The US commercial vehicle (CV) industry is in the midst of far-reaching changes, driven by rapid technology development, shifting customer demands, the ongoing transformation of the US energy mix, and policies implemented in Washington. Those policies, while by no means the sole or even dominant drivers of change in the industry, nonetheless play an important role in the ongoing drive for greater freight efficiency.
The best known of these regulatory changes are the first-ever fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks and engines, finalised last year. The emissions standards take effect in MY 2014, while fuel consumption standards become mandatory in MY 2016. The standards, which will affect virtually all Class 2b-Class 8 CVs with a gross vehicle weight (gvw) rating above 8,500 lbs, were formulated through a notably cooperative process with industry.
Federal regulators chose to mandate use of ESC technologies rather than roll stability control (RSC) systems in hopes of reducing loss-of-control crashes that result from severe under- or over-steering
Anticipation of the fuel consumption and GHG emissions standards is pushing developments in emissions control technology, weight reduction, and aerodynamics. More stringent federal limits on pollutant emissions which fully took effect in MY 2010, along with rules requiring ultra-low-sulphur diesel fuel, have also furthered progress. Federal regulators are now finalising fuel economy and GHG emissions rules for MY 2017 and for light vehicles (LVs), to stimulate additional development of clean vehicle technologies. Tier 3 LV emissions and fuel rules are also in the early stages of development.
Federal rules are also helping to drive advances in CV safety. A recent proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) creates a new federal motor vehicle safety standard that would require electronic stability control (ESC) systems on commercial truck tractors and certain buses with a gvw rating of 26,000 lbs or more. Federal regulators chose to mandate use of ESC technologies rather than roll stability control (RSC) systems in hopes of reducing loss-of-control crashes that result from severe under- or over-steering. While some commercial fleet operators already use ESC systems, the proposed rule could lead to broader adoption of this technology. NHTSA is now taking comments on its notice of proposed rulemaking, which has been generally well received.
Other federal safety initiatives affecting the CV sector include driver distraction, one of NHTSA’s primary concerns: in February, NHTSA released distracted-driver guidelines for LVs – though the agency noted that many of the same concerns apply to heavy vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is also exploring driver distraction in heavy CVs, focusing on the use of handheld devices.
The government is by no means the sole driver of innovation in the CV industry, but its role is vitally important
These and other regulatory initiatives are clearly influencing the CV industry, which also benefits from federal support for the development of advanced vehicle technologies. The Department of Energy supports co-operative R&D with vehicle, engine, and component firms through its 21st Century Truck Partnership and SuperTruck programmes. Such federal R&D programmes are under intense budget pressure, but the department’s advanced vehicle technologies programme does have bipartisan support. While federal funds are unlikely to be increased, as requested by President Obama, operations are likely to continue at or near current funding levels.
Taken together, federal regulations and financial support are among the key drivers of the effort to improve freight efficiency. This will no doubt continue to be the case as the industry explores alternative engine technologies and intelligent transportation systems. The government is by no means the sole driver of innovation in the CV industry, but its role is vitally important.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Ian C. Graig, Chief Executive of Global Policy Group, Inc., has written in the past in AutomotiveWorld.com on a wide variety of US policy trends and their implications for the automotive industry. Global Policy Group is a Washington-based research and government relations consultancy whose clients include leading U.S., European, and Japanese firms in the automotive, energy, utility, information technology, and financial services sectors. For more information, visit www.globalpolicy.com or contact Ian Graig directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AutomotiveWorld.com Expert Opinion column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute an Expert Opinion piece, please contact email@example.com