicles, light trucks and – for the first time – medium and heavy trucks. It steers clear of RVs, buses and trains.

During a suggested time frame outlined in the bill – proposed to begin in 2011 – fuel mileage for passenger vehicles would be increased from an average of 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 mpg.

While making the push for increased or new standards, the CAFE bill acknowledges certain limitations likely to be incurred by manufacturers. Most of the acknowledgements are related to cost effectiveness, vehicle safety and available technology.

If Congress and the president approve the new CAFE standards, they would not be implemented until the Department of Transportation files notice in the Federal Register three years prior to the enactment of the standards.

Meanwhile . . .
To some politicians, global warming is a buzzword as they drum up support for their agendas.

President Bush signed an executive order in mid-May directing the Environmental Protection agency, the U.S. DOT, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture to coordinate more such regulatory actions for cars and trucks in reaction to global climate change.

The president’s goal is to reduce gasoline consumption in the U.S. by 20 percent in 10 years, known as the “20 in 10” plan.

Following Bush’s order, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said during a teleconference on the CAFE standards proposal that a notice in the Federal Register could be published by the end of 2008, and that the feds hope to begin implementing the standards by 2011. Implementing the CAFE standards by 2011 would play a role in meeting Bush’s “20 in 10” goal.

The truck and engine manufacturers believe lumping it all together will be a lofty goal for any government at this point.

“The proposed language requiring incremental, annual improvements in fuel economy of 4-percent per year for medium and heavy-duty vehicles is an unrealistic goal,” the truck and engine manufacturing officials stated in their position paper.

“Additional fuel economy improvements above market requirements will not be practical or cost effective, and in light of future required emissions reductions, may not be technically feasible.”


david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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