The time is ripe for truck efficiency in the U.S.

The trucking industry is primed for major efficiency improvements in the years ahead. The Obama administration has made heavy-duty vehicle efficiency a centerpiece of its Climate Action Plan, looking to follow up on the long-term light-duty efficiency standards adopted during the first term. This part of the administration’s climate plan builds on its landmark 2011 rulemaking, the first HDV efficiency standards that will go into effect anywhere in the world.

Innovative new technologies, such as advanced transmission improvements, lower rolling resistance tires, tractor aerodynamic devices, and trailer technologies, are rolling out into the heavy-duty fleet, spurred in part by the trucking industry’s interest in cutting fuel costs as well as by both regulations and voluntary efforts to drive technology into the market.

But, as a new study highlights, formidable barriers stand in the way of wider adoption of cost-effective efficiency technologies. The study, conducted by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency and Cascade Sierra Solutions in collaboration with the ICCT, is based on surveys of dozens of fleets—large and small, private and for-hire—as well as nearly 1,900 owner operators, shipping and logistics companies, truck and trailer manufacturers, component suppliers, and truck dealerships, together representing tens of thousands of tractor-trailers operating across North America. The impediments to greater technology uptake identified by survey respondents include limited availability, lack of credible information about the benefits, and uncertainty over payback period.

Regulatory action, like the 2014–2018 truck efficiency standards and the upcoming Phase 2 standards, can break down these barriers by providing investment certainty to technology developers, ensuring fleets have greater technology availability to choose from at the time of purchase, and providing standardized certification information about the efficiency performance of various engines and truck offerings.

But the study also identified a number of factors that tend to encourage the uptake of efficiency technologies, such as:

  • Fuel economy is the second most important factor (after reliability) in fleet purchasing decisions, ranked “important” and “very important” by more than 90% of respondents.
  • Efficiency technologies for tire, aerodynamics, telematics, idle reduction, and transmission are viewed as having the most short-term fuel savings potential for fleets.
  • Whereas OEMs and suppliers (and the EPA/NHTSA in the Phase 1 rulemaking) have tended to see a 1–2 year payback period as their target, a large portion of the fleet appears to view 3—4 years as an appropriate time frame for calculating fuel-saving benefits from new tractor-trailers.

All in all, the study reveals a clear eagerness for increased efficiency, which in turn points to a need for policy to help make it happen. Including efficiency standards for trucks in the administration’s climate mitigation strategy promises to deliver the goods.