Feds target fuel mileage, but what about heavy trucks?

| 4/2/2010

The latest announcement by the EPA and DOT targeting fuel economy for cars and light trucks failed to mention heavier vehicles. Does that mean medium- and heavy duty trucks are off the hook for now? Not so, according to NHTSA. That agency issued a report on Wednesday calling for fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

As media focused on mileage and greenhouse gas improvements announced Thursday, April 1, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation, small-business truckers were voicing concerns about a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling for establishment of mileage standards for medium and heavy trucks.

Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said truckers and manufacturers have cause for concern.

“The industry is way too dynamic to have bureaucrats in Washington determining what fuel mileage standards should be for heavy trucks,” Rajkovacz said.

“There’s no conceivable way that you can come up with a fuel mileage standard that is equitable that doesn’t favor one application over another. Do they want us all to be in trucks favored by large fleets, underpowered and with all the same features? They’re saying ‘Let’s try to make the long-haul industry homogenous.’ ”

The NHTSA report stays away from suggesting mileage numbers. In other words, the agency does not say that a certain class of truck should achieve “x” miles per gallon. Instead, NHTSA and partners in the National Academy of Sciences are suggesting multiple categories based on trucking applications.

Report authors are suggesting that fuel economy standards for trucks could be based on gallons of fuel consumed per ton-mile, rather than based on mpg. This would account for averages for loaded, partially loaded or empty trucks, officials stated.

“It’s government overreach,” Rajkovacz said in response. He said truckers are going to have questions about power.

“The last thing we want is guys having underpowered engines under their hood when they need power to perform their job duties,” said Rajkovacz.

“This is a nightmare for trucking. This would be Washington bureaucrats micromanaging to a standard we don’t need. The private sector knows what works best because if you don’t take fuel mileage seriously in this business, you don’t survive.”

Lastly, Rajkovacz said the report doesn’t say much about drivers or driving habits that weigh heavily into fuel mileage.

“How about instead of setting some arbitrary and capricious standard for equipment, why don’t you set some training standards for drivers that include fuel economy: Think shifting techniques,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the final rule on corporate average fuel economy standards, or CAFE standards for cars and light trucks, on Thursday, April 1.

The final rule calls for CAFE standards to be increases for cars and light trucks from the current 27.5 mpg to 34 mph by 2016, with benchmarks for manufacturers to meet in each model year. The rule also calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – the first U.S. rule to do so.

Officials in Canada rolled out a similar mandate on Thursday to coincide with the U.S. rule.

– By David Tanner, associate editor