Proposed mileage standards for heavy-duty trucks

Obama orders new fuel standards for the future

Anyone who's tried to buy a new heavy-duty truck in the last few years knows what a headache blanket government regulations can be.  The recent EPA standards on heavy-duty trucks have increased the price of a big truck by about $10,000, made engines more complex and prone to breakdowns, pushed up the price of pre-emissions used trucks, and driven at least one well-known manufacturer to cease production of heavy-duty diesel engines for the United States market.

But, the standards try to be a catch-all for equipment that varies widely in use.

The problem with the EPA regulations isn't that they have bad goals.  We all like clean air, and there's no doubt that the emissions due to the vast increase of over-the-road and vocational trucks on the road is an issue.  But, the standards try to be a catch-all for equipment that varies widely in use.  We at Gannon's probably average one computer error code a week coming from the emissions systems on our level 3 and level 4 trucks, and every so often, we have a late delivery because the emissions system on our level 4 trucks decides to go into a burn while loading and we're forced to wait until the cycle is complete.

Whenever new regulations hit the commercial truck industry, whether it's the DOT's hours-of-service regulations or the EPA emissions standards, the regulators seem to forget that there are a lot of heavy-truck operators out there, like Gannon's, that fall outside the over-the-road category.  A emissions system that calls for a regeneration every so often might be fine in an over-the-road truck, where the regeneration can run quietly in the background while the truck eats up miles at highway speed, barely above idle.  It doesn't work so well for a delivery business that has an average trip of about 20 minutes between stops.

I have to wonder, then, what effect these new fuel standards may have on the construction industry.  We at Gannon's average about 4.5 mpg while we run our trucks.  Between our short-hauls, and large amounts of time spent at high-idle running the power take-off for the cranes, we have some pretty big obstacles to winning any fuel efficiency contests.  And, we're far from the only company out there with short hauls running equipment off a PTO.

Basically, there's only two ways to increase the mileage of any vehicle:  cut horsepower or cut weight. Basically, there's only two ways to increase the mileage of any vehicle:  cut horsepower or cut weight.  While a lower-horsepower engine might be all right for a truck spending hours on the interstate--though anyone stuck behind that full 18-wheeler operating at 250 horsepower on an entrance ramp is probably not going to be happy.  The same lower-horsepower engine is quite another thing for a dump truck or crane that is constantly accelerating and decelerating as it makes its daily rounds.  And lowering the weight of trucks that are already basically fiberglass shells perched on steel rails is probably going to involve some pretty major trade-offs in durability and reliability.  I can't imagine that an aluminum frame is going to be much good on a truck that drives through rut-filled construction sites and landfills.

The supply chain of the heavy-duty vehicle market is not that of the passenger vehicle and light truck market...is every one of the thousands of body builders in this country going to have to test their vehicles after mounting dump boxes, tool boxes, cranes, or piggyback forklifts?

The supply chain of the heavy-duty vehicle market is not that of the passenger vehicle and light truck market.  Most manufacturers offer a choice of two or three engines in their trucks, and those engines are not necessarily made by the same company who pounded out the cab and chassis.  The vocational market is even worse, with three or more companies involved:  the truck manufacturer, the engine manufacturer, and the body builder.  I have to be a little curious what the regulations are going to govern:  a theoretical mileage rating on the engine, a tested mileage rating on a cab and chassis...or is every one of the thousands of body builders in this country going to have to test their vehicles after mounting dump beds, tool boxes, cranes, or piggyback forklifts? 

In addition, I would expect that we'll see the same thing that we've seen with the emissions standards:  the price of a new truck is going to go up as manufacturers scramble to meet new mileage regulations and the price of used trucks is going to go up as users search for horsepower put together before the new regulations.

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