SPECIAL REPORT: Will there be a ‘California’ engine?

| 11/15/2007

Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007 – Truckers weighing their options on buying new trucks or engines are facing a decision they’ve never before been forced to make: buy a truck certified to idle in California or have the manufacturer activate a five-minute limit on idling.

California is requiring that engines manufactured for model year 2008 and later have a shutoff function activated unless they meet a new standard of emitting no more than 30 grams of nitrogen oxides per hour while idling. Engines already have the capability to have the shutoff function activated, but California’s rule makes their activation mandatory for any truck that enters the state. State law also prohibits the shutoff functions from being manipulated at any time by the driver.

The shutoff would prevent drivers from Oklahoma, North Carolina and any other state from ever idling longer than five minutes anywhere – if they ever wanted to haul in California, that is.

Such concerns from customers have sent engine manufacturers scrambling to push the limits to begin meeting California’s new NOx standard and avoid the necessity to activate the shutoff functions.

Most or all truck manufacturers appear as though they’ll each have an engine certified to meet California’s clean idle standard, said Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs for Chicago-based Engine Manufacturer’s Association.

The 40-year-old EMA represents Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, International, PACCAR and Volvo, among several other truck engine manufacturers, and regularly works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.

Suchecki said California’s requirement has pushed engine makers to meet the Golden State’s new clean idle standard of no more than 30 grams of oxides of nitrogen per hour.

CARB’s idling standard of NOx is drastically below truck engines from even a few years ago, and Suchecki said CARB’s measurement of NOx emissions per hour of idling varies from the industry’s previous NOx measurements of brake horsepower per hour.

Drivers would rather be able to idle their engines than have a mandatory engine shutoff system, Suchecki said.

“Every manufacturer is going to try and have a low-NOx engine available simply because that’s thought to be the option most customers would prefer,” Suchecki said.

Cummins announced this fall that its 2008 year engine models will meet California’s standard, allowing drivers to idle after Jan. 1, 2008. As of press time, CARB had not confirmed that certification.

Officials at Cummins decided to pursue meeting CARB’s idling standard rather than force all U.S. customers to consider the option of an automatic shutoff, said Cyndi Nigh, a Cummins spokeswoman.

“For the drivers that continue to idle, including owner-operators that need to idle for cab comfort and hotel accessories and climate control, this is a real plus because they will be able to continue to idle indefinitely … and still meet the California regulation,” Nigh said. “We think the customers are really going to like this.”

California’s requirement is that 2008 model year engines shut off after 15 minutes of idling. The shutoff is preceded by a beeping sound 30 seconds before the engine shuts off, and a CARB official told Land Line that the timer resets if the operator pushes in the clutch and changes gears.

Next year’s requirement for 2008 year truck engines has had as monumental an effect on new trucks as engine makers, Suchecki said. Engine makers have scrambled to meet environmental edicts approved first by California and mirrored by other states.

“Up until now, the standards and requirements for California and EPA have been pretty much harmonized,” Suchecki told Land Line. “This now, will be the first time, I believe, that there will be actual differences between a California engine and a 49-state engine for the heavy-duty industry.”

Suchecki said CARB’s actions in recent months have indicated the agency is only just beginning to delve into trucking emissions.

The Golden State and its imitators particularly in the northwest and northeast regions of the U.S. appear poised to keep engine manufacturers and the drivers that depend on them hopping.

“For the last couple of years, California has been taking a more strong stance to implement stronger emissions standards on the industry,” Suchecki told Land Line. “We prefer that not to happen – we certainly think it’s much better if we have one set of regulations that can serve the whole nation.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer