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United States truck fuel standards paying dividends

By Aaron Stone

As a manufacturer, it’s easy to lament the introduction or tightening of vehicle fuel standards and the almost certain increase in compliance costs and complexity that accompanies their arrival. However, a new report released by the European Federation for Transport and Environment has clearly demonstrated heavy-duty fuel standards in the United States are serving their intended purpose.

The report, released in January 2018, analyzed the net costs and benefits of introducing trucking standards and has found they are delivering dramatic improvements in fuel economy and major financial savings for trucking operators.

The report compares the impact of fuel standards on truck prices, fuel economy improvements and CO2 emissions. Research analyzed prices from 2008-2011, before standards were introduced, and between 2011-2017.

U.S. truck standards were first adopted in 2011 as part of a joint effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The standards introduced a requirement for trucks to decrease emissions and fuel consumption by between 10% and 21% by MY 2014 (from a MY 2010 baseline), and a further 3% for 2017 models.

Transport and Environment’s review focuses on the popular U.S. Class 8 high roof sleeper trucks, a major emitter of CO2 and, according to the report, responsible for two-thirds of all fuel consumed in the U.S. freight sector. Five models with the largest market penetration during the defined research period were assessed, using the Truck Blue Book database on heavy-duty commercial trucks to monitor price developments.

Fuel consumption and price evolution of top-sold Class 8 high-roof sleepers.Dramatic fuel savings were evident in the 2018 report, the authors citing a 24% cumulative fuel efficiency gain over six years since the introduction of the standards, translating to a fuel savings of approximately USD 8,200 for a top-selling Class 8 sleeper in 2017 compared to a similar truck purchased six years earlier. Prior to 2011 no fuel efficiency gains were evident.

Yes, prices of sleeper trucks have increased since the introduction of the standards. However, even considering a rise in the annual price increase of a truck since the standards were implemented, from USD 2,100 to USD 2,500 per year, the additional fuel efficiency gain of approximately USD 1,400 per year easily outweighs the incremental USD 400 purchase cost.

Undoubtedly, U.S. truck standards have brought change and encouraged technological enhancements from automotive and fuel manufacturers, though the same cannot necessarily be said for Europe. Often regarded as a leader in efficiency, Europe currently lacks similar truck fuel efficiency measures which is threatening the competitiveness of the European truck industry.

While comparable standards are scheduled to be introduced in the first half of 2018; as it stands U.S. trucks are projected to overtake the EU as the world’s most efficient by early 2020’s, according to the Transport and Environment report. Large-scale fleet surveys are already recording very substantial savings as aging trucks are replaced.