Is the U.S. Department of Transportation Fleet Fuel Standard Sufficient?

Washington, DC — The nation’s fleet of new cars and trucks will be required to achieve 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015, the Transportation Department Secretary Mary Peters outlined on Earth Day, April 22, 2008.

The U.S. government operates a fleet several hundred thousand vehicles including cars, SUVs, and trucks. This fleet consumes several hundred billion gallons of gasoline each year and contributes tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases, as well as air and water pollution to our environment. Current government vehicle specifications do not include standards for fuel economy. They also do they specify any higher standards for particulate emissions, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants beyond what the EPA already requires for vehicles sold in the U.S.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is missing a major opportunity to save the tax payers money by spending less on fuel while also encouraging development of more efficient and vastly less-polluting vehicles.

There are 3 vehicle types that seemed to be most broadly used by the federal government:

  • 5-passenger sedans (typical example: Ford Crown Victoria)

  • SUV (typical xxample: Chevrolet Suburban)

  • Mail & similar small trucks

The DOT should create standards for each type of vehicle, based NOT on what they can simply purchase today, but instead on the more advanced vehicles that this country needs.

For example, the the 5-passenger sedan should:

  • Comfortably seat 5 adults (2 front / 3 back)

  • Carry an estimated passenger weight of 1100 lbs, with 300 lbs baggage (1400 lbs total)

  • Achieve 30 mpg in city driving, 38 mpg on the highway

  • Have a range of at least 350 miles

  • Have emissions at least consistent with what California tried to pass in 2008

  • Have a 100,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty

This vehicle would be mandated for 100% of government passenger-car purchases, and would also be standard for all state, county & local government uses.

Car companies could be invited to submit proposals for vehicles that would meet the standard and then become a supplier to U.S. government. The specification could also include U.S. content standards. For example, the car must be assembled in the U.S. with at least 70% made-in-America content. The government could then pick 2 or 3 suppliers that have proposed vehicles that will meet the requirement and perhaps even fund construction of a fully functional prototype for each of the winners, a practice that is quite common in purchase of military systems. The purchasing power of all government agencies could be combined to ensure that purchasing cleaner, more efficient vehicles didn’t cost the tax payers any more money at the time of purchase or over the life of the vehicle.

Similarly, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) could be given aggressive targets for the development of more efficient and clean burning mail trucks. An alliance between UPS, Fed-X and the USPS to create clean and efficient delivery trucks could be assisted by federal funding to get the best possible vehicle into production. The resulting improved vehicle could quickly become the standard for delivery vehicles in all U.S. cities.

The next area to improve could be the fixed-bed trucks widely used by the U.S. military (and Uhaul, Rider, and most consumer product delivery trucks). Recently the U.S. Marines unveiled its next generation truck, the replacement for the famous 6x that has been the standard since WWII. Sadly, this vehicle is still quite heavy and powered by a giant 6.2-liter diesel engine – not very fuel efficient. One would think that the problems associated with providing fuel to U.S. deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq would be enough warning to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) that current vehicle-selection logistics should be more sustainable.

Eventually the inability to fund the DoD at current levels will force the various agencies back to the table. The cost of fuel is just too large a part of the budget and needs to be addressed. Here again, a consortium of the U.S. government, along with several key truck users, could lead the way to far more efficient trucks.

It should be clear that the recent announcement by President Bush is another attempt to forestall real action by Congress, the courts and other influences by appearing to have the agencies under his control take a leadership role. It falls far short of what these agencies actually could achieve on behalf of all Americans, our economy, and the environment. Hopefully Congress will see through this smoke screen and take real action to engage our various agencies in a true leadership position.

Michael Mellish is a process & system design consultant with 30 years of experience in off-shore oil & gas platforms, substation automation & electrical distribution, power quality & energy management, automotive welding, high-availability systems and manufacturing execution systems. He hold patents in digital signal processing, object-based software and device diagnostics. His graduated from the University of Lowell with a BS in chemical engineering in 1978.

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