By Allen Schaeffer
As policymakers debate future economic stimulus packages as part of a COVID-19 recovery plan, suspending the federal excise tax (FET) through 2021 for new heavy-duty commercial truck purchases will deliver immediate results, restore and expand domestic manufacturing jobs, increase productivity of truckers and reduce emissions for communities everywhere.
Since the crisis began the nation has witnessed firsthand the vital role of the nation’s trucking industry— the men, women and trucks on the road working to restock grocery store shelves and deliver essential medical supplies and personal protective equipment. Elected officials now have an extraordinary opportunity to give this industry a badly needed boost by suspending the FET through 2021. The FET layers on an average of $22,000 to the cost of a single new class-8 big rig, driving the price tag out of reach for many fleets and truckers that typically operate on razor thin profit margins and that don’t always have easy access to credit or financing.
The opportunity to modernize the truck fleet is significant. Truck sales in the United States are now predicted to decline by 50% in 2020. According to the latest DTF analysis of data from IHS Markit, more than half of all class 8 trucks on the road today are over ten years old, which will push the fleet age even higher. Diesel engines are the workhorse of the trucking industry and power more than 95% of the largest tractor trailer trucks. Truckers with these older model vehicles are missing out on an entire generation of improvements in fuel efficiency and now near zero emissions technology—not to mention a vast number of safety enhancements.
Suspending the FET to get more new trucks on the road is a reasonable and rational part of any recovery plan, especially any green recovery plan that hopes to deliver real economic and environmental benefits in the near term. With plenty of ideas circulating, policymakers need to balance aiding today’s recovery as well as seeding tomorrow’s future. Technologies available today can start working today and deliver benefits today, but must be weighed against approaches and technologies that are more aspirational and long-term and may not be commercially available.
Unlike cars, commercial vehicles are capital investments with longer useful lives. It is not uncommon for trucks to be in service more than 20 years powered by engines that have seen more than a million miles and have been rebuilt many times over. Yet while trucks are prided for their durability and longevity, they may not be using the latest efficient and clean generation of technology. The most recent near-zero emissions tailpipe standards for commercial trucks were implemented a decade ago.
Thanks to the newest generation of clean diesel technology, a new truck replacement today can eliminate more than 250 lbs. of fine particle emissions and almost 10 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Compound these benefits over the share of trucks on the road not using current technology and the benefits are substantial. Consider this: Half of the fleet using the latest generation clean technology has eliminated 1 million tons of fine particle emissions, or the equivalent to taking all cars off U.S. roads for 33 years.
Cleaner fuel and engines utilizing advanced technologies have combined to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 97% and particulate matter emissions by 98%. Since 2010, more fuel-efficient diesel trucks have saved 101 million barrels of crude oil and reduced CO2 emissions by 43 million tons.
The time is right to encourage truckers to invest in technologies that are commercially available now, that can start working immediately, and deliver economic and environmental benefits today. Boosting truck sales by temporarily suspending the federal excise tax on truck purchases is a great way to spark demand for U.S. truck production, boost employment and sustain truck dealers that support local communities while generating significant and lasting clean air and climate benefits.
Allen Schaeffer is the executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF). Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020, the Diesel Technology Forum is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology. Forum members are leaders in advanced engines, vehicles and equipment, cleaner diesel and renewable biofuels and emissions-control systems. For more information visit www.dieselforum.org.