The next stage of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Phase 2 emissions requirements will affect model year (MY) 2024 Class 8 tractors, and continued advances in electric trucks could change how original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's requirements.
The rule does not mandate specific technologies but rather sets carbon and fuel efficiency performance standards for manufacturers to meet using numerous technology choices.
"In 2014, none of us thought electric trucks would be as probable as they are now," said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). "Now the truck builders are saying, 'Do I go put all this stuff on my diesel trucks, or do I work hard to develop my electric trucks even faster?'"
The GHG Phase 2 rule first brought changes to MY 2021 Class 8 trucks, and standards increase incrementally over time, becoming fully phased in with MY 2027 equipment. "Meeting the 2021 requirements was challenging, but the truck OEMs and engine folks knew how to get there, so it was pretty predictable. But 2024 gets harder, and 2027 gets harder," Roeth said, adding that the EPA was smart to include electric trucks in the rule even though no one expected electric trucks to be this far along.
OEMs can accomplish the regulation's phase-down requirements in four ways, Roeth said. The first is to stop selling or sell fewer trucks with lower fuel efficiency, such as logging trucks. Next, they can sell a higher volume of trucks with systems they've already engineered, such as aerodynamics, axle ratios and tire pressure monitoring systems. They can also offer new technologies, such as turbo compounding. Finally, they can turn to advanced technologies, which is where electric trucks fit in.
Roeth said even producing a small number of electric trucks can significantly affect an OEM's total emissions. "They look at all the trucks you build as a manufacturer, and they average it," he explained. "Instead of making that diesel truck more efficient and spending a lot of money on product development to bring that to market, I think the truck builders will focus on electric trucks. That may support a quicker turnover to electric."
NACFE has said electric powertrains will dominate the market in the long run, but the group has predicted a "messy middle" as the transition occurs. "If this logic holds and OEMs use the electric trucks to comply, the messy middle may be shorter," Roeth said.
No matter what options OEMs turn to for MY 2024 equipment, Roeth said fleets should anticipate changes to their maintenance needs. “A new technology might have more or less maintenance. If you’re adding on skirts or a tail, those are parts that weren’t there before. There is a chance they’ll break or fail and need to be fixed,” he said, adding that electric trucks bring new technologies and will require new tools, new training and new skill sets.
As fleets consider their future purchases, Roeth suggests they stay apprised of the new technology and be open to using it. "Your grandfather's truck might be more expensive over time because the OEMs have to deliver more fuel-efficient trucks," he said.