By Julie Gedeon

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has launched an “enviroTruck” campaign with the goal of reducing financial and legislative barriers to implementing the adoption of devices that would immediately make tractor-trailers more fuel-efficient and, therefore, more environmentally friendly. During the past decade and a half, environmental performance of truck engines has improved considerably, but at the expense of fuel efficiency and higher maintenance costs. With greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from trucks being largely a function of fuel consumption, CTA advocates the adoption of devices to improve fuel efficiency, thereby further improving environmental performance, and increasing the operating margins of trucking companies which continue to suffer from the economic malaise that started in 2008.

The devices that CTA refers to include installation of auxiliary power units to power systems that would otherwise be powered by the truck’s idling engine, fairings and skirts to improve aerodynamic performance, low rolling resistance tires, wide-base single wheels to replace standard dual wheels, and other improvements.

A “fully-loaded” enviroTruck would eliminate smog and reduces GHG emissions by up to 22 per cent compared to a regular Class 8 vehicle, according to CTA. Conversion of the entire Canadian Class 8 fleet to this standard would be equivalent to taking 64,000 trucks off the road.

Federal legislation will require manufacturers to steadily increase their production of more aerodynamic vehicles with GHG-reducing technologies between 2014 and 2018. They can begin selling these cleaner vehicles in January 2013 to bank credits for 2014 onwards. Truckers, however, have no obligation to buy anything.

“While there’s always a competitive advantage to operating more fuel-efficient vehicles, you can’t get a bank to lend you money for these kinds of improvements,” says Stephen Laskowski, CTA’s Vice-President of Economic Affairs.

CTA is advocating for an accelerated capital cost allowance on new trucks. “It would motivate carriers to adopt the new technology more quickly,” Laskowski says, pointing out that in Canada, tractors cannot be written off in their entirety until their eighth year, while in the U.S., carriers can write off tractors in four years. After two years of ownership, the residual value of tractors for Canadian tax purposes is 48 per cent, while in the U.S. it has been reduced to 22.2 per cent.

Manufacturing regulations that came into effect in 2004, 2007 and 2010 have already made it possible to eliminate more than 90 per cent of smog-related nitrogen oxide and the particulate matter linked to various health issues. About 60 per cent of long-haul trucks already have smog-free engines, with the proportion expected to surpass 80 per cent by 2016.

However, while these cleaner engines have almost eliminated smog and particulate matter, they have also increased GHG emissions by approximately nine per cent – making the need to reduce GHG all the more important.

Requested incentives

A quick conversion is unlikely to occur on its own. “Truckers are hanging onto their vehicles for up to six years instead of four or five because of the poor economy,” Laskowski explains.

“If climate change is as serious a threat as we’re being told, it might be wise for government to help truckers to make a transition to equipment that produces less GHG as soon as possible.”

CTA cites the government’s exclusion of trailers from GHG-approved rigs as another problem. “A lot of the new technology is for trailers,” Laskowski emphasizes. “The government should recognize and support the use of this technology given that these devices can save 15 to 20 per cent on fuel consumption and GHG.”

Gap extenders that minimize the space between tractor and trailer to improve air flow can enhance fuel efficiency by about three per cent. Trailer skirts fitted along the bottom of a trailer’s sides reduce drag for a six-per-cent fuel reduction.

Looking for accelerated capital cost allowance

Other fuel-saving mechanisms not only remain unrecognized but face conflicting regulations.

Wide-base single-wheels replacing standard dual wheels, and equipped with low rolling resistance tires, can reduce fuel use by three to eight per cent, for example, but are only permitted to carry full “standard” axle loads in Quebec and Ontario. “There might have been some truth about the much older single-wheeled rigs causing more road damage, but it has scientifically been proven not to be the case with the new ones,” Laskowski says.

Boat tails – a collapsible four-sided structure that tapers the wind off the back of a trailer – could save 6 to 7.5 per cent of fuel but are illegal in many jurisdictions because they technically extend a trailer’s length. “This makes no sense,” Laskowski says. “We’re not expanding storage capacity by adding this device.” Some progress is being made at the federal level towards devising a regulation for boat tails, which CTA hopes provinces will accept.

Cost remains a challenge for purchasing new trailers or retrofitting existing ones. “To equip a trailer with all of these devices, you’re looking at spending between $10,000 and $20,000,” Laskowski says. “And, again, that’s not money you can borrow from a bank.”

CTA is seeking an accelerated capital cost allowance to encourage trucking companies to invest in new tractors and trailers fully equipped with aerodynamic and GHG-reduction technology. For retrofits, CTA is advocating a zero- or low-interest loan program.

“We believe we’d only need this for about three years to get the technologies established and for everyone in the industry to understand how they work along with their paybacks on investment,” Laskowski says.

Desired certification

CTA is also recommending that the federal government play a role in certifying standards for each product. “That would help to ensure that devices are effective to the degree stipulated and manufactured to endure our Canadian winters,” Laskowski says. “Making a tax credit or a low-interest loan eligible only for certified devices would motivate the sale and purchase of these products.”

While CTA endorses Canada’s harmonization with American regulations for a continental industry, it advocates going above and beyond the U.S. rules in some instances. For example, CTA would like Canadian regulations to recognize the potential environmental benefits of trucking companies having vehicles with automatic transmissions for inexperienced drivers. “If you have drivers who don’t know how to shift properly, you’ll save two to three per cent on fuel using an automatic transmission,” Laskowski explains. “So we should be encouraging their use, especially given the difficulties of attracting people to our industry.”

Canada is expected to follow the U.S. lead by including trailers within its legislation when the (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency further toughens the Heavy Duty Vehicle and Engine Greenhouse Gas Emissions legislation in 2018 to incorporate new technologies.

“We’re saying why wait until then when there are many things we can do now using existing technologies with a bit of government help,” Laskowski says.