40% Fuel Savings Available in Big Trucks

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Our transportation system contributes to global warming because it is almost entirely powered by burning gasoline and diesel in vehicle engines. Second only to cars in terms of fuel consumption and carbon pollution in the transportation sector are heavy trucks, buses and delivery vehicles. Fortunately, like with cars, U.S. manufacturers can apply smart technologies that make heavy trucks and similar vehicles much more fuel efficient. As a new set of fuel efficiency standards are developed, the Obama Administration should ensure that by 2025, new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles reduce fuel consumption and carbon pollution by at least 40 percent compared to 2010 vehicles.  

As described in a new factsheet, cost-effective technologies are available to meet the 40 percent reduction target.

The 40 percent target is an average weighted by fuel consumption across three broad categories of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including tractor-trailers, vocational vehicles and heavy-duty pickups and vans. The potential savings in each category are also an average for that category, meaning some vehicle models will achieve more and some less.

When strong fuel efficiency performance standards are set, vehicle manufacturers have the certainty needed to invest in advanced technologies for all areas of the vehicle. In many cases, it takes years to develop and bring new technologies to market. With standards, manufacturers know there will be a market for their innovations and truck buyers are assured of fuel savings.

In the current medium- and heavy-duty efficiency standards for model years 2014 to 2018, trailer technologies were excluded. However, improved trailers, especially through better aerodynamics, offer a huge opportunity for fuel savings and therefore should definitely be included in the post-2018 standards. Trailer improvements are just one of a list of many technologies, shown below, that can contribute to the 40 percent reduction.

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Tractor-trailers are among the biggest energy hogs on the road, consuming about two thirds of the fuel used by all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. But they can also achieve big savings. When a package of the above technologies is applied to tractor trailers, the truck owner can expect to save $30,000 in fuel costs annually. The purchase cost of those technologies is about $32,000, which means the investment is paid back in just 13 months. After that, the fuel savings continue to add up.

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As new, more efficient trucks designed to meet the first phase (2014-2018) and second phase (post 2018) standards are sold, older trucks will be retired and the on-road stock will become more efficient. At the same time, projections by the Energy Information Administration show a growing demand for on-road freight services. If trucks remained at 2010 efficiency levels, fuel demand and pollution would grow rapidly in response to higher freight volumes. Under strong standards, however, the U.S. will avoid the consumption of 1.4 million barrels of oil-derived fuels per day and reduce carbon pollution by 270 million metric tons.

Strong fuel efficiency standards are a proven method to reduce oil consumption and carbon pollution. The Obama Administration should continue the winning track record that started with the 54.5 mpg car fuel efficiency standards and set truck standards that achieve at least a 40 percent fuel consumption reduction. The next step from U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, expected in January 2015, is to propose the post-2018 medium- and heavy-duty vehicles standards. We’ll be pushing to make sure they are strong.