Barriers to the adoption of fuel-saving technologies in the trucking sector

Freight trucks are the backbone of most economies, because they are responsible for a significant portion of goods movement. Although freight trucks make up a relatively small percentage of the on-road vehicle fleet, they are responsible for a disproportionately large share of fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Because the trucking sector is growing rapidly, there is increasing focus on technologies that can improve the efficiency of these vehicles.

Although many technologies provide real-world fuel-savings benefits for heavy-duty trucks, they often have slow or limited uptake in the market. Ideally, technologies with an attractive return on investment would be rapidly adopted by all applicable commercial fleets. However, adoption rates of most efficiency technologies from major heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) markets, such as the European Union (EU), United States (U.S.), and China, show that this is generally not the case. Trends indicate there are barriers that prevent these technologies from reaching full adoption levels within a short timeframe after commercial introduction. In general, these barriers fall into four main categories: uncertainties about technology performance and return on investment, capital cost constraints, split incentives, and lack of technology availability.

The primary objectives of this paper are to briefly summarize the key barriers that impede the adoption of fuel-saving technologies in the trucking sector and to discuss some of the ways policymakers can combat them. After this introductory section, this briefing paper is organized as follows:

  • Section 2 discusses the importance of fuel savings in the trucking sector and some of the key technology areas where advancements are being made to improve vehicle efficiency.
  • Section 3 describes each of the four barriers and provides some examples of how each of these barriers can manifest in real-world situations.
  • Section 4 summarizes two previous studies that have investigated fuel-saving technology adoption barriers in the EU and the U.S.
  • Section 5 outlines the three principal types of policy measures that can combat these barriers and accelerate the adoption of technologies that provide environmental and economic benefits to both fleets and society at large.