Virgin Group founder discusses trucking industry, improving fuel efficiency

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, discussed fuel costs in his blog, as reported in FleetOwner, a trucking industry news site. Fuel costs of course are on of the largest costs in the trucking industry, and constitutes a major expense each year. Branson claims that tractor-trailer fleets spend $105 billion on fuel each year, and states that the industry could save potentially $40 billion annually by improving fuel efficiency.

Branson has been working with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency to form the company Trucking Efficiency to address the problem of high fuel costs in the trucking industry. Branson also founded Carbon War Room, and has a great deal of experience on this topic. Branson said that Trucking Efficiency is an independent evaluator of about 70 technologies and shares information that is unbiased to the industry free of charge.

Of course, Branson’s comments come hot on the trail of new proposed government fuel efficiency standards on Friday, June 19. The new proposals, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, call for a significant upgrade in fuel efficiency for big trucks made after the 2017 model year. The Environmental Protection Agency and NHSTA have predicted significant improvements in greenhouse gas emissions, and have said that the resultant standards, even with a cost of up to $13,000 per vehicle to make the upgrades, would save the trucking industry billions of dollars over time. The two groups have said fuel economy should improve by 24 percent by 2027 using technologies that they believe will pay for themselves within two years. That means at the conclusion of those two years, companies will be saving money.

Michael Roeth is the executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, and noted in a recent IdeaXchange that Branson, “was excited to hear about the progress we are making with Truck Efficiency and the opportunities that are emerging with respect to advanced technologies coming to the real world with Super Trucks and with the game-changing opportunities on the horizon, like platooning and autonomous trucks.”

While there is of course a certain amount of hand-wringing from members of the industry, the standards have come with a surprising amount of support from the trucking industry, with many companies coming out in support of the plan.

In fact, an article in is tellingly titled “Trucking industry is O.K. with new fuel standards,” and discusses how the industry is mostly on board with the new standards.

Glen Kedzie, President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, said “Fuel is an enormous expense for our industry – and carbon emissions carry an enormous cost for our planet. That’s why our industry supported the Obama administration’s historic first round of greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for medium and large trucks, and why we support the aims of this second round of standards.”

The support of the ATA means a great deal to the industry’s support, and it seems that the promise of the technology paying for itself (and indeed over time saving the industry money) has the industry’s top members pleased and willing to go along with the new plan. Previous criticisms of fuel efficiency standards have included the expense of enacting the measures.

Kedzie, however, did express some concerns over the plan, and did not throw his full support behind the new standards: “We believe this rule could result in the deployment of certain technologies that do not fully recognize the diversity of our industry and could prove to be unreliable … This unreliability could slow not only adoption of these technologies, but the environmental benefits they aim to create. To prevent this, truck and engine manufacturers will need adequate time to develop solutions to meet these new standards.

This is a rare occurrence that the trucking industry is behind environmental measures, even it if is on a cautionary basis. Keeping in mind the importance of the environmental regulations, having the industry’s support could usher in a new era of environmental cooperation and even one where regulations don’t necessarily have to be a burden on the companies they are regulating.