SPECIAL REPORT: This time, they’re going to test

| 3/22/2004

Feds plan to give 2007 engines a test drive before rules go into effect; Emissions Summit discussion centers on avoiding repeat of 10/02 problems

The federal government plans to facilitate real-world testing of new engines designed to meet 2007 emissions standards, officials announced at last week’s Emissions Summit.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency plans to set up several “clean corridors,” interstate highways where the new ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (15 parts per million sulfur) will be available and where fleets can run test vehicles using that fuel. The purpose, summit participants said, is to work the bugs out of the new technology ahead of when it will be required.

The test will begin in early 2005, at least 15 months in advance of when the fuel is expected to hit the general market in June of 2006.

Several corridors will be set up. One will run along I-80 from the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, possibly running as far as San Francisco on the West Coast. Another will run along I-15 from Salt Lake City and into far Southern California.

Not all of the fueling stops along the corridor will have the ultra-low-sulfur diesel available, but government officials at the conference said it would be widely enough available for the test.

Conference and conflict

The Emissions Summit, which took place Tuesday, March 16, in Fort Lauderdale, FL, is sponsored by The Technology and Maintenance Council and Transport Topics. It was part of the annual Technology and Maintenance Council conference.

The event is designed to update industry officials on government actions related to the industry, especially in regard to updates on the 10/02 engines and upcoming 2007 diesel emissions requirements. It is attended by industry officials, trucking executives, makers of trucking products and technology and government officials.

Many of the presentations and discussions revolved around problems that occurred when the 10/02 engines were introduced, and what could be done to avoid a repeat of those problems with the introduction of the 2007 engines.

U.S. Rep. Mac Collins, R-GA, reflected the feelings of many in the trucking industry when he told conferees, “This industry needs to be at the table, and it needs to be listened to.”

Collins, the founder of a trucking company that is still run by his family, said that the Washington, DC, perspective is that the trucking industry didn’t fight hard enough to have the consent decree revisited.

In 1998, five heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers (Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Volvo and Mack) agreed – as part of a consent decree – to meet new emissions requirements in October 2002 instead of the previously set date of January 2004. This "consent decree" came about as part of the EPA's claim that the engine manufacturers had been using certain devices to get around emission standards. Since then, the five engine manufacturers have been working to come up with technology that would meet the stringent NOx standard.

During his comments at the summit, the Georgia congressman made his feelings about the standards and the agency that created them clear.

"I don't trust the EPA," Collins said. "This is your government - do you think it makes me proud to say that? We have agencies that don't listen to the people or to their elected representatives."

Jeff Holmstead of the EPA took issue with Collins’ comments.

"I didn't have anything to do with that," he said, referring to consent decree. "We have good people at EPA."

Reliability problems

The lack of testing was one of the main problems associated with the introduction of the 10/02 engines.

Due to the consent decree that led to the introduction of the 10/02 technology, the due date for the engines was moved up 15 months – the standards were originally scheduled to be introduced in January 2004. That meant 15 months’ worth of field testing was lost.

Early production models of the engines had significant problems. For example, several fleet running 10/02 engines reported that as many as 50 percent of those vehicles have had some downtime associated with the emissions systems.

FedEx Freight is one of the companies that has experience trouble in half its vehicles. Dennis Beal, vice president for maintenance at FexEx Freight, said that in his fleet, the primary maintenance issues in the new engines are camshafts, sensors, EGR coolers, EGR valves and injectors.

"There are no real horror stories," he said, "just a lot of pain and high costs."

Schneider is another fleet that has experienced significant problems with its 10/02 vehicles. Steve Duley, vice president at Schneider, said the company experienced many early failures, with problems in just about every component, including EGR valves, sensors, variable geometry turbochargers and other components.

However, now that the engines have been in use for a while, the engine manufacturers say the problems have, for the most part, been solved.

The effect on the wallet

Cost has been another problem truckers and trucking fleets have experienced with the new engines.

Rep. Collins told the summit he would like an independent committee set up to evaluate the “true impact” of the consent decree that led to the 10/02 engines. Prior estimates placed the cost to trucking at $1 billion.

Holmstead acknowledged that the cost of new engines was a factor in how effective the new regulations will be.

"We realize that if the industry doesn't buy the new engines, the air isn't going to get cleaner," he said. "The EPA agrees there should be more incentives, especially in the early stages."

John Stephenson of the General Accounting Office estimated that the cost of the 10/02 standards ran about $900 per new engine. However, in creating that figure, the EPA started with the cost of a 1998 engine that was in compliance – which 1998 engines were not.

Others put the cost much higher. Steve Duley, vice president of Schneider National, said that over the life of a truck the cost of a 10/02-compliant vehicle is at least $3,300 to $6,900 more. Additionally, operating costs have increased by 2 cents to 3 cents a mile.

Fuel costs were another factor discussed. Collins said the pre-buy in 2002 -- in which trucking companies and truckers rushed to buy new and used pre-10/02 engines before the new regulations went into effect -- was not just the result of engine cost, but also occurred because fuel mileage was projected to deteriorate. It did. The cost of the new fuel for 2007 engines is going to make the 2007 pre-buy even worse, he added.

Marty Fletcher of U.S. Express said his fleet experience an initial 9 percent to 12 percent loss of fuel economy. However, once the engines were broken in, the loss in fuel economy stabilized at between 6.2 percent and 7.7 percent. Duley reported a 3 percent to 5 percent loss, “wiping out 10 years of progress.”

However, some of the 10/02 engines – specifically Caterpillar’s ACERT C-15 – have shown a slight increase in fuel economy. Those engines do not use EGR technology.

A change in approach?

Even as the EPA prepares for the next round of tightening in federal air standards, agency officials at the conference made some signals of possible changes in the EPA’s approach.

EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt noted that in the 30 plus years since EPA was founded, air pollution in the United States had dropped 50 percent.

"The last 30 years laid the foundation," he said. "Change was forced by laws."

Now, he said, the agency needs to rely more on technology and collaboration to drive improvements in air quality.

"For 30 years, we picked the low-hanging fruit," Leavitt said. "Further progress takes more effort. The challenge is to increase the velocity of progress while retaining competitive position."

The way to accomplish that progress, he said, is through public-private sector collaboration, such as efforts to reduce idling.

Those changes could be made through legislation, as past changes were, but “the better way is to give incentives to do what is in the public interest,” Leavitt said.

Holmstead added his voice to that chorus. Although the EPA will have – by 2010 – spent 12 years slowly tightening emissions standards for diesel engines, he said that the agency had no further plans for additional regulations past that date.

"I can tell you definitively that we are not planning any new standards in the future (after 2010)," Holmstead said. "Our future efforts should be to provide incentives for retrofit of older engines" and get the pre-10/02 engines out of service.

The agency is also working to keep air regulations uniform across the country by keeping states such as California from enacting regulations that are tougher than the federal standards. However, officials at the conference said the only leverage the government has is to hold back states’ highway funds. And that can be done only by Congress.

--by Paul Abelson and Mark H. Reddig, Land Line staff

Paul Abelson can be reached at truckwriter@anet.com; Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.