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Cyber Monday Meets Growing Truck Fuel Economy

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Yes — it’s that time of year again. The online holiday shopping season is kicking off with another Cyber Monday. And if the trend continues, as it has for the past several years, another online shopping record will fall. I’m sure that’s welcome news to the likes of UPS and FedEx. But there’s another trend starting as well that should be good news for all you online shoppers out there (myself included). The trucks that move all those goods from factory, to warehouse, to your door are burning less fuel and creating less carbon emissions.

Fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks are delivering reductions today

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized the first-ever standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption from big rigs, delivery trucks, and other medium and heavy duty vehicles. These standards take effect in 2014, but many new trucks sold in 2013 have been certified to meet the standard. For example, Cummins certified the engines they manufacture one year ahead of schedule while Daimler Trucks of North America has certified their line-up of 2013 trucks.

When fully phased in by 2018, new long haul tractor-trailers, the largest fuel consumers, will be burning 23 percent less fuel than in 2010. That may not seem like much, but it’s expected to save an individual truck operator up to $73,000 in fuel savings after paying for the fuel efficiency technology.

Truck skirt VA81 higgins

A trailer equipped with side skirts for improved aerodynamics.

Perhaps the most visible difference to tractor-trailers over the last several years has been changes to trailers. California adopted standards for trailers being operated in the state, requiring aerodynamic and tire improvements to reduce global warming emissions. Just a few years ago, it was hard to spot a big rig with side skirts, aerodynamic panels that are located on the bottom edge of the trailer, which improve fuel consumption on the order of 5 percent or more. (see photo). The devices are becoming more common not just in CA but across the US. Take a look next time you are out on the freeway, and I suspect you’ll catch sight of one.

More room for improvement

It’s of course not just online shopping that requires trucks to move goods. Nearly everything we buy ends on a truck at some point. With increased demand for goods, overall global warming emissions and fuel consumption from heavy-duty trucks is expected to increase in coming years despite existing standards.

In June, the Obama administration announced The President’s Climate Action Plan, which includes establishing a second round of HDV fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions post-2018. It turns out there are a number of technologies to make even greater improvements to truck efficiency that go well beyond the existing standards. Trailers are not included in the current federal standards, and other improvements including weight reduction, hybridization, electrification, and increased engine efficiency all can deliver greater reductions from heavy-duty trucks. The DOE’s Super Truck program is validating some of these technologies with some recent announcements by partner companies claiming a 54% improvement in fuel economy over today’s typical tractor-trailer.

Trucks are the second largest (cars are first) source of transportation carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Setting another round of standards will not only put us on the path to meeting our Half the Oil goal, it will also reduce the impact of nearly every purchase we make.

Posted in: Vehicles Tags: ,

About the author: Don Anair is a senior engineer with expertise on diesel, hybrid and battery electric vehicle, and goods movement technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming. He holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering. See Don's full bio.

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  • Richard Solomon

    I have wondered what progress has been made with the trucking industry. Thanks for sharing this info.

    I seem to recall having heard the CEO of Fedex saying in an interview that he is very invested in getting the company to lower its carbon footprint via improving the efficiency of its fleet of trucks. I THINK he has also indicated an interest in jet airplanes using alternative fuels which produce less greenhouse gases, etc.

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