Soot-free buses and trucks for Mexico: Establishing the roadmap for Central and South America

Posted Wednesday, 7 March 2018, 04:32

Mexico is now officially the first country in Latin America to adopt national soot-free emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. NOM-044-SEMARNAT-2017 introduces the Euro VI or US 2010 standard in Mexico in January 2019 and makes the standard mandatory for all new heavy-duty truck and bus engines or complete heavy-duty vehicles starting January 1, 2021.

The diesel particulate filters required for compliance with Euro VI and US 2010 standards reduce the number of particles emitted by 99.9% compared to any diesel vehicle meeting a prior emission standard, including Euro V-compliant vehicles that are allowed through 2020. Full implementation will also result in a reduction of NOx emissions by 90% or more and black carbon by more than 95%.

The effect will be to greatly improve the health of all people in Mexico, with the greatest impact in the urban areas where traffic emissions are most densely concentrated. Our latest analysis suggests that even though heavy-duty vehicles make up only 5% of the on-road fleet in Mexico, they are responsible for more than two-thirds of the health impacts caused by the on-road transportation sector. That study, in agreement with the original cost-benefit analysis used by SERMARNAT to justify the standard, found that when fully implemented the standards will save six thousand to seven thousand lives a year.

Not content with waiting for national standards, Mexico City has sought to accelerate the introduction of soot-free diesels. Mexico City committed to soot-free buses in 2016, and the first of the Metrobus vehicles acquired to meet that commitment started operations last week: double-decker US 2010 buses operating on a brand-new line on Mexico's historic avenue Reforma. As the buses went into service, SEDEMA, the Mexico City Secretary of Environment, published the results of testing of several different types of buses from the Metrobus fleet, demonstrating the tremendous benefits of Euro VI / US 2010 technologies. I have often said that all you need for testing a soot-free bus is a clean, white handkerchief-no black soot and you know the filter is working-but SEDEMA, the Mexico City department of environment, came equipped with two different devices to measure both particle mass and the number of particles emitted, along with other pollutants. The testing of the newest buses took place after a week of fires raging in the California hills of my home and, as strange as it might sound, it was truly a relief to be standing behind these buses and breathing the clean exhaust. As expected, the testing showed that the Euro IV and Euro V buses, including the one Euro V hybrid bus tested, emitted several hundred times more particles that the filter-equipped diesel. Even the CNG bus emitted 30 times more particles.

It shouldn't be difficult for cities to access the market for cleaner vehicles. We estimate that 40% of new heavy-duty vehicles sold globally are already meeting these soot-free, clean vehicle standards. With the adoption of standards in Mexico and India, and a proposal on the table in China, 80% of heavy-duty vehicles will be required to be soot-free by 2021. After Brazil, Mexico is the largest manufacturer and market for heavy-duty vehicles in Latin America, and many of the trucks and buses sold in Mexico are marketed across the region. India and China both have home-grown manufacturers, whereas all the vehicles sold in Latin America are fully or jointly produced by global industry players, well-equipped to meet any technical challenges of Euro VI / US 2010 production and implementation. New heavy-duty vehicles or engines will stay on the road for as long as thirty-some years. What possible excuse can there be for waiting longer to enact and implement standards that save so many lives?

That said, getting these standards adopted in Mexico over the resistance of the manufacturers was not easy, and we expect to see similar industry pushback throughout Latin America. I worked closely with SEMARNAT and all the manufacturers on the original proposal, adopted in December 2014. At that time, there was consensus among all the manufacturers to move from Euro IV / US 2004 directly to Euro VI / US 2010 standards, with implementation starting January 1, 2018. When the global oil price plummeted in early 2015, further weakening a fragile economy and eliminating the funding source for refinery upgrades to produce the needed ultralow sulfur diesel, the industry balked. Certain manufacturers pushed hard for Euro V in Mexico, while they simultaneously promoted the great efficiency benefits of Euro VI at home. When I talked with fleet managers and told them that our study found the bulk of the costs would be borne by Euro V, while almost all the benefits come with Euro VI, they asked why the dealers were telling them otherwise. When I talked with the dealers about the lifecycle cost savings and efficiency improvements with Euro VI, they asked why manufacturers were not telling them that. It didn't matter that the industry was fined for price fixing related to emissions standards in Europe, it didn't matter that Euro V standards were very clearly not achieving the emissions reductions expected or that Euro V from Brazil was even worse.

Since then several manufacturers have committed to make it easier for cities to move to soot-free buses. Obviously, cities like Mexico City can and must continue to do more to accelerate the transition to cleaner vehicles, even with national standards in place. At the same time, we hope that these same manufacturers will be supportive of harmonizing national heavy-duty emissions standards throughout Latin America around the 2019-2021 timeline, an approach that would save money overall. If the experience in Mexico is any indication, some manufacturers will likely look to weaken and delay the inevitable, rather than embracing and enacting cleaner standards that will make cities more livable, reduce climate pollution, generate tremendous social benefits, and most or all save many thousands of lives throughout the region.