Truckers, environmentalists agree on fuel economy gains

By Kevin Jones on

It’s no surprise that environmentalists would support the president’s Climate Action Plan, although Jesse Prentice-Dunn, a policy analyst with the Sierra Club, notes the absence of “smart growth” initiatives, new policy that could spur improvements to the efficiency of the nation’s transportation systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A second round of truck GHG regulations, however, was among the specifics “to get excited about” from the president’s speech, according to an interview with the Streetsblog Network.

“Trucks are one of the fastest growing sources of oil consumption, one of the fastest growing sources of carbon pollution,” Prentice-Dunn tells Streetsblog. “We have the technology today to double the efficiency of our 18 wheelers. So this proposal will help meet that standard.”

Uh-oh.

If a truck journalist suspects the industry is, once again, being picked on, then how must truck OEMs, carriers, and drivers feel when faced with seemingly baseless assumptions that support unrealistic regulations?

Truckers want all the fuel efficiency they can get: Why would truck makers hold back on technology that could double current performance? Or has somebody been reading about those magic beans that go in the fuel tank — if only the big oil companies didn’t keep them off the market?

So, just in case I missed a radical truck breakthtough, I sent the Sierra Club a note asking for clarification, and Prentice-Dunn was quick to respond. (He mentioned right away that’s he’s from Tuscaloosa, Ala., home to Randall-Reilly, so how bad a guy could he be?)

In the subsequent discussion, Prentice-Dunn explained that he had based his first claim on a projection by the U.S. Energy Information Agency that shows freight trucking’s total mileage will grow faster than other forms of transport through 2040 (2.1 percent), while fuel consumption, measured in miles per gallon, will improve comparatively slowly (0.7 percent), averaging 8.2 mpg.

So, first off, congratulations truckers: The federal government predicts you’re in the right business, at least through the middle of century!

Second, Prentice-Dunn’s latter claim is not so off-base as it might seem. He’s not, after all, expecting truck fuel economy to double from the much anticipated, magic number of 10 miles per gallon —that double-digit milestone should be the goal, he explained.

And, hey, truck OEMs are already almost there, based on the recent report by Cummins and Peterbilt cited by Prentice-Dunn, which puts the fuel economy of a Pete 587/Cummins ISX15 “Super Truck” prototype near 10 mpg, compared to national highway fleet average of 5 to 6 mpg. Other OEMs have reported they’re gaining on that 10 mpg target figure as well.

My mistake, Mr. Prentice-Dunn. You’re not getting down on trucking, you see where we’re going.

“I definitely understand the trucking industry’s situation with the bottom line, that’s why it is an area where drivers and environmentalists can be partners in improving fuel economy,” he said.

Truckers and environmentalists? I foresee further discussions with Prentice-Dunn.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is Senior Editor, Trucking Media, and writes from his home in Little Rock, Ark. His Fleet Street blog features whatever strikes his fancy and has at least a little connection to trucks, or drivers, or highways. Or David Allan Coe. (Google "the perfect country and western song" if you're not nearly as old as Kevin is.) You can also keep up with Kevin by following his Twitter feed (@KevinJonesCCJ) or just drop him a line: kevin.jones@randallreilly.com.

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