The headline came across the transom last week in the middle of the 2017 Work Truck Show: “Trump to Review Emissions Rules.” The news was specific to the fuel economy standards put in place by the Obama administration mandating an industry-wide fuel economy standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
This standard applies to light-duty vehicles, so most of the products and services involved in this show fall outside of this review’s purview. Nonetheless, there seems to be an “all bets are off” attitude with this administration. What’s next?
When it comes to work trucks, the most obvious regulations in Trump’s cross hairs would be a review of Phase 2 of the Greenhouse Gas rules. There haven’t been any public pronouncements here, so the main takeaway is to be cautious in speculating. But in general, an easing of regulations is a double-edged sword, depending on who you talk to.
In effect, the GHG rules target a 24% improvement in heavy-duty truck fuel efficiency by 2027. That’s a lot. With paying for and maintaining diesel particulate filters (DPFs) fresh in their minds, some fleet operators would welcome easing of regulations, especially those that would create higher costs and more hassles. Some manufacturers have publicly lobbied for a more “common sense” and “data driven” approach to rulemaking.
For some alternative fuel and power suppliers, “There is a lot of uncertainty right now, especially with the market of fringe players,” said Urvi Nagrani, director of marketing and business development for Motiv, a maker of an all-electric powertrain for trucks.
If incentives for clean tech were to be cut, new engineering jobs wouldn’t materialize. This type of research may shift to other parts of the world, where automakers must address new regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions in cities. “We [the U.S.] need to be the designers and builders of emerging technologies,” Nagrani said.
Nagrani and others say easing of regulations would put the federal government at odds once again with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), because the gulf between CARB reductions targets and those from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which had shrunk during the Obama administration — would widen once again. And no one believes CARB will abandon its authority, which would produce a protracted court battle. “California won’t back down, and they may bring the other  CARB-compliant states with them,” she said.
Then again, the capricious nature of market subsidies was always a double-edged sword. They drove new people to the market, but when they’re eradicated, the pullback causes market swings the other way. Propane suppliers counsel fleets today to make their business cases without subsidies, for sustainability’s sake, and treat the subsidies as gravy.
Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), was buoyed by Trump’s stated intentions. “When Trump talks about domestic fuels, cost-effective solutions, and job creation, that plays right into propane’s hands,” he said.
Turning to existing regulations such as vehicle and fuel emissions testing, Trump’s public disdain for the EPA is generating concern from mainline and alternative suppliers alike that cuts to EPA staff will slow approval processes even further.
When it comes to any notion of intent to change existing regulations, representatives from truck manufacturers were hesitant to offer any public comment because speculation on top of speculation just isn’t productive. At the very least, it’s clear that even stricter regulations than the present ones won’t come to pass in the next four years.
That said, one conversation went like this: “We don’t have the technology to meet the GHG 2 standards yet, but we’ve been in this place before,” said a heavy-duty OEM rep regarding the mileposts of regulations since the EPA began regulating diesel fuel sulfur levels in 1993. “We managed to meet [each of those standards] and we’ll figure out a way to meet the new ones.”
An engineer on the show floor pointed to a big rig’s clean exhaust stacks even after 25,000 miles of use. He recounted the Work Truck Show some 10 years ago; when move-in day at the convention center produced an exhaust haze that was palpable. “You can be a climate-change denier, but no one wants to go back to that.”
What might “trump” much of this unease would be the outcome of the proposed $1 trillion long-term infrastructure funding plan — the spurring of work truck production, sales, and use to levels not seen in a generation.