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First-ever Fuel Efficiency Standards for Heavy Trucks and Buses

To take effect for 2014-18 model years, rules will help U.S. meet greenhouse gas reduction pledge

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First-ever Fuel Efficiency Standards for Heavy Trucks and Buses

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, having last year sharply tightened CAFE limits for light vehicles.  Covering new vehicles made between 2014 and 2018, DOT and EPA says the heavy-vehicle measures will "reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 250 million metric tons and save 500 million barrels of oil over the lives of the vehicles produced within the program’s first five years."

According to the New York Times, the standards draw heavily on a National Academy study issued earlier this year, which said that big fuel savings could be achieved by means of current technologies such as low-rolling-resistance tires, improved aerodynamics, better engines, hybrid-electric drive systems, and idling controls. The standards do not seem to owe much, however, to T. Boone Pickens' proposal to switch trucks to natural gas--in his revised "Pickens plan"--or to the long one-on-one conversation he boasted of having with Candidate Obama during the last presidential campaign.

In the new rules, if they take effect largely intact after a public comment period, tractor trailers including 18-wheelers will be required to show improved fuel efficiency of 20 percent, the heavier pickup trucks and vans of 10-15 percent, and specialized vehicles like fire engines and cement mixers of 10 percent. Though heavy vehicles are a relatively small proportion of all vehicles on the road, they account for a relatively large fraction of fuel consumption and emissions in the transportation sector. Enforcement of the new standards thus will go some way toward meeting Obama's 2020 greenhouse gas reduction pledge.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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