Big rigs represent just 7 percent of the vehicles on the road in the U.S., but they account for more than 25 percent of the oil burned on our highways. It’s no wonder that President Obama is using his executive powers to clean up the 18-wheelers.

On Feb. 18, Obama announced the development of new standards for heavy-duty trucks, jointly developed by the EPA and the Transportation Department. Remarkably, there hasn’t been much of an outcry from the truckers — which makes this a replay of the carmaker-friendly 54.5 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars adopted for 2025.

The big truckers — including Con-Way, FedEx, Eaton and Cummins — are members of the Heavy Duty Fuel Efficiency Leadership Group, and they “welcomed” as a “historic milestone” the announcement of next-generation fuel efficiency and greenhouse standards. The rules should be finalized by the first quarter of 2016, the year Obama leaves office.

We don’t know how tough the new rules will be, but truckmakers are falling all over themselves saying they’ll be ready to comply. They’ve already made progress with an earlier generation of clean diesel standards. The Diesel Technology Forum said it would take 60 new diesel trucks to produce the same level of emissions as a standard 18-wheeler made in 1988.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the new standards could cut oil consumption by 390,000 barrels per day in 2030, and carbon dioxide pollution by 270 million metric tons. And the industry benefits mightily because it could save truck drivers $73,000 each in fuel costs over the life of the truck.

Amp Holding's EGen Drive system can double the fuel economy of trucks

It’s interesting to note that clean trucks can come in many different flavors, even food trucks. Steve Burns, the CEO of Amp Holdings, told me his company’s EGen Drive System (above) can practically double the fuel economy of package delivery trucks, from an average of 10 to 18 mpg. The key is a hybrid system with a range-extender gas engine generating power for what is essentially an electric truck. That’s the same type of system used by BMW’s new i3 electric car.

This kind of hybrid system makes a lot of sense for delivery trucks that make a lot of stops and starts. “We can run the engine in its sweet spot,” Burns told me. In some states with vouchers to help buy clean trucks, an operator can pay for the system in just three years.

Parker Hannifin’s RunWise System for trucks

And I also heard this week about Parker Hannifin’s RunWise System for trucks (above), which uses hydraulic pressure as a drive system to recapture 71 percent of braking energy. Garbage trucks would benefit from this kind of propulsion. They’re already running on natural gas; in fact, 30 percent of new trucks are being ordered that way.

For the 18-wheelers, I’m hearing that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the way to go. Who knew that so much was happening in trucking? Here's Obama on video announcing the new standards:

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Big trucks, big changes: How new fuel rules and clever ideas are changing the industry
new truck standards