MATS 2002: EPA's deadline for Oct. 1 creating uncertainty

| 3/22/2002

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.

Along with several other manufacturers, Cummins has pursued a technology called cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). Earlier this week at the Columbus, IN, Cummins plant, the engine maker was effusive about its readiness for Oct. 1.

On Thursday, Mack Trucks announced it would meet the EPA '02 deadline with "application-specific" engines. Mack said the new technology uses two different approaches, one for vocational trucks and one for on-highway applications. For highway trucks, the engine will feature cooled EGR. Exhaust gasses will be diverted from the exhaust system, cooled and then re-mixed with air coming back into the engine for combustion. For vocational trucks with lower power and more stop and go, a percentage of exhaust gasses will be allowed to remain in the cylinders of the engine from one combustion cycle to another.

Volvo also is using the EGR technology to build a "certifiable" engine. This week the company announced it will use jacket-water-cooled EGR in its engines, but will use a complicated new technology called "V-Pulse" to make the exhaust gas flow.

Detroit Diesel's Series 60, first produced in 1987, was the first fully integrated heavy duty diesel engine with electronic controls in the world. The company says the 2002 DDEC Series 60 is employing advanced turbocharger technology with EGR to meet emission standards and most ratings should be available after October.

While Cummins was effusive, Caterpillar was evasive. They are investing hundreds of millions of dollars pursuing technologies other than ERG to meet the standards. In March last year, Cat announced its new Advanced Combustion Emissions Reduction Technology (ACERT), involving higher injection pressures, injection timing and possibly exhaust after-treatment. Caterpillar says the new engines won't be available until 2003, after completing the proper field tests. While this seems to mean the company will not be ready for Oct. 1, this week in Louisville, Caterpillar said it will "ship product" in October, unconditionally, and will have engines in October that will be certifiable in every state. They did not disclose the levels of NOx to which the engines will be certified.

For companies that may not have a compliant engine available in time to meet the October deadline, EPA allows payment of so-called "non-conformance penalties" (NCPs). Recent rules proposed by EPA indicate NCPs could be as much as half the price of the engine and could go as high as three or four times what was anticipated in the consent decree.

By EPA's own estimates, cooled EGR could cost the end customer as much as an additional $15,000 per vehicle over the period of ownership, 50 percent more for the engine along with higher operating costs and up to 4 percent lower fuel economy. Caterpillar says its customers and OEMs hear EPA's own estimates that the new engines will have higher costs and poorer reliability compared to current engines.

"Fleet owners are saying that without a reasonably priced, reliable product for October 2002," says Caterpillar, "they will hold off buying engines at all. There already are signs of some pre-buy activity. And some are urging a delay in implementing the October 2002 standard."

Caterpillar says it is supporting truck industry efforts to call on the EPA to postpone implementation of the October standard. A year delay would be coupled with an agreement between EPA and engine manufacturers for a one-for-one payback on emissions during that time. The delay also would allow time for adequate field tests of compliant engines. Other enginemakers are not optimistic there will be a stay of execution. In Louisville, Mack CEO Paul Vikner spoke March 22 at the annual breakfast of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, saying as far as he knew, there was "every indication it will happen on Oct. 1."