With any luck, people who buy new trucks next year will see a useful improvement in fuel economy, and in subsequent years through 2018 it should only get better. That’s the theory, anyway, and you’ll have President Obama to thank if it holds true. Back in May of 2010 he decreed that the U.S. Department of Transportation must establish rules that would lower both carbon-dioxide emissions and fuel consumption in commercial trucks from class 2b on up.

A few months later we had the Medium- and Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency proposed rule-making, and a final rule not long afterwards in 2011. Modifications have been made subsequently after commentary from all and sundry, and the rules softened a little in the process, but the basics have remained. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will administer the emission side of it and the program at large while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will handle fuel economy. It was announced just this last February that Canada will follow suit to the letter.

Last week I gave a presentation on all this at the Green Fleet Exposition held at Niagara College in Welland, Ont., which forced me to examine the new mandate in more detail than I’d done before. Almost wish I hadn’t. The final rule is over 400 pages long — with seven pages alone on the acronyms in use! — and as I said last week, it’s as dense as the rubber in a hockey puck. That doesn’t count a few hundred further pages of amendments and corrections and what have you. To be honest, it’s mighty tough to sift through this stuff and get a solid grip on it.

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The Peterbilt/Cummins SmartTruck is where we’re headed
I tell you, trying to pack all that into a half-hour PowerPoint presentation was the biggest challenge I’ve had in a while. A useful piece of work, nonetheless, and it raised one issue about a technology we’re going to see on heavy-duty engines soon. That’s waste-heat recovery, which promises to improve heavy-truck fuel efficiency by some 6%, according to Cummins. But nobody knows much about it, so more on that in a bit.
Ironically, while I was making that presentation, President Obama was announcing a coming mandate for the post-2018 era. At Georgetown University in Washington, DC, he talked proudly of the rules we’ll see next year and said he’d “…partner with truck makers to do it again for the next generation of vehicles.”

No details were offered, but it’s clear that anything and everything is on the table.

But back to the near-future.

FIRST, LET’S REVIEW THE MANDATE in a general way. It’s useful, I think, because nobody seems to have written much of anything about this since the announcements were first made. Maybe because it’s just too tough to wade through those 400-plus pages.

The rules divide working vehicles into three categories: tractors, vocational vehicles (refuse, bus, mixers, etc.), and heavy-duty pickups and vans. The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rules apply only to engines, which will be certified in test cells as they are now. The fuel-consumption rules apply to whole trucks (not including trailers), which means manufacturers will use all manner of tools to use less fuel — from low-rolling-resistance tires and idle-shutdown timers to more adventuresome engine approaches like the electrification of parasitic loads in place of belts and gears to drive air compressors, power-steering pumps, etc.

The onus is on manufacturers, not fleets, by the way, and early adoption is allowed. Some companies. Cummins and Daimler Trucks North America among them, have already instituted 2014 standards. As with earlier emissions regimes, averaging, banking, and trading are allowed. And there are fines for truck and engine makers who can’t achieve compliance in time.

As I understand things, by model year 2018 tractors must drop GHG emissions by as much as 23%, vocational trucks by 10%, and HD pickups and vans by 17%. All measured in grams per mile.

By the same model year tractors must improve fuel economy by 9-23% depending on spec, vocational trucks by 10% (both measured in consumption per ton/mile), and HD pickups & vans by 17% if diesel-powered, 12% if gasoline. In this case the measure is simply consumption per mile.

The emissions standards are mandatory as of 2014, getting more and more stringent each year to 2018. There are three distinct engine groups: class 2b-5 (light heavy-duty, gas & diesel); class 6-7 (medium heavy-duty); and class 8 (heavy heavy-duty).

The new fuel-economy standards, on the other hand, are optional in 2014-15 but mandatory by 2016 and the 2018 numbers will have to be reached regardless of how the process was started. For all intents and purposes, we’re going to have a mandate for SmartWay trucks in class 8, as I’ve been saying for years now. It’s officially the new standard, in effect, as of next year.

We’ll see new attention paid to aerodynamics and what the rules refer to as “lightweighting”. It’s clear enough what they mean, but man, I hate seeing the language reduced to such shorthand. But yet again, I digress.

Engine basics will stay largely the same for now, with little new training required yet. Present technologies are OK but you’ll see more use of speed limiters, for example, and there will be software changes across the board. That will mean different torque maps in some cases. There will be still better aftertreatment, which allowed a 3% fuel-economy improvement in 2010 and will do another 3% soon. A key target for engine designers will be internal friction, and reductions may come from lubes or perhaps eventually the use of ceramic materials. Two-stage turbochargers and turbo-compounding will be with us before long.

As with present-day emissions rules, the truck’s purchased state must remain for life.

IT’S AMBITIOUS, TO SAY THE LEAST. Back in 2010 I called it impossible to regulate fuel economy in working trucks, especially in classes 6, 7, and 8 where so many different specs are used to build trucks doing so many different jobs. I called the overall mandate “reckless” and I stand by that. Because the EPA and NHTSA admitted publicly that they didn’t know how the hell the GHG and fuel-use reductions would be reached. They assumed the manufacturers would find a way, and said as much.

How, I asked at the time, is it even slightly realistic to think that a standard can be created that will cover every conceivable combination of truck and trailer and load and terrain and weather and all the other factors that influence fuel consumption? I could envision situations where some trucks would effectively be square pegs being shoved into round holes — and actually use more fuel than they would without the regulatory interference.

One example popped into my mind — a standard five-axle dry-van rig bought to haul boxes of breakfast cereal or some such load on linehaul routes around Florida vs. maybe southern Manitoba and into North Dakota. Light loads, flat terrain, decent roads, and a reasonable expectation of maybe 10 mpg in the right driving hands. Ah, but then there’s the reality of those prairie headwinds. In that case, better call it 8 mpg, likely less.

As I envisioned at the time, a straight miles-per-gallon standard won’t be employed, rather we’ll have a variation on the ton-per-mile theme — work performed per unit of fuel consumed. Fine, but how can that accommodate my simple Florida-vs.-Manitoba comparison? It can’t.

Now, what do you do with vocational trucks that don’t haul any freight at all? The tow truck, the utility’s bucket truck, the garbage packer.

To their credit, the people who built these rules worked with manufacturers and have shown lots of flexibility. They seem to understand the challenge. And there have been, I’ll admit, changes since the original 2010 plan. But I keep thinking about truck operators who have spent almost $30,000 just to buy compliant engines since 2002/04 when the first EPA mandate struck the earth. And that’s not to mention the enormous cost of downtime and lost productivity they incurred because EPA-compliant engines just didn’t work reliably. And they didn’t work reliably because the mandate demanded the impossible.

But folks in Washington, and Ottawa by extension, only see the big picture. Maybe that’s appropriate, and the numbers are pretty compelling: the EPA says the 2014-18 standards will see U.S. oil consumption reduced by 530 million barrels and GHG pollution chopped by 273 million metric tons. It calculates program costs at about US$8 billion but fuel savings of $50 billion and other benefits worth $7 billion, for a net benefit of some $49 billion. I can’t find any equivalent Canadian figures.

Here’s the important bit for those of you running trucks: the EPA claims that there are long-term savings for vehicle owners and operators above their initial upfront costs. “A semi truck operator could pay for the technology upgrades in under a year and realize net savings of $73,000 through reduced fuel costs over the truck’s useful life,” it says.

Yeah, well, terrific if it’s true. But I remember how woefully inaccurate the Agency’s cost estimates were a decade ago. And a truck sitting in the shop is getting 0 mpg. Let’s hope.

SO, WHAT’S WASTE-HEAT RECOVERY? As I mentioned above, this technology is likely to be used by every engine maker as we approach the 2017-18 period, though Cummins Turbo Technologies is the only outfit that’s talked much about it so far.

It’s a simple concept but a complex package, using heat exchangers to capture heat and turn it back into useable energy delivered to the crankshaft. The Cummins system, which includes the Holset waste-heat expander, can reduce fuel consumption by up to 6%, the company says, depending on the application and engine power.

“Our waste-heat expander captures what would otherwise be lost energy – in the form of heat – from a number of sources onboard the vehicle and turns it into useful mechanical or electrical power. The net result is lower levels of environmental pollution and lower bills at the pump,” said Adrian Tipling, Cummins Turbo Technologies account executive for global OEMs at the 2012 Mid-America Trucking Show. The company showed a waste-heat turbine expander prototype there in its first public appearance.
The principles of waste-heat recovery, which uses organic fluids to draw energy from available and waste heat, have long been proven in applications such as electricity generation and very large marine diesel engines – since engine power output determines the scale of fuel, emissions, and dollars saved.

What I know about physics and chemistry isn’t worth knowing, so I’ll leave the techie explanation at that.

The system is already on the road in prototype form, being used in the U.S. Department of Energy’s SuperTruck initiative. Part of that is a joint program in which Cummins and Peterbilt are playing lead roles, along with Bridgestone, Delphi, Eaton and Dana, and Utility Trailer.

The SuperTruck they’ve developed uses a high-efficiency engine in an aerodynamic tractor-trailer that significantly reduces drag. As well as waste-heat recovery, it also includes electronic controls that use route information to optimize fuel use, tires with lower rolling resistance, and lighter-weight material throughout.

The Peterbilt 587 with its Cummins ISX15 engine averaged 9.9 mpg during testing on U.S. Route 287 between Fort Worth and Vernon, Texas in early 2012. The testing was conducted over 11 runs meeting SAE test standards along a 312-mile route. The rig grossed 65,000 lb. See the photo at the top.

Compared to a typical performance of somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 mpg today, that’s a 54% percent increase in fuel economy. It would translate into a 35% reduction in annual greenhouse gases per truck.

The truck also demonstrated a 61% improvement in freight efficiency, compared to a baseline truck driving the same route. That significantly exceeded the 50% SuperTruck program goal set by the U.S. Department of Energy. Freight efficiency is based on payload weight and fuel efficiency expressed in ton-miles per gallon.

I’d call this a SmartWay-Plus truck, and it bodes well for our collective future.

AND NOW THE SHOWS AND CONFERENCES, starting with the Technology & Maintenance Council 2013 Fall Meeting and National Technician Skills Competition. That’s September 9-12 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA. See or call 703-838-1763.

This event is not for the trucking public, but body builders and others associated with the work truck industry might want to make plans to attend the New Model Truck Product Conference put on by the NTEA (National Truck Equipment Association). To be held on Sept. 10-12, 2013 at the Adoba Hotel Dearborn (formerly the Hyatt Dearborn) in Dearborn, MI, it’s the event where chassis manufacturers present critical information about product upgrades and new product launches for the upcoming model year and beyond. The products are also on display for members to examine and inspect. See Call 1-800-441-6832 or email

THIS NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED every two weeks. For the most part it’s a heads-up notice about what’s going on with trucking technology. I also write here about interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months, and maybe about issues that warrant attention in my occasionally humble opinion.

I should remind you that I don’t endorse any of the products I write about in this e-newsletter, nor do I have the resources to test them except on rare occasions. What you’re getting is reasonably well educated opinion based on more than three decades in trucking.

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