“For the last eight years, the United States has reduced our carbon emissions more than any other nation on earth.” – President Barack Obama, State of the Union, Jan. 2014
You may not have watched the 2014 State of the Union address by President Obama and, if you did, you may have missed his announcement that he would be introducing new fuel efficiency standards for trucks in the coming months. (It came around 35 minutes in.) The announcement was indicative of the significant changes that should be, can be and already are being made to the fuel efficiency, and hence emissions levels, of freight trucks in the U.S.
Environmental Defense Fund believes now is the time to get on board and support change, which not only is good for the planet, but benefits the financial health of the transport and logistics industry.
Yes, more fuel-efficient, less-polluting trucks will cost more up front. But strong fuel efficiency standards significantly reduce the largest single cost of running a truck: the fuel. Diesel fuel costs are more than 3.5 times larger than the per-mile cost of purchasing or leasing a truck. More efficient trucks also help an operator hedge against volatility in the global oil market. Improved fuel efficiency means trucking companies large and small, and their shipper partners, will benefit from more predictability and lower per-mile costs.
Already, for the first time ever, truck efficiency standards, agreed in 2011, were introduced Jan. 1, 2014. These standards cover trucks from large pick-ups to tractor-trailers. Theywill cut climate pollution by nearly 300 million tons while saving truck operators $50 billion. For combination tractor-trailer trucks, they will cut annual fuel costs by over $18,000 at today’s prices. These fuel savings will pay back the increase in upfront costs in less than five months.
Shippers that rely on trucking to move goods stand to benefit significantly too. These companies will see a decrease of around $0.11 in the total cost-per-mile to move freight. Across their supply chain, large freight shippers will save millions of dollars each year because of the newly introduced rule.
These are real savings that businesses big and small are starting to see in their bottom line today.
And yet the levels of adoption of fuel-efficient technology remain dishearteningly low. The average new heavy-duty diesel truck sold last year got slightly less than six miles per gallon — far less than need be. Worse, trucks look increasingly bad compared to the cars and light delivery trucks that share the road with them. Adoption of technology that improves fuel performance in these smaller vehicles has raced ahead, resulting in what Obama referred to in his SOTU speech as “the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world.” Meanwhile, trucks have lumbered along in the efficiency slow lane.
As the gap in progress widens, the trucking industry is on course to smack headlong into the urgent need to cut greenhouse gases. Indeed, if we simply hold our current path, emissions alone from freight trucks on U.S. roads are set to increase 19 percent by 2030 and 26 percent by 2040. Emissions from freight trucks are on pace to grow more than any other single end-use source in the U.S.
We have the technology available to us today to keep freight truck emissions steady from today, and to begin to reduce them by 2030. Our heavy trucks can become much more efficient. In fact, recent analysis by American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that it’s realistic for new truck standards to be set high enough to achieve something approaching a 40 percent fuel consumption reduction compared to 2010 trucks within the next decade.
Many companies already have developed and are bringing to market the tools we need to meet a strong standard. Examples include:
- Truck transmissions manufacturer Eaton — which has launched a powertrain package than can improve fuel efficiency by up to 6 percent.
- Truck engine builder Cummins Inc. and truck manufacturer Peterbilt Motors Co. — which partnered last year to build a truck that “averaged 9.9 miles a gallon in road tests last fall.” They achieved this through a suite of improvements; including capturing otherwise wasted thermal energy.
- Smart Truck Systems, a supplier of aerodynamic products to the trucking industry — which has a product that can cut fuel consumption from tractor-trailer combination by over 10% through advanced aerodynamics.
Also available to us is innovative axle technology that can increase truck fuel efficiency by 2.5 percent.
The first-generation truck fuel-efficiency standards introduced Jan. 1 were created with the broad support of the trucking industry and many other key stakeholders. Among the diverse groups that supported this rule were the American Trucking Associations, the Engine Manufacturers Association and the Truck Manufacturers Association, the United Auto Workers, and EDF.
But this is just the beginning. We enthusiastically support Obama’s bid to push the agenda forward, and we’d like to see much stronger standards coming into effect in 2020.
We can foster wide-ranging change in a way that enables American business to thrive while also cutting the need for imported oil by hundreds of millions of barrels a year.
And because we can realistically achieve a good result for business and the environment, we welcome President Obama’s call to action in the State of the Union, and urge the trucking industry, and the vast logistics sector which relies so heavily on the services it provides, to get on board with fuel efficiency.
If you’re a shipper, demand that your freight providers use fuel-efficient trucks, and monitor the metrics around the carbon footprint of your cargo. If you’re an owner-operator or manage a fleet, go for the most efficient option when you buy new equipment.
With the right political and commercial will, EDF believes we can build on the trust created during the development of the current standards to find common ground on the next phase of truck efficiency rules, and to work together to achieve the “cleaner safer planet” Obama referred to in his speech.
Jason Mathers is senior manager, green freight, with the Environmental Defense Fund. Contact him at email@example.com.