Trucking experts believe the industry can no longer view the term "green truck" solely in terms of emission reductions. They say getting through the economic downturn and dealing with ever-stricter emission regulations means truck owners must find ways to lower their costs, too—to save green as well as be green, so to speak.

A panel discussion on "The New Green Truck" at the American Truck Dealers (ATD) 2009 Convention & Expo held in Washington D.C. this week delved into this issue. Speaker Tim Jackson, head of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said how best to go green will become ever more critical in the months and years ahead.

"The most important thing is that you as truck dealers and owners cannot cede the moral high ground to the environmental extremists," Jackson told the audience. Trucks engine built today eliminate more than 90% of particulate and hydrocarbon emissions, he said, but noted there is more to be done.

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Trucking experts believe the industry can no longer view the term "green truck" solely in terms of emission reductions. They say getting through the economic downturn and dealing with ever-stricter emission regulations means truck owners must find ways to lower their costs, too—to save green as well as be green, so to speak.

A panel discussion on "The New Green Truck" at the American Truck Dealers (ATD) 2009 Convention & Expo held in Washington D.C. this week delved into this issue. Speaker Tim Jackson, head of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said how best to go green will become ever more critical in the months and years ahead.

"The most important thing is that you as truck dealers and owners cannot cede the moral high ground to the environmental extremists," Jackson told the audience. Trucks engine built today eliminate more than 90% of particulate and hydrocarbon emissions, he said, but noted there is more to be done.

"Less than 5% of the trucks out there are causing 75% of the problem," Jackson continued. "We're talking about a lot of pre-1990 vehicles and engines. This is the low hanging fruit that needs to be addressed. It won't be free to take them off the road, but it will be cheaper than other solutions."

At the same time, trucks owners need to focus on how to cope with higher truck sticker prices driven by mandated emission-control systems – largely by finding ways to make their vehicles more efficient, lowering their cost per mile, said Darry Stuart, president of DWS Fleet Management.

"We're looking at higher base model costs, extra costs for emission-control technology and support infrastructure, and higher maintenance costs due to the complexity of that emission control technology," he said. "That's why the 'green' focus must expand, so [truck owners] can find ways to save green – in this case, money – in order to cope with these higher costs."

That means spec'ing vehicles with bigger engines that last longer and generate higher horsepower, but deliver low fuel-sipping RPM as well as transmissions equipped with overdrive yet fewer gears; rib-type tires where possible to improve fuel economy; and above all, demanding fuel-saving driving habits.

"The old phrase 'gear fast, run slow' is more important today than ever," Stuart contended. "Good fleet management practices have always been a sword in this battle; now we just need sharper swords."

Mel Fair, vp-fleet sales for Central Maryland International, added that part of that strategy should be about finding sources of available funding to offset the higher costs of green equipment (Watch related video).

"Obviously, you've got to start by spec'ing the truck for maximum fuel efficiency – looking at tires, aerodynamic fairings and side skirts, and engine programming," he said. "Then you need to look for tax credits, grants, and other possible incentives at the local and state level that may help you offset any green- truck related purchases. It's also critical to let the world know that you are not running 'smoky old diesels' anymore – especially customers. There's value to be had there in light of the ever more green mindset on the part of shippers and consumers."