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Breaking Down SmartWay

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), between 1990 and 2013 freight activity grew more than 50%, and it is projected to nearly double again by 2040. By 2050, global freight transport emissions of CO2 will surpass emissions from passenger vehicles. Here’s what you need to know about the EPA’s voluntary public-private program to combat these issues.

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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), between 1990 and 2013 freight activity grew more than 50%, and it is projected to nearly double again by 2040. By 2050, global freight transport emissions of CO2 will surpass emissions from passenger vehicles.

To address these issues, in 2004 the EPA launched SmartWay, its voluntary public-private program to:

• Track, document and share information about fuel use and freight emissions;

• Identify and select more efficient freight carriers, transport modes, equipment and operational strategies;

• Support global energy security and offset environmental risk;

• Reduce freight transportation-related climate change and emissions by accelerating the use of advanced fuel-saving technologies; and

• Gather support from industry associations, environmental groups, state and local governments, international agencies and the corporate community.

The SmartWay program consists of three core components:

1) The SmartWay Transport Partnership, where freight shippers, carriers, logistics companies and other stakeholders work with the EPA to measure, benchmark and improve logistics to reduce their carbon footprint;

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2) The SmartWay Brand, where through SmartWay verification and branding, the EPA has accelerated availability, adoption and market penetration of fuel-saving technologies and practices to save fuel, lower costs and reduce environmental impacts; and

3) The SmartWay Global Collaboration, where the EPA works with national and global organizations to harmonize carbon accounting methods and provide support to global policy makers designing transportation sustainability programs.

SmartWay has raised awareness about freight’s economic importance and made it clear that optimizing the transportation network helps corporate leaders and government policymakers achieve environmental goals. More specifically, since 2004, SmartWay partners have saved more than 7 billion gallons of fuel, lowered fuel costs by $24.9 billion and reduced carbon emissions by 72.8 million metric tons.

Verification

As part of its SmartWay branding efforts, the EPA has determined that certain tires can reduce emissions and fuel use by 3% or more, relative to the best selling new tires for line haul Class 8 tractor-trailers. These improvements are achieved when verified low rolling resistance (LRR) tires are installed on all of the axle positions of the tractor and trailer, and all tires are properly inflated.

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The EPA defines LRR technology as any tire that reduces rolling resistance and provides a fuel or emissions benefit for the engine. They list two types of LRR technologies: tires and retreads.

LLR tire technologies can be used on three axle positions: Trailer (also meets LRR target for Steer and Drive positions); Steer (also meets LRR target for Drive position), and Drive.

For tires to achieve fuel savings of 3% or more, the following requirements must be met:

• Tires are used on the axle positions for which verification is specified;

• Verified LRR tires are installed on all axle positions of the tractor and trailer, and

• All tires are properly inflated.

LLR retread technologies can only be used in two axle positions: Trailer and Drive.

For retreads to achieve fuel savings of 3% or more, the requirements are:

• Verified retread technologies are used on both the drive and trailer axles;

• The retread technologies are used on the axle positions for which verification is specified;

• Verified LRR steer tires are used, and

• All tires are properly inflated.

For all of the formality of the EPA requirements, it is relatively easy to become a SmartWay-verified tire. A tire manufacturer need only provide proof that a particular tire saves at least 3% or more in fuel consumption relative to their own best-selling new tires for line haul tractors when used on all three axles. Once the documentation has been submitted, the EPA will review the data, test reports and other related materials. If all data and supporting documentation are acceptable, SmartWay will issue an official verification letter that indicates a tire’s verified status.

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The EPA reserves the right to purchase and test verified tires and retreads in order to audit them. If the EPA determines that a tire’s rolling resistance is higher than stated by the manufacturer, the EPA will work with the manufacturer to determine the reason for the discrepancy. It may revoke the verification if it does not meet performance requirements.

Marketing Fuel Savings

Tiremakers have embraced SmartWay, not only as a very public and broad-based “green” effort, but also as a marketing tool that separates the technologically advanced from everybody else. While determining just how much LRR tires save a fleet is difficult because of the vast number of variables, many fleets seem satisfied that fuel efficient tires deliver major savings.

For example: A fleet of 100 tractor/trailers that each travel 100,000 miles per year, averaging 6 mpg on standard tires, switches to LRR tires that net a 2% improvement to 6.2 mpg. At 6 mpg, one tractor/trailer consumes 16,667 gallons annually when driving 100,000 miles. At 6.2 mpg, the same rig with LRR tires consumes 328 fewer gallons. Even with today’s lower diesel prices, at $2.50 per gallon, the fleet saves $82,000.

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Precautions and Challenges

Adding to the popularity of SmartWay is that, unlike the rest of the nation where it is voluntary, in California it is the law. Trucks running there using drive tires with two or more open shoulders must use SmartWay verified tires. In addition, California-based fleets must use SmartWay-verified tread stock. Violators face heavy fines.

When the EPA SmartWay program began verifying the rolling resistance of commercial truck tires, it seemed simple. Look for the SmartWay decal and be assured of good fuel economy. Today, however, there’s a wide range of tires with the SmartWay verification. Tier 1 manufacturers are there with a wide assortment of steer, drive and trailer tires. They’ve been joined by other brands you may not have even heard of (currently there are hundreds of SmartWay-verified tires on the market).

Fleets and owner/operators have to be careful; SmartWay verification is not synonymous with a good tire. SmartWay measures only the rolling resistance of a tire. Reducing rolling resistance can contribute to greater fuel economy, but there are always trade-offs with traction and tread wear. Since fleets’ priorities differ, the trick is to find tires that strike a balance between performance traits. No tire can have the best traction, the best tread wear, the best fuel economy and be the cheapest.

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Fleets need to look at their operating philosophy in terms of cost. Are they looking for the lowest initial cost, or for the lowest operating cost, or something in between? Most large fleets have sophisticated tire programs and have conducted extensive comparison tests. For small fleets and owner/operators who can’t realistically conduct their own testing, premium tire manufacturers have tire cost calculators that can be used to compare the various tires on the market.

The recent wave of Chinese tires receiving SmartWay verification letters has raised concerns about whether the tires they sell are the same as the tires that were verified. While tire manufacturers often make minor adjustments to their tires, a tiremaker intentionally deceiving tire buyers and the federal government is a different animal. The EPA doesn’t seem overly concerned.

The EPA believes that market realities and competitor testing will uncover cheats, and that it is unlikely that such fraud could go unnoticed for long. Under the U.S. False Claims Act, companies can be subject to damages and penalties for knowingly submitting for verification for one tire, then selling a different one. Individuals can also file suit under the False Claims Act, and report deceptive business practices to the Federal Trade Commission.

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The SmartWay program isn’t perfect, and it’s not likely to change significantly until at least 2020 since the funding required to overhaul the program would first have to be approved by Congress. One of the SmartWay program’s flaws is that the rolling resistance requirements have not been updated as tire design has improved. This means there’s a significant performance variance among the approved tires. Some manufacturers now break down their own SmartWay tires into sub-categories because of the variation in rolling resistance. Some of their SmartWay-verified tires are significantly better than others. Will it be long before there is a score for each tire?

Tire manufacturers believe SmartWay has benefited the industry by raising awareness of the importance of rolling resistance and fuel economy. The program’s expansion to include retreads has added some fresh challenges. To remove the impact of casing design on rolling resistance, SmartWay adopted a Yokohama casing that is used as the benchmark for all SmartWay retread testing. This eliminated the risk of retread manufacturers affixing a poorly designed tread onto someone else’s good casing and achieving the SmartWay standards.

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The list of SmartWay-verified retreads is much shorter but growing as more manufacturers undergo the testing protocol. Manufacturers must submit three tires from any line they’re trying to have SmartWay verified to a third-party testing organization. The data is then submitted to SmartWay, which verifies the information. If the manufacturer changes something, they need to recertify. If they make a significant production change for rolling resistance, they need to retest.

Because not all SmartWay tires are equal, selecting a tire has not become any less complicated. A long list of performance attributes must still be considered and prioritized – especially cost, both at the outset and over the life of the tire.

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