The health of the trucking industry depends on harmonizing truck emissions standards, refining an open approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing policies that encourage retirement of older trucks, according to Wolfgang Bernhard, the new CEO of the Daimler Truck business.

Speaking at a press event during the American Trucking Associations’ annual management conference in Orlando, Bernhard said an agreement between NAFTA and Western European countries to remove the small differences between one another’s emissions and safety standards “can bring big savings …  strengthen our economic competitiveness for both areas substantially and create a standard for the world.”

Pointing out that current standards differ only slightly yet involve large costs for separate certification testing, Bernhard said, “We all need to park our regulatory egos in the loading dock, both sides. Standardization could strengthen the economic competiveness for both industrial areas substantially and also sustainably.”

Turning to GHG, Bernhard praised the next phase of U.S. emissions standards for offering both total cost of ownership benefits for users through fuel savings while also providing environmental gains.  However, he said it was important that future GHG emissions standards now under discussion should not single out engines, but rather they should “recognize the fuel savings of the complete system, the tractor and trailer, not just the engine.”

He also argued for open GHG standards “because we don’t know what we will invent in the future and we need standards that will be open to anything that lowers CO2.”

With EPA 2010 diesel standard, particulate matter (PM) and NOx emissions have been reduced to near zero levels.  Rather than chase the remaining small amounts of PM and NOx coming from new trucks, Bernhard argued that incentives to remove older trucks would be a far more effective way to reduce those emissions.

Instead he suggested that overall diesel NOX emissions could be reduced by 60% and PM by 99% by replacing older trucks built prior to EPA ’98 emissions requirements.  Those trucks account for 60% of the U.S. truck population, according to Bernhard, “and getting rid of those could really make a big, big difference.”

Although there could be a number of ways to encourage the retirement of those older trucks, Bernhard said ATA’s proposal to repeal the federal excise tax (FET) on new trucks and replace the lost revenue with higher fuel taxes “is one way to go about it.”

The current FET “punishes guys for doing the right thing” by investing in new trucks with cleaner but more expensive technology, added Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America. While he’d prefer to just remove FET on new trucks, Daum acknowledged that would leave a revenue gap for important infrastructure rebuilding, which is also needed. Since the cleanest EPA 10 trucks are also more fuel efficient, replacing FET with offsetting higher fuel taxes “incentivizes cleaner, more efficient trucks instead of the reverse.”  Financial aid, especially for smaller businesses, would also be important in any efforts to modernize the U.S. truck fleets, he added.