Later this week the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will consider a controversial rule that if enacted, will require trucking fleets in California to purchase only zero emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles after 2040. You read that right. It means starting in 2040, trucking fleets in the state wouldn’t be able to buy whatever generation of diesel truck, using whatever kind of low carbon, renewable, or e-fuel available at that time.
Some advocates for CARB’s proposal have a “if it’s not all electric and not here tomorrow, it’s not good enough” view. This near-sighted mindset jeopardizes the ultimate success of introducing zero-emission commercial vehicles to the mass market as well as ensuring continued progress on cleaner air and carbon reductions in the meantime.
What if in 2040 everything hasn’t worked out as projected with zero emissions vehicles, or charging infrastructure, or hydrogen availability? What if a new innovation in fuels or advanced engines can deliver net zero carbon transportation at lower cost and be more available? Dictating one kind of vehicles will mean fewer truck choices for truck fleet owners, and likely a major rethinking of being a national trucking company serving freight customers outside of California.
According to our latest data from S&P Global Mobility, California is home to about 1.5 million commercial trucks – from large pick-up trucks, box trucks and up to semi-tractor trailer size units. About 1.1 million of these are diesel, and about 76% are 2007 and older units. Of the largest Class 8 tractor-trailer size trucks about 52% are 2007 and older units, meaning they are not equipped with the latest emissions control technology.
CARB has pushed diesel to achieve near-zero emissions now and even nearer-to-zero starting in 2027. It’s not unreasonable that new diesel trucks in California in 2027 will challenge even the most advanced emissions measuring technology to get an accurate reading. Not to mention that background ambient intake air will likely have higher levels of pollution than the air coming out of the tailpipe!
Zero emissions vehicles may hold great promise when the marketplace and supporting infrastructure is fully in place, and CARB is working hard to ensure that. If guaranteed returns in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and boosting clean air in local communities is as important in the near term as 18 years from now, then California is going to rely mostly on the advanced generation of diesel to deliver these benefits.
Just like now, where the fleet of diesel truck engines using low-carbon renewable biodiesel fuels have achieved more greenhouse gas emissions reductions than the entire electric vehicle fleet consistently over the last few years according to the California Energy Commission.
That’s real progress attacking climate change delivered by diesel and renewable biodiesel fuels.
The trucking industry is a conduit of commerce by its very nature; one of national scope with the ability to deliver everything thing our economy needs, whenever and wherever we need it. Diesel became the technology of choice for commercial trucking sometime in the 1960s and hasn’t looked back since. The ideal scenario for trucking’s fleet future is a mix; a balanced investment portfolio of liquid and low-risk, solid performing investments with good returns (advanced diesel, renewable biofuels, natural gas) along with longer term higher risk, higher yield options (hydrogen, electrification). No one can guarantee what the future will hold. Higher risk investments come with more uncertainty and disclaimers, just like the fine print says.