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Industry unworried about truck mileage rule

By AL SWANSON, United Press International   |   Aug. 14, 2011 at 5:30 AM   |   Comments

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The next time a really big truck or bus locks in on your car's rear bumper just keep in mind in the near future both you and it will be able to stay on the road a lot longer between fill-ups.

The cat and mouse road game, you being the highway mouse, potentially could last for hundreds of miles after the latest mileage requirements for cars and trucks kick-in later this decade.

For cars, U.S automakers will have to build vehicles that average a fleet-wide 54.5 mpg by 2024, up from the existing fleet average of about 27.8 mpg. The government has set mileage requirements for cars and light-duty vehicles since 1975.

Last week, for the first time, the government unveiled fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards for long-haul trucks (those 80,000 pound 18-wheelers), heavy and medium-duty work trucks (everything from fire trucks to cement mixers), buses and other heavy-duty vehicles (garbage trucks, dump trucks, flatbeds, refrigerated trucks, and cargo and step vans) requiring mileage improvements of 9 percent to 23 percent depending on the category.

By model year 2018, semi rigs will have to reduce fuel consumption and gas emissions 20 percent, heavy-duty pickups and vans, by 15 percent, and vocational vehicles such as delivery trucks, transit buses and garbage trucks, by 10 percent.

Fuel savings for 18-wheelers could reach 4 gallons of fuel for each 100 miles traveled, The Detroit News said, and 1 gallon per 100 miles traveled for vocational trucks.

"While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks, something interesting happened," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks. They were from people who build, buy and drive these trucks."

Experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists say reducing truck emissions by 20 percent would result in an average 8 mpg boost in fuel economy. U.S. engine and truck manufacturers say that's fine with them.

The Engine Manufacturers Association and the Truck Manufacturers Association praised the ambitious final rule -- nearly 1,000 pages -- announced Tuesday by the president and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"EMA and TMA members strongly support a uniform, national program to address greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency that aligns with the needs of their customers and the nation," Jed Mandel, EMA-TMA president said in a statement. "The final rule provides a novel program that expands the use of existing fuel efficiency improvement technologies, incentivizes the introduction of advanced technologies, accelerates improvements in medium and heavy-duty truck efficiency and reduces greenhouse gas emissions."

The Obama administration announced new passenger car fuel economy rules two weeks earlier after wrangling with the automakers. Auto companies will make 11 million to 14 million vehicles this year while only a few hundred thousand new commercial trucks will roll off the assembly lines.

Republicans and corporate lobbying groups warned the new regulations could destroy jobs but environmentalists said they would give Americans cleaner air, lower fuel costs and reduce dependency on foreign oil. The Los Angeles Times said the rules encourage car and truck manufactures to use existing technology to meet the mileage and emission standards, even though some industry observers said meeting them will be a challenge for truck builders that have to invest billions.

The EPA estimated the new standards could cost new vehicle buyers $8 billion, which would be made up by fuel savings realized in the first few years of operating each truck.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association said the final rule overlooked the most effective fuel-savings method of all -- driver training -- which it said is responsible as much as 35 percent of fuel economy, Truckinginfo, the Web site of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine said.

"With this rule, EPA and NHTSA have now set an example for what could be a worldwide GHG (greenhouse gas) and fuel efficiency regulation for heavy duty trucks and engines," said Daniel Ustain, chairman of Navistar, a commercial and military truck maker that helped come up with the standards.

In 2010, the government awarded Cummins Inc., a U.S. diesel engine maker, $54 million in federal grants to develop high-efficiency drivetrains that meet the EPA's requirement. Cummins said it can do it early.

"The emissions technologies in use today provide the foundation for meeting the 2014 standards, and Cummins is ready to meet this regulation in 2013," said Steve Charlton, vice president and chief technical officer of Cummins' engine business.

About 95 percent of commercial trucks and 85 percent of buses on U.S. roads are powered by diesel engines -- once reviled for belching dirty blue-black smoke and fumes -- that consume some 22 billion gallons of fuel annually.

Figuring the long distances they travel, the poor mileage they get, and the amount of time they sit idling, commercial trucks use an estimated 20 percent of all vehicle fuel burned in the United States.

The new engines are not your grandfather's diesels.

The Diesel Technology Forum, a trade association, said the new efficiency rules could cut U.S. oil consumption by more than 530 million barrels over the lifetime of the next-generation vehicles.

Currently, a long-haul truck traveling 150,000 miles annually averaging 6 mpg burns around 25,000 gallons of fuel. At $4 a gallon, that fuel costs around $100,000, Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum told The New York Times.

"The billions of dollars in research and development by engine and truck manufacturers over the last decade has paid off and led to the new technology diesel engines and fuels we know today," Schaeffer said. "These engines offer an unmatched combination of energy-efficiency, work capability, reliability and now near-zero emissions making them the technology of choice for commercial trucks today and into the foreseeable future."


U.S. "Car Czar" Ron Bloom, a former investment banker who helped the administration save General Motors and Chrysler in an $85 million bailout and restructure the industry, is stepping down.

A one-time adviser to the United Steelworkers, Bloom helped work out agreement on new passenger vehicle fuel efficiency standards to increase fleet mileage to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

"For the past 2 1/2 years, Ron Bloom's leadership and expertise has helped us put America's automakers back on the road to recovery, launch new partnerships and make our manufacturers more competitive, and set aggressive fuel economy standards that will save consumers and businesses money at the pump," said President Obama.

The Detroit News said the government still has a 26 percent equity stake in GM and owns 74 percent of Ally Financial, formerly GMAC. Chrysler Group LLC is on its own after being acquired by Italy's Fiat Group.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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