Caterpillar Harnesses the Power for ‘99

by Jason Cisper

Caterpillar, Inc. unleashed their newest engine models against a backdrop of three sun-baked states (Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona). I joined the road crew for three days, while they monitored the engines one last time for fuel economy. We traveled nearly 1,000 miles, spending one night in El Paso. Their goal was to prove that Cat was able to successfully lower emissions without compromising the almighty miles per gallon.

Caterpillar was sent back to the drawing board in designing their engines for 1999, after last October's settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. Cat was one of seven engine manufacturers to pay fines for allegedly using "defeat devices" to produce lower emissions during laboratory testing. Mike Powers, customer value manager, says the company maintains its innocence. "They allege we used defeat devices," he says. "No way."

"In terms of noxious emissions, per engine per year, we were on the low end," he says.

But Caterpillar chose to deal out of court. After paying a sizeable settlement (which Powers says was based upon Caterpillar's ability to pay), the engine design team worked furiously to change the 1999 models. With a little help from their ADEM 2000 engine electronics system, Cat was able to tweak the C-12 and 3406E.

The ADEM 2000, which is used to track the engine's "inside information," was used on a series of fuel tests, including the Southwest trip. The fine-tuning procedure consisted of drivers relaying the information from their electronics package to the engineers at Caterpillar, and the engineers making some adjustments and sending back new data to be downloaded into the ADEM 2000.

Caterpillar conducted the fuel test with two of its larger engines: the 12-liter C-12 and 14.6-liter 3406E engines. The 475 horsepower delivers 1750 lb./ft. of torque. The 430 hp C-12 delivers 1650 lb./ft. of torque. Both trucks ran RTLO 13 speed transmissions, 355 rear ends, and 275/80 R22.5 tires (which were "pretty well broken in").

I rode with Jim Booth, an owner-operator who works forCaterpillar as their senior application engineer. He drove the 3406E. Phil Hook, truck engine performance consultant, followed behind in the C-12.

The desert terrain was largely flat throughout the trip, and because the test was speed controlled, there were few opportunities to see the power of the C-12 and the 3406E. However, an occasional hill provided us the opportunity to move to the left lane, and pass other rigs with relative ease-smoothly and swiftly, with an 80,000-pound gross weight.

As we passed through the miles upon miles of sand, cacti, and mountainous rock formations, Booth explained that the 3406 and the C-12 have both been through similar tests throughout the Midwest.

Booth says when evaluating any new engine, it is best to put some miles on it before "looking at the numbers." He has worked with Cat over the last several months on multiple excursions to milk the most out of the new engine.

"We tried a variety of new techniques over a three week period in June," Booth says.

After pulling into Phoenix, the final numbers were counted. Both trucks averaged roughly seven miles per gallon (7.1 for the C-12, and 6.8 for the 3406E). The numbers, according to Powers, are along the same line as the previous year. The true victory was that Cat was able to lower emissions to meet EPA standards while producing an engine with good fuel economy. With a full head of steam, Caterpillar could be poised to produce an even more efficient engine in the next century. LL