Whenever I see a gargantuan tractor-trailer barreling the down the road, I cringe at the thought of the unholy petrol-slurping capacity of those 18-wheeled behemoths. The towering chrome exhaust pipes are what really get me; the miles-per-gallon (mpg) statistics just have to be awful, right?
In a nation suddenly concerned about squeezing as much mileage as we can out of our everyday consumer cars—and don’t get me wrong, we are correct in that goal—who’s paying attention to the big rigs?
The Federal government finally is, it turns out. For too long the large commercial trucks and buses have not been subject to the fuel-economy standards imposed on smaller vehicles, but that’s about to end with the imposition of new fuel economy standards on the larger vehicles starting in 2014.
The numbers are staggering. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the new standards will save $50 billion in fuel costs, or 530 million barrels, over the life of trucks built between 2014 and 2018. That’s about a month’s worth of gasoline, given America’s daily usage of 19 million barrels (also a staggering figure in its own right).
The new standards differ from the mpg metric used in consumer car standards in that they require a percentage reduction in fuel consumption instead. By 2018 semi trucks are expected to reduced their fuel consumption by 20%, while heavy-duty pickups and vans are responsible for a 15% reduction. Vocational vehicles such as buses or garbage trucks must chip in a 10% reduction.
New technology will power most of the fuel savings from here and become even more important come 2018, when standards are set to be even tougher.
And it’s about time. Why should larger trucks be exempt from the fuel standards imposed on other vehicles? According to the EPA, these heavy vehicles account for 17% of domestic oil use and about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. Those are not insignificant percentages.
As Autobloggreen points out, there is only so much efficiency to be gained trying to improve cars like the Prius beyond what they already achieve. Like everything else, green energy is subject to the law of declining returns.
Consider this analogy: if we were talking about education instead of cars, does it make sense to focus the bulk of our energy on improving schools which already are shining examples of success? Does upgrading from an A to an A+ mark a greater achievement than improving from an F to a C+? Couldn’t we achieve much greater results by tuning in to the worst schools and pulling them out of the muck? Do I have an unhealthy addiction to hypothetical questions?
This is not to say we should quit tweaking the Volts, Priuses and Leafs out there. Those technologies are still in their infancy, after all (well, the Volt and Leaf, anyway). But it’s long overdue that we shifted our attention to the most glaring fuel-consumption offenders.
That would be those huge, honking, gas-guzzling big rigs.