The recent spate of emission-control regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is going to pose bigger compliance headaches for smaller fleets compared to their larger brethren, according to a recent analysis by GE Capital Fleet Services.

The problem is that the bevy of CARB’s California-only rules for commercial trucks – including the 2010 Diesel Exhaust Emission Program, Heavy Duty Vehicle Idling Emission Reduction Program, Heavy Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction measure, and Truck and Bus Regulation Reducing Emissions from Existing Diesel Vehicles measure – make it impractical if not impossible for fleets to keep older trucks compliant. And that, said Ken Gillies, truck engineering manager at GE Capital Fleet Services, turns the operating model for many small fleets on its head.

“Most fleets use replacement cycles that are shorter than the CARB requirements for retrofitting older diesels. [But] the impact of these regulations will be felt more by private individuals and small fleets that keep their vehicles longer,” Gillies told FleetOwner.

One market segment in California that will feel a significant squeeze is the agricultural businesses operating cab over engine (COE) tractors to enable use of 57-ft. trailers, he said. “The compliance schedule for these trucks will depend on the model year of the truck’s engine. Since there’s little option to replace these COE trucks with new ones because they are no longer available, retrofitting or discontinuing use of the 57-ft. trailer becomes the only option,” Gillies stressed.

The net effect is that CARB's rules make it harder to retrofit older trucks in a cost effective manner. “The cost to make the [retrofit] changes doesn’t appreciably improve the value of the chassis. In some cases, financing assistance to perform the retrofitting may be difficult to obtain,” Gillies said.

A fleet manager recently told Gillies that he runs his local and regional delivery tractors up to 20 years or more – and these regulations will in fact “force” him to alter his company’s replacement cycle. “He feels the cost burden will make it very difficult to maintain the same levels of service, and the cost of the products his company carries will be negatively impacted,” Gillies noted. “He expressed frustration in the State of California’s apparent lack of consideration for the financial impact this will have on his business and other businesses in similar operating conditions.”

Gillies also point out that even fleets based outside California must comply with several CARB rules if their vehicles operate within the Golden State from time to time – and that other states are also looking at adopting several of CARB’s rules as well.

“It’s possible some fleets may pursue the California and non-California configuration solution. However, the logistics of ensuring a non-California configuration truck doesn’t end up in California could be difficult to monitor,” he explained. “When considering that potential daily fines for a non-California-configured vehicle could be thousands of dollars, the incentive to develop a two-spec operation may drop considerably.”

Gillies added that with 18 other states strongly considering similar CARB regulations, it is important to create specs that align with CARB regulations to the fullest extent possible even if the fleet doesn’t operate in California.

“Costs of either retrofitting or in some cases having to prematurely cycle a truck out of the fleet may drastically alter the lifecycle cost as projected at acquisition time,” he said. “This question is really more about the strategies a fleet operation must employ to meet regulations in effect at acquisition time, as well as applying diligent forethought to ensure the spec meets future regulations. The truck engineering challenge is to help customers be well-informed and able to understand how the sliding scale of requirements impacts the spec and vehicle lifecycle.”