Cover Story
OOIDA to EPA: Get out of the truck design business
'Land Line Now' radio reporter Terry Scruton talks with OOIDA's Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan S. Bowley about the limbo-lower emissions regulations from EPA and concerns that all these environmental and safety mandates may push the price of a truck up close to $200,000.

By Land Line staff

The federal government has created a series of regulations aimed at reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released in our atmosphere. The deadline for the first round is in 2014, still more than a year away.

While the concern from manufacturers is about meeting the already set goals for model year 2017, already set in regulation – more and more industry stakeholders are voicing their anxieties about the second round of regs. Those could go into effect – at the earliest – with the 2018 model year.

“It’s frustrating because basically the only folks up until this point in the trucking community that have argued publicly against these regulations have been OOIDA and the truck dealers,” OOIDA’s Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan S. Bowley said. “Now we’re starting to finally see the first hint of ‘buyer’s remorse’ among the truck manufacturers who were more or less forced into this arrogant program.”

EPA wants WHAT?
The standards run 2014 to 2017 and apply to trucks manufactured in those years. The regulations become more stringent with each passing year, culminating with a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

In order to achieve this reduction, the agency tied the reduction to fuel economy.

“The government is going to be mandating a fleet-wide 20 percent improvement in truck fuel economy,” said Bowley. “It sounds great when you think about it. But when you really sit back and think about how we purchase trucks out there, especially the small-business segment, these vehicles are spec’d down to the nut-and-bolt level to make sure they meet the needs of that trucker’s business.

“If you’re going to have a government mandate come in saying that trucks have to be manufactured with certain options, some of those options are definitely going to have a negative impact out there for a lot of truck buyers. That’s what we’re faced with here.”

The automatic shutdown feature and the permanent speed limiters, for example, are not mandatory under the current regs, just options. But the next round of regs could mandate them for all trucks.

“They’re talking about hard-wired permanent automatic engine shutdowns, hard-wired permanent speed limiters – and that’s on top of what NHTSA wants to do with speed limiters after ATA and the safety groups have petitioned for a regulation on that too,” Bowley said. “So, obviously, there’s a lot of stuff going on here.”

EPA has set out a scoring system on a “roster” of specification options. Trucks must be spec’d in such a way that when the “scores” of the components and the truck are totaled, the truck is given a compliant rating.

The agency doesn’t stop with slapping strict rules on the truck when it’s brand new. The agency’s mandate also prohibits modification of the truck from its original, ordered specifications, for 435,000 miles or 10 years.

For example, a truck owner is prohibited from disabling the speed limiter if the truck is manufactured with one.

That’s a “prohibited modification” – and so is removing an aerodynamic fairing from a tractor primarily used to pull a box trailer – even if the truck owner’s business changes and he wants to pull a flatbed now and then. That fairing has to stay there or you are breaking the law.

Bowley likens the regulations to drafting a football team with a salary cap. You have lots of players to pick from, but there are only so many you can afford.

Reality sets in
But the complaints don’t start and stop with the truckers faced with buying the trucks. Truck manufacturers are starting to share their concerns as well.

“There’s a heavy level of irony here,” Bowley said. “When these regulations were first proposed, the truck makers were so worried about EPA penalties, they said, ‘Yes we need to do this … it’s a good thing … sure we can do it, don’t fine us.”

“The major, big truck fleets out there have actually been big supporters of these regulations,” Bowley said, “because they are chasing the almighty mpg. But truck manufacturers and engine manufacturers basically agreed to everything EPA has regulated. They’ve obviously quibbled over small, technical matters. In general, however, the manufacturers have gone along with little argument.”

That is until reality set in, Bowley explained.

It’s never been a secret that these goals that EPA – which really knows nothing about trucking – set are going to be incredibly difficult to meet.

“Now that they’ve had to implement the regulations, design their trucks and design their future truck fleet offerings, lo and behold they’re faced with a migraine-level reality. Unfortunately for the trucking community out there, EPA’s regulations are in place,” Bowley said. “And will stay in place.”

Bowley pointed out that it is virtually impossible to permanently overturn a regulation.

EPA’s tough regulatory plan didn’t make it into place without opposition, however. Up until this point, in fact, the loudest voice of caution came from OOIDA and the American Truck Dealers division of the National Automotive Dealers Association.

The fact that concern and opposition is growing is most certainly better late than never. The next round of emission reduction regulations are to go into effect probably with the 2018 model year.

“This growing chorus certainly doesn’t bode well for that next round of regulations that EPA is already planning,” Bowley said.

“I read a quote from an engineer from Daimler talking about the Freightliner Cascadia, saying this truck is maxed out. He was basically saying Daimler can’t do anything anymore to the truck to improve fuel economy without taking away options from consumers. That really means taking more options from small-business truckers.”

Studies show these EPA regulations – whether the new truck fuel economy/greenhouse gas regulation or the next round of fuel economy regulations on personal vehicles – will eliminate the inexpensive or even moderately priced vehicle, Bowley said.

In addition, Bowley says it’s clear that the “classic” truck design as we know it will be gone. Tractor-trailers won’t drive the same, they won’t look the same, and they’ll be wildly expensive.

“Who can afford it? This is going to price a lot of buyers out of the market, in fact, out of the industry. Small-business truckers are not big spenders.”

OOIDA is concerned that all of these environmental and safety mandates may push the price of a truck up close to $200,000.

Compounding the expense the new regulations are heaping onto the cost of a new truck, the regulations are also restricting the flexibility of truck buyers to spec the truck best for their operation.

Bowley likens it to the government telling a steel mill to use a certain type of oven, even though that oven is not capable of doing the job. Or telling a machine shop there is only one type of drill available to them. It’s mandating tools ill-equipped for the tasks they are meant to perform.

“That’s basically where we are with these regulations. And it’s only going to get worse in the next round unless this stuff comes to a stop,” Bowley said. “And it’s not just the tractor.”

With engine and truck manufacturers essentially saying there’s just not any more that can be done to improve fuel economy, Bowley says the EPA will turn its sights on trailers.

“You know they’re working at regulating the trailer, telling you what kind of tires you can put on your trailer, having EPA approve the designs of trailers, things like that.”

And that’s just the start of EPA’s agenda.

So, what can we do?
Many of those regulations have yet to start through the rulemaking process. Bowley said the industry as a whole has to turn its attention to what EPA is doing and proposing to do.

He said OOIDA will be fully involved in the battle to use common sense in achieving efficiency.

“EPA has yet to issue anything going forward for future years. But we know they want to. We know they’re doing the background work; they just haven’t done anything yet,” Bowley said. “So we still have time to fight against that regulation and tell EPA it’s time to get out of the truck design business.” LL