By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators said on Thursday they are reopening a proposal to boost fuel efficiency of medium and heavy duty trucks through 2027, asking for additional public comments on the planned toughening.
The decision by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency to consider additional public comments through April 1 comes amid a sharp slump in U.S. large truck sales that has sparked thousands of layoffs.
On Feb. 25, top United Auto Workers leaders met with NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind and other officials in Washington to raise concerns that a final regulation "that pushes the stringencies too far could have serious impacts" on manufacturers, according to a NHTSA summary of the meeting released this week.
The White House has made hiking fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and larger vehicles a cornerstone of its environmental policies.
In June, the Obama administration said its proposed 2021-2027 medium/heavy duty truck rules would cut carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons, reduce fuel costs by about $170 billion, and lessen oil consumption by up to 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles.
The standards for vehicle and engine performance apply to semi-trucks, large pickup trucks and vans, buses and work trucks.
A slump in U.S. commercial truck sales has accelerated.
Orders for Class 8 highway trucks, the 18-wheelers that haul freight across the country, fell 25 percent to 284,000 vehicles in 2015, and could drop to as low as 250,000 this year, according to industry forecasters. January orders were down 48 percent on the year, according to freight transportation forecaster FTR.
The UAW told the NHTSA last week it had serious concerns whether manufactures could "maintain their financial solvency, production capabilities, employment levels, and support of pension obligations if stringencies are pushed too far."
The UAW told the NHTSA "that presently heavy truck orders are down, resulting in layoffs for thousands of its members." Daimler Trucks said last month it would cut 1,250 jobs in North America, and Swedish truck maker Volvo said it would reduce North American production. Caterpillar Inc said last week it would end production of on-highway vocational trucks, cutting 70 jobs.
Regulators also want new input on how the proposed regulations would affect light-duty vehicles used for racing after questions were raised about whether they would prohibit conversion of vehicles into race cars.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe)