Suppliers look to 2007 challenge

With the 2002 emissions changes in place, attendees at the American Trucking Associations annual meeting on Sunday began considering the implications of the next big environmental challenge – meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2007 deadline for further reductions in nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates.

In a panel discussion regarding the industry outlook, representatives of some of the industry’s key truck and engine suppliers expressed confidence that fleet owners will find the post-October trucks satisfactory.

The industry should know more soon, as the new engines are starting to enter service. Ed Pence, vice president of the automotive business at Cummins, noted that more than 100 fleets had placed orders for the new Cummins products. “We’re confident that the reliability is best in class,” Pence said, noting that the company is backing that up with its Cummins Uptime Guarantee.

Regardless of how the post-October engines shake out, panelists agreed that the next generation is a greater hurdle.

“2007 is a challenge for which the industry has not developed a strong answer,” said Michel Gigou, president and CEO of Volvo Trucks North America.

Not long after the engine makers signed the 1998 consent decree pushing up the 2004 emissions requirements to 2002, most engine makers knew the technology they would use to achieve those NOx and particulate thresholds, Gigou said. The same can’t be said for the 2007 requirements, he warned.

One approach is to continue with cool exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) as most engine makers chose to do in 2002 and combine that with a yet-to-be-settled after-treatment. That approach depends on achieving the low-sulfur content – down to 15 parts per million from 500 ppm – that has been mandated already by EPA.

Another approach, called selective catalytic reduction (SCR), involves introducing urea into diesel fuel, causing some chemical reactions that sharply reduce emissions. That approach is the likely solution in Europe, so some engine makers such as Volvo and Mercedes Benz Diesel may find it advantageous to offer the same solution in North America as the one they are pursuing in Europe. In addition, experts say that SCR would allow truck and engine makers to return to their customers the kind of performance and fuel economy they saw with pre-October 2002 engines.

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One potential drawback of SCR is that the infrastructure of the fuel distribution system in North American might have to be changed to allow for pumping urea into tanks. EPA also might find SCR difficult to accept because it does not require low-sulfur diesel, which the agency has already fought hard to mandate.

Gigou said government and industry needed to reach a consensus soon because the industry needs three years between the time they lock into a particular technology and the supply of the first production trucks.

Mark Lampert, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Freightliner Trucks, said that the industry should learn from the previous year. “The push shouldn’t be to delay ’07 but to establish a better implementation process,” Lampert said.

Lampert expressed optimism for the truck sales market leading up to the 2007 change once the industry gets past a few months of delaying purchases due to new engine technology.

“The push out can only last so long,” Lampert said, predicting that sales would turn up by the second half of 2003. “We should have three and one-half good years.” Freightliner bases that optimism, Lampert says, on several trends, including a steady improvement in freight volume, recovery in used truck pricing and higher equipment utilization and improved freight rates for its customers.