In the United States, a pollution crisis that seems worse than Dieselgate could be brewing, and it will certainly take a change in mindset to fight it effectively. As demonstrated by a recent federal study from the Office of Civil Enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency, over half a million owners and operators of diesel pickup trucks in the US have unlawfully disabled the pollution control technology of their vehicles over the past decade. This pattern, which continues to be widespread, has resulted in excess emissions of about 9 million extra trucks on the road.
The conclusions of the EPA in its report echo the startling revelations of the Dieselgate scandal involving Volkswagen admitting that millions of passenger cars worldwide were secretly manipulated to cheat pollution tests. Of these cars, over half a million have been sold in the United States. However, since Dieselgate was surprising, what makes the new EPA study very disturbing is the fact that truck owners themselves are the ones who voluntarily mount the illicit emissions-increasing devices on their trucks, as well as small car shops.
This makes it incredibly difficult to reliably calculate the extent of the pollution issue in the US pickup truck industry. The EPA study reports that over the past decade, there have been over half a million pickup trucks in the US fitted with emission-increasing products. The EPA report, however, concentrated only on devices mounted on large pickup trucks, such as the Chevy Silverado and the Dodge Ram 2500, weighing between 8,500 and 14,000 pounds. Given that certain owners of smaller trucks such as the Ford Ranger might also be engaging in the same activity, there is a fair possibility that the issue of US pollution from pickup trucks might very well be much greater, affecting millions of vehicles nationwide.
“One reason it is difficult to estimate the full extent of tampering nationwide is that the Air Enforcement Division has reason to believe this conduct occurs within most or all categories of vehicles and engines, including commercial trucks, passenger vehicles, pickup trucks, motorcycles, forestry equipment, and agricultural equipment,” the report read.
Worse Than DieselGate
According to the study, over 570,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide, a substance associated with diseases such as heart and lung disease, could be released over the lifetime of the vehicles by the modifications that “diesel tuners” in the US place on pickup trucks. This is more than 10x the excess emissions of nitrogen oxide traced to the Dieselgate cars of Volkswagen sold in the United States. The study further claimed that over their lifespan, the modified pickup trucks would reach 5,000 excess tons of industrial soot. For COVID-19 patients, industrial soot, also known as particulate matter, is associated with respiratory diseases and higher death rates.
In a statement to The New York Times, John Walke, an air pollution law specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, acknowledged that the EPA’s results came at the worst time possible. “A global respiratory pandemic is the worst time to find out that there is this massive cheating by the makers of these devices. That is an astronomically high level of smog-forming pollution. It’s happening at ground level where people are breathing the fumes. And if the problem extends to other vehicles it’s almost unimaginable what the health impact will be,” he said.
Phillip Brooks, a former EPA pollution investigator and a veteran of the Dieselgate case, shared his thoughts on the budding emissions controversy in the US pickup truck industry. “The aftermarket defeat device problem is huge. A lot of people just don’t understand what the problem is — your average person buys a vehicle and says, it’s my vehicle, I can do what I want with it. They may not even be aware that these devices are illegal,” he said. “But the real question is impact. If 10 people do it, there’s no impact. But these are numbers that are meaningful for air quality. This is not a great way to express how to be a free American, but there are a lot of people out there who think that way.”
The Cybertruck Diesel Disrupter
A shift in perception that is not so different from what the Model S ushered in for the high-performance sedan market is required to tackle such a horrible emissions pattern. After all, diesel tuners outfit vehicles with illegal emission-increasing devices, largely to boost the performance of a pickup truck. If a vehicle were to be introduced in the pickup truck market that, compared to the veterans of the pickup segment, is so far ahead in longevity, strength, and efficiency, then large diesels might end up going the way of horse-drawn buggies. There are few vehicles that are better at leading this charge than the Tesla Cybertruck.
The Tesla Cybertruck has the ability to be a “disrupter” of sorts to the diesel pickup truck industry, close to the next-generation Roadster. It is a large vehicle built to look like a futuristic armored personnel carrier with a commanding stance. With its XY, origami-like exoskeleton, the Cybertruck is a steel beast: rugged, unapologetic, and it looks like something that should not be crossed by even a big diesel truck. This trend continues with the efficiency and usefulness of the Cybertruck, with its 2.9 seconds of 0-60 mph time, its 6.5-foot truck bed, its towing capacity of 14,000 lb, and 500+ miles of range.
The all-electric pickup could absolutely outperform diesel rivals to such an extent that it would be humiliating for conventional trucks to stand toe-to-toe against the steel monster. And once this is known, the time will soon come when modified diesel-powered trucks might become ridiculous in the face of superior vehicles that have zero emissions. Such a period will probably be welcomed by the environment and the community as a whole though unfortunate for the long history of US big diesel trucks.
You can view the report from the EPA below on tampered US pickup trucks and their emissions below.
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