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Big rig restrictions benefit Fort Wayne fuel economy website

September 5th, 2016

By Doug Leduc | Indiana Economic Digest


Tough new carbon emission regulations are likely to drive traffic to a Fort Wayne nonprofit group’s website aimed at improving the efficiency of moving goods across the country.

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency began offering current information more than two years ago on at least 70 trucking efficiency technologies at truckingefficiency.org.

That information will be valuable to big rig buyers as they shop over the next decade with an eye toward compliance with standards just finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The standards will achieve for tractors in tractor-trailers up to 25 percent lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 2027, when they are fully phased in, compared with 2018 models, according to a mid-August statement by the agencies.

“With most of the technologies to get there, I would call them available today. But they’re not good enough,” said Michael Roeth, the council’s executive director. “They (the fuel efficient technologies) cost too much. They don’t have enough fuel economy performance. And in some cases, they have other consequences - they may not be easy for drivers to use or they have maintenance that’s too high.”

Before he helped found the council, Roeth was director of global advanced engineering for Navistar International at its engineering center when it was in Fort Wayne. Many of the website’s contributors also are former employees of the center.

The federal agencies expect the recently released standards to improve air quality and cut diesel fuel spending by encouraging the development of new technologies that improve fuel efficiency and by encouraging the improvement and wider adoption of existing technologies created for that purpose, they said in a joint statement.

“The rule is 5,000 pages and people look to us to help explain even the basics of the rule,” Roeth said. “It will take a couple of weeks for all reporters to report on the rule. Then it will take a little bit for it to soak in. Then I would expect when people think, ‘What do I do now … in the next weeks and months we’ll get more traffic.”

Providing guidance

In addition to the website, the council produced an independent, online technology guide. The technologies are evaluated on the basis of factors such as value and effectiveness range of idle reduction, aerodynamics and tires.

The website and its technology guide serve much the same purpose for the long-haul trucking industry that Consumer Reports serves for the auto industry, but shopping for a big rig is much more complicated than shopping for a car, involving hundreds of choices.

Because of its reputation as an authoritative, unbiased source of information on trucking technology, regulators met with council members and used its findings to verify information on fuel efficiency and carbon emission reduction technologies while crafting the final standard, Roeth said.

For this reason the council’s name appears 141 times in federal documents published relating to the rule. Its findings also were used by trucking industry lobbyists arguing against increasing fuel efficiency standards and by environmental groups calling for stricter standards, he said.

“We are not an advocacy group. We don’t lobby; we don’t have a position on whether regulations like this are good or not. We understand the data and all the facts. We’re involved in supplying real world information from people operating all these technologies on how they work,” he said.

Local impact

In northeast Indiana, the new federal standard will mean a higher initial investment in big rigs for the companies and owner-operators buying them. But, once that is covered by savings on fuel, lower, ongoing operating costs could benefit the trucking industry and eventually reduce the transportation costs of retailing and other businesses, Roeth said.

The region is enough of a freight corridor that everyone who lives in it will benefit from lower CO2 emissions, he said. And the innovation required to meet the higher fuel economy standard could produce benefits that go beyond savings on diesel.

For example, automatic transmissions produced better fuel economy but semi drivers used to say they would not always shift well and, five years ago, only 2 percent of the big rigs purchased had them. Innovation has changed that.

Improvements in the technology have increased its adoption to the point that it now is in nearly half the semis sold, and as a side benefit, some of them are driven by drivers who have not learned how to shift manually, Roeth said.

Any flexibility can help in the face of a truck driver shortage, he said.

©Copyright 2016 KPC Media Group, Inc.