For the first time, heavy- and medium-duty trucks will have to reach government-mandated fuel economy standards starting in 2014. Those standards will become even more stringent by 2018. What will this mean to fleets? Most likely it will limit the number of components truck buyers will be able to specify in the future, which can be viewed both positively and negatively, according to industry experts.

There are a number of options currently available, sources say, from technologies to training and monitoring that can positively influence fuel economy now, even before the new models hit. Some of those technologies that impact driver behavior, such as idle and speed limiters, will become the law for many commercial vehicles in the future.

The greenhouse gas emissions 2014 (GHG14) standards were developed jointly by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with input from the National Academy of Sciences, the trucking industry, environmental groups, and state governments. Vehicles will be required to achieve from 9 to 23% improvement in fuel consumption and GHG emissions cuts by model year 2018, saving up to 4 gals. of fuel for every 100 mi. traveled. EPA believes that through the new GHG14 regulations, trucks and buses built in 2014 through 2018 will reduce oil consumption by 530 million barrels and greenhouse gas emissions by 270 million metric tons.

EPA has developed a computer model that requires input from vehicle specifications, including aerodynamics, tires, speed limiters, and automatic engine shutdown, to limit idling in an effort to estimate a truck’s carbon dioxide emissions. By limiting fuel economy technologies to only those categories, it forces vehicle suppliers into a very small, tight box in terms of vehicle specifications and stifles creativity when it comes to improving fuel mileage, says Jim Hebe, executive vice president, North American sales operations, for Navistar.

Hebe says the “creeping socialism” in the current truck regulatory environment “leads to conformity and limits creativity.” And the devil in the detail is the ability of fleets to make creative specification choices. “Regulations are driving us into the same little box with emissions, and now are driving us into a narrow box in terms of spec’ing components to meet a fuel economy standard and hope in the process the truck will look good and still perform,” he says.

Hebe adds that all truck manufacturers will be able to meet the fuel economy standards, but wonders at what cost to customer satisfaction. “We can all meet [the standards], but what restrictions in options are you going to impose on your customer? Once you’ve certified what you offer in a particular vehicle category, you can’t change it.”

In order to meet the first round of fuel-mileage standards, some over-the-road tractors will most likely require automatic engine shutdown to limit idling, speed limiters to set maximum speed of the truck, and low rolling-resistant tires.