Steps Toward International Alignment of Heavy-Duty Vehicle Efficiency Standards

Blog Post | April 04, 2013 - 3:27 pm
By Therese Langer, Transportation Program Director

Freight movement is among the fastest growing energy uses in the world, yet fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for the heavy-duty vehicles that move freight are still in their infancy. To date, Japan, the U.S., and Canada have adopted fuel efficiency and/or greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses, while China, Mexico, and the European Union are considering doing so.  A new ACEEE report looks at what these programs have in common, how they differ, and what the prospects are for bringing them closer together.

Distinct configurations of heavy-duty vehicles are legion, presenting a challenge to creating manageable standards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration successfully navigated this challenge in their first heavy-duty greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards in 2011. In the next phase of the program, now under development, additional technologies will need to be coaxed into the market to maximize cost-effective fuel savings. 

Despite the diversity of these vehicles, their sales in the U.S. are an order of magnitude smaller than sales of passenger cars and light trucks, which limits R&D investment and slows technology promulgation---hence the interest in aligning heavy-duty regulatory programs internationally. Globalization of vehicle components and platforms can accelerate technology advances while streamlining fuel efficiency testing and compliance activities for manufacturers.

Typical heavy truck duty cycles differ greatly from region to region, however, and as a result both the efficiency technologies that make sense and attainable fuel efficiency levels can differ as well. For example, the standard of 9 gallons per 1,000 ton-miles that the U.S. rule establishes as the fuel efficiency target in 2014 for a regional-haul tractor truck pulling a van trailer may be out of reach for a similar truck in Japan, where most driving occurs on urban roads, in stop-and-go traffic and at speeds too slow to benefit from the aerodynamic improvements that drive U.S. tractor truck standards.

So what could alignment of these regional programs mean? Taking a hint from efforts to harmonize appliance standards internationally, we look first to test protocols for the answer. We propose that vehicles and their components be tested in standardized ways and over standardized cycles that can be mixed and matched by a prospective buyer in any region to arrive at a customized estimate of the fuel savings of one vehicle relative to another. This will help a technology adopted in one market to spread to other markets where it will be cost-effective. As the U.S. and other regions further develop their heavy-duty greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards, strategic development of common regulatory elements would leverage the increasingly global character of the heavy-duty vehicle industry to increase the total savings these programs will bring.

Siddiq Khan contributed to this post.