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Kenworth monitoring wider use of natural gas

Just five years ago, Kenworth sold natural gas trucks in only six states. In 2013 that number jumped to more than 20.

“I’m a true believer (in natural gas),” Andy Douglas, Kenworth national sales manager – specialty vehicles, told a group of trucking editors gathered at the company’s Chillicothe, Ohio assembly plant for a ride-and-drive event Friday. “We’re past the science project stage of this. The jury’s not out. The jury has decided. This is happening.”

Natural gas may be happening, but the question is “when?” Douglas says, noting it took nearly 25 years for diesel to emerge as trucking’s fuel leader.

Among the first adopters of natural gas were buses and refuse trucks, which generally never stray far from fueling locations. Another advantage, Douglas says, was those industries had an engine – the Cummins Westport 9 liter ISL G.

Too small for wide use among long-haul trucks, the 9 liter alone hasn’t been enough to establish natural gas in moving freight. With the 12 liter natural gas engine, the tide is beginning to turn but additional work is needed, which includes larger displacement, still.

“I’m telling everybody who will listen to me at Cummins to build the 15-liter,” Douglas says. Cummins recently put plans on hold to roll out a 15 liter natural gas engine amid concerns over demand. However, Douglas says Cummins has agreed to once again look at the 15 liter’s future in the marketplace.

Many industry experts forecast that natural gas will make up 10 percent or more of truck order intake by 2020. Douglas says he thinks that is feasible, but firmly believes orders will reflect a strong preference for CNG since it’s more than 10 times as widely available as LNG.

Douglas says Paccar hasn’t seriously considered building its own natural gas engine and was matter of fact about diesel’s place in the market.

“By no means do we say that diesel is going away,” he says. “We’re heavily invested in diesel.”

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Jason Cannon is the Equipment Editor for Commercial Carrier Journal and Overdrive, and is a Class A CDL holder. Reach him at jasoncannon@randallreilly.com.