Nothing to see here?

Updated Jun 11, 2012

I spent last week with the folks at Freightliner for the launch of their Cascadia Evolution tractor and late in the week I was at Volvo in North Carolina for an extended VN test drive. Today I’ve been in Columbus, IN, at Cummins Global Headquarters where I spent the morning test-driving a new ISX15 diesel engine with some really cool driver-enhancement features we’ll profile soon in CCJ.

And in all three places, I was heard something interesting: Daimler Trucks North America, Volvo and Cummins all consider SCR and DEF old news. Or, as David Hames, general manager, marketing and strategy for Freightliner told me, “A non-issue.”

We’re two years after the 2010 EPA emissions regulations that mandated the use of urea-based diesel exhaust fluid on engines built and sold in North America. That’s two years of real-world experience — including two whole two summers and two whole winters. And as far as the folks at Daimler, Volvo and Cummins are concerned, there’s really nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some revelations about DEF along the way. There have been. But they’ve been overwhelmingly positive, in Hames’ words. In addition to improved fuel economy, a entire DEF infrastructure sprung up out of nowhere, virtually overnight. (Good news for folks fretting about the current lack of natural gas infrastructure, in my opinion.) Even better, real-world experience with DEF has shown that it is much more resistant to heat and cold than was initially thought. But, according to folks at Freightliner, cold weather issues have proven to be such a non-issue, that the manufacturer will do away with heating systems in the DEF tank in future model releases since it’s been found that they’re not really needed. True, DEF does tend to goop up when it sits at rest in cold weather. But it also “de-goops” very quickly once the rig is cranked up, warmed up and moving down the highway.

In fact, talk with anyone at Volvo, Daimler or Cummins today, and they’re much more interested in having a conversation about fuel economy. And they’re only interested in mentioning SCR or DEF insofar as they claim it gives them the base platform to build on as they refine diesel engine technology, integrate powertrains, reduce parasitic power loss, zero in on aerodynamics and enhance on-board electronic systems to manage critical systems, boost uptime via telematics and work on crafting better driver behavior to meet fuel economy goals.

Talk to any of the folks at those three companies and they’re excited about the future of trucking. They’re excited about the technologies they’re working on. They’re excited about the next-generation of products they’re working on and they’re excited about what all of this will mean for you, their customers. Far from being a dream, it appears the introduction of a Class 8 tractor capable of getting a consistent 10 mpg in real-world, line-haul applications is just around the corner. The message I got over the past two weeks was clear: Emissions are in the bag. The next mission-critical goal is fuel economy. And big advances are coming soon. Stay tuned.