Obama: Big trucks need higher mpg

Feds to propose stricter standards by March '15

Obama: A way to cut oil imports

WASHINGTON -- Before President Obama leaves office, he wants to make sure the largest trucks on U.S. roads keep getting more fuel efficient into the 2020s.

During a speech last week, Obama directed the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to propose a second wave of tightened fuel economy standards by March 2015 for heavy-duty vehicles -- a category that includes three-quarter-ton pickups, as well as large vans, tractor-trailers and garbage trucks.

Obama told the two agencies to finalize their standards a year later, and to design them to get tougher until "well into the next decade."

"Improving gas mileage for these trucks is going to drive down our oil imports even further," Obama said. "That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on businesses' fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers."

It is the latest push for fuel savings by the Obama administration, which struck a deal with California and the auto industry to double the fleetwide fuel economy of cars and light trucks to an average of 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year.

That deal already has led to changes in the design of cars and light trucks; Ford's high-stakes bet on aluminum for its next-generation F-150 pickup was driven in large part by the standards.

Those rules were joined in 2011 by the first fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, running from the 2014 to 2018 model years. Over that time, the EPA projects the fuel consumption of diesel heavy-duty pickups would need to fall 17 percent and the fuel consumption of gasoline trucks would need to fall 12 percent.

Industry groups such as the American Trucking Associations urged the administration to proceed on the next wave of rules with caution.

"Fuel is one of our industry's largest expenses, so it makes sense that as an industry we would support proposals to use less of it," Bill Graves, the trade group's CEO, said in a statement. "However, we should make sure that new rules don't conflict with safety or other environmental regulations, nor should they force specific types of technology onto the market before they are fully tested and ready."

Obama also signaled last week that the White House supports incentives for hybrid trucks and those that run on biodiesel or natural gas.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com

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