My article as originally published (math corrected) in American Thinker:
President Obama just threw another wrench into the economy with his new heavy-duty truck efficiency standards. While it may be desirable to see more efficient trucks on the road, as Kevin Williamson at NRO pointed out — this technology isn’t free.
President Barack Obama is a masterly practitioner of the occult art of single-entry bookkeeping. Consider his speech today, in which he praised the fuel economy of a new “super truck,” making the point that, since most U.S. freight moves in trucks, lower operating costs for freight operators should in theory mean lower costs for consumers. And he would have a point — if that fuel-economy technology were free. It is not. It costs money to develop. It costs money to deploy. Where it adds to the price of a vehicle, it also adds to ownership costs such as insurance and taxation.
And as truckers, especially single operators (AKA small businessmen), have found out in California, free it is not.
So just how inefficient are these evil heavy-duty gas hogs? The White House “fact sheet” claims that in 2010, heavy-duty vehicles accounted for only four percent of the vehicles on the road, but consumed twenty-five percent of the fuel. While this sounds pretty bad on the surface, perhaps we should take a look under the hood given the source?
I think it’s important to keep in mind that vehicles contribute to the economy by doing work, be it carrying people to and from the office, or transporting thousands of pounds of goods across state lines. But is it really fair to compare giant cargo haulers with passenger cars simply as a percentage of the vehicles on the road? Shouldn’t the efficiency of doing actual work be what is instead considered?
If heavy-duty vehicles account for only four percent of what is traveling the road, this means that out of every one-hundred vehicles only four would be heavy-duty, and ninety-six would be standard autos. I understand there is a large variance of vehicular size and weight, but for simplicity, let’s take just one group and compare ninety-six passenger vehicles having a total loaded weight of 4,000 lbs each with four semi-trucks with a total legal loaded weight of 80,000 lbs each. The ninety-six cars would weigh a total of 384,000 lbs and the four heavy-duty trucks would weigh a total of 320,000 lbs. When looked at this way, four percent of these vehicles are doing almost as much economic work as the other ninety-six percent. Put another way, the heavy-duty trucks do about forty-five percent of the total work while representing only four percent of the ‘workers’ in this case. Further comparison using actual payload capacity would only serve to make these monstrous trucks look even better.
But what about comparing fuel consumption with work done? Using the same vehicle specifications as above, a truck with a total legal weight of 80,000 lbs can travel about (again keeping it simple) five miles using one gallon of fuel. A passenger car that gets 20 MPG uses .25 gallons of fuel during that same five mile trip but only hauls a total load of 4000 lbs. In order to do the same work (move 80,000 lbs) as the heavy-duty trucks, twenty of these cars would be needed. But in order for those twenty cars to move the same amount of weight over the same five miles, they would instead consume five gallons of fuel. That is a 400% increase if my math is correct.
I won’t get into it here, but couldn’t we also factor in the energy used to produce these vehicles as well? A semi truck engine can last over one million miles while a standard auto engine will last only one or two hundred thousand miles.
It looks to me like we already have “super trucks,” Mr. President. And I have faith that over time, the market will improve upon what we already have, and do so in an efficient manner.
Left alone, the free market has no problem efficiently pulling its own weight. But when the dead-weight of politicians and their “brilliant” ideas are piled upon it, the economy slows down to a crawl.