Medium-Duty '07: The inside story

When medium-duty trucks meeting EPA-'07 diesel emissions regulations roll out next year, buyers, drivers and techs alike will be hard-pressed to see much of a difference from this year's Class 3-7 models. Boiled down, the essence of what OEMs report to Fleet Owner is that emissions-driven changes to these trucks will be essentially on the road and in the shop but not to the wallet. Work trucks sold

When medium-duty trucks meeting EPA-'07 diesel emissions regulations roll out next year, buyers, drivers and techs alike will be hard-pressed to see much of a difference from this year's Class 3-7 models.

Boiled down, the essence of what OEMs report to Fleet Owner is that emissions-driven changes to these trucks will be essentially “transparent” on the road and in the shop — but not to the wallet.

Work trucks sold next year will have been engineered to accommodate diesel engines that produce more heat and thus require greater cooling capacity, and that are fitted with a new aftertreatment device typically referred to as a diesel particulate filter (DPF).

The DPF will be the most noticeable new element. This device will be housed inside a canister not much bigger than the muffler it replaces. But the addition of the DPF will impact the routing of exhaust pipes, especially on complex vocational trucks such as street sweepers.

OUTREACH

Truck makers also point out they have made an extensive outreach effort to help ensure truck body builders (“upfitters”) are informed about specific DPF/exhaust changes so that specialized body installation need not be costly.

Once in service, the EPA-'07 compliant medium-duties should perform as 2006 models do. However, like Class 8 trucks, their engines will need to be lubed with the new low-ash API CJ-4 motor oils that will be available by next year and they will need to operate on mandated ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel.

Fuel economy is not expected to be a major issue with the new engines. But OEMs do caution that fleets will have to pay attention that their EPA-'07 trucks are fueled with high-quality ULSD to avoid cold-starting problems.

While all this sounds good, the cost of materials and the engineering work required to make all this happen does not come cheap. Consequently, the price tags on these trucks will be higher.

But at this point, no one knows exactly how much more a given EPA-'07 Class 3-7 truck will cost than one of this year's models. The range discussed is all over the map, from a low of $2,000 all the way up to $7,000 per truck.

OEMs claim they are not trying to be coy by holding off on announcing firm pricing. Rather, they say they're still working out all the figures and also point out that the medium-duty market is a crowded field of models that are sold at many different price points.

If all the engineering work engine makers and vehicle OEMs have done to make medium-duty trucks ready for '07 pans out as they say it will, then the biggest issue for many buyers will be nothing more complicated than swallowing a higher purchase price.

Tackling the acquisition cost issue head-on, Todd Bloom, vp-marketing for General Motors Isuzu Commercial Truck, LLC (GMC, Chevrolet and Isuzu brands) points out that final pricing will be influenced by a number of factors, including overhead and volume of production, so it will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

“No one is playing the price issue [in the marketplace] yet,” Bloom asserts. “Acquisition cost will be determined by the expense of providing the required emissions technology but also by what the industry will bear. The cards will begin to be played in the next few weeks and once that [process] starts, everyone will start to fall in line [with price increases].”

PRICEY STUFF

Bloom says those final purchase prices will be market-driven. “You could expect a $3,000 to $5,000 hike but how much of that will be passed onto the customer is the question. If the final number is in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, we figure the pull-ahead [pre-buy] effect will be about 10%. Any pre-buying this year will depend on the final acquisition cost” told to buyers.

Larry Dutko, general manager of the EPA '07 Team for Freightliner LLC's truck brands (Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star), says the company plans to announce EPA '07 pricing for Detroit Diesel and Mercedes-Benz engines at the Mid-America Truck Show.

Lynne McNulty, medium-duty marketing manager for Kenworth Truck Co., says there are still “too many factors to weigh to peg the price increase at this point” for the KW T300.

Whatever the final acquisition cost, McNulty does not expect it will have much impact on medium-duty buying plans. “Most medium-duty customers purchase vehicles by a strict buying cycle driven by capital budgets. They're unlikely to change that process to avert a few months of truck buying [to avoid 2007 models].”

“Purchase price, given estimates already out there from the Class 8 manufacturers, [suggest] medium-duty will follow suit based upon engine size,” says Dave Trussell, director of marketing for Nissan Diesel America (UD Trucks). “If a Class 8 450-hp. engine represents a $6,000 upcharge for engineering and hardware to meet the Federally mandated emissions standard, a medium-duty engine half the size will probably be half as much.”

Nick Vermet, senior vp of sales, marketing & customer support for Hino Trucks, says the OEM “will set a price that's very competitive… we'll offer a reliable product at a customer-friendly price.”

According to Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America spokesperson Joe Devlin, EPA-'07 compliant vehicles will be rolled out as 2008 models in the second quarter of next year. Pricing has not been established.

NON-EVENT

“The introduction of these trucks will be the biggest non-event imaginable, except for their higher price,” says Bob Meitzel, medium-duty marketing manager for International Truck and Engine Corp.

International has been the most loose-lipped OEM on 2007 pricing. According to Meitzel, International Class 3-7 trucks will be priced from $3,000 to $5,000 more than this year's models and “that's mainly due to the amount of platinum being used in the DPF.”

To be installed on trucks fairly “transparently” by residing in what was once the plain old muffler, the DPF will really be the biggest thing different about an EPA-'07 compliant truck.

As to what engineering changes are being wrought to make truck EPA-'07 compliant, Nissan Diesel's Trussell explains that the main focus is on “engine fuel systems and a particulate filter as the primary method of meeting the emission standards.

“The existing common rail injection system will carry higher pressures, and multiple injection pulses through the burn cycle,” he continues. “Increased efficiency in the turbocharger, increased cooling capacity, and redesigned pistons to handle higher combustion pressures will be part of the mix.

Trussell notes that 2007 engines will have a “diesel particulate filter [DPF] that will rely on post-combustion injections of fuel air mixture to heat the exhaust gases as they move through the filter [also known as regeneration].”

International's Meitzel says the OEM's Class 5-6 trucks will have larger radiators and charge-air coolers but these will be “packaged under the hood” for no visible change.

“We've also moved the computer inside the cab and enhanced the dashboard and electrical system” as part of the 2007 process.

By contrast, points out Josh Lepage, International's severe-service marketing manager, the OEM's Class 6-8 trucks will have a new hood design to accommodate a stepped-up cooling package while maintaining availability of a front-mounted PTO.

IN THE CAN

Whether engine makers rely on an EGR-based system or not (as is the case with Cat's ACERT system) all 2007-spec engines will make use of a DPF to ensure particulate emissions comply with the new EPA standard.

OEMs say the DPF will require some attention by body builders, especially those used to adjusting exhaust routing as they deem necessary, but its arrival on medium-duty trucks should have little to no impact on drivers or techs.

“The diesel particulate filters for the medium-duty application will occupy an envelope roughly the size of a current muffler and will represent engineering opportunities at the upfitter level,” remarks Nissan Diesel America's Trussell. “Exhaust gas temperatures will be higher so exhausts will need to be routed away from any interference points” on truck bodies.”

Mitsubishi Fuso's Devlin says the impact on body builders will be “minimal — the DPF will be enclosed in a slightly larger muffler. Increased heat from the DPF may affect some vocational applications.”

International's Lepage says bodybuilders will have to pay heed to exhaust routing. “Instead of vertical/vertical exhausts, a horizontal muffler [DPF] under the cab with vertical stacks may be the way to go. Due to higher exhaust temperatures, they will also have to be careful where pipes run.”

Landon Grogan, engineering manager for the Freightliner LLC EPA '07 Team, says exhaust flexibility will be more limited. “For example, due to the weight of the DPF, where today we have options for cab-mounted mufflers, in 2007 you'll typically see only exhaust pipes mounted to the cab with the DPF mounted horizontally under the cab.

DESIGN IMPACT

“Body builders,” he adds, “have been kept in the loop. We've been aggressive at communicating to them over the past year to avoid any re-engineering costs being passed on to our customers.”

Grogan notes that because the engines will employ a higher rate of exhaust gas recirculation, larger radiators will be required but no hood or cab height modifications will be needed to fit them in.

General Motors Isuzu's Bloom says about 90% of medium-duty body applications will not be affected by the new engines or DPF aftertreatment systems. “The DPF takes up a little more room so body builders will have to be aware of the size of the DPF canister as well as higher exhaust temperatures. There will also be more sensors on the trucks so modifications can't be made without due care.”

“The DPF is essentially an automatic system, “says Hino's Vermet. “Every operator will reach a point at which a manual [active] regeneration of the filter will be required. On our trucks, this will be indicated by a dashboard light as well by a DPF soot-capacity gauge.”

As engine makers and DPF system suppliers explain it, there are two basic methods for reducing the soot accumulated in a DPF: passive and active regeneration. In passive mode, soot is essentially burned off as the vehicle is driven. Active regeneration refers to enhancing the “burn” by adding heat to the exhaust gas.

Eventually, enough ash from burning the soot will accumulate inside the DPF that it will need to be cleaned out. According to Bloom of General Motors Isuzu, it will be “a minimum of 100,000 miles before ash removal will be required so that won't be an issue for say three years for most medium-duty fleets.”

Truck OEMs will provide some sort of indicator light to alert drivers and techs if the DPF needs attention. Bloom says the “biggest issue in Japan when DPF-equipped trucks were introduced was not the technology but the operator. What does it mean when that light comes on? “We're devoting considerable effort to educating buyers on the new technology,” he says.

UP TO SPEED

Freightliner's Grogan points out that DPFs have been designed for low maintenance — “there'll be a 100,000-mile initial service interval” for ash removal.

Steve Morelli, marketing manager for Freightliner LLC's EPA '07 Team, says the OEM is conducting web-based and in-person training to get dealer personnel up to speed, including “educating the sales force to help customers spec all trucks correctly.”

As for fuel economy, Bloom of General Motors Isuzu says the experience with engines similar to the EPA-'07 engines coming here is “no fuel efficiency loss seen thanks to changes made in the overall efficiency of the engines, including improvements in horsepower.” However he adds that he's hesitant to quote fuel-economy test results “without having real-world results” from operations here.

Hino's Vermet says the OEM's experience indicates fuel economy to be “even, with as good if not better drivability as reported by customers in Japan” running engines with technology akin to what will the OEM will use here.

Freightliner's Grogan says there is simply not enough data available yet for the OEM to offer fuel economy projections.

He says no changes are expected in oil change intervals. “But for these engines to operate properly,” he cautions, “low-ash [CJ-4] oil and good-quality ULSD fuel will be essential.”

“The availability of ULSD fuel remains the only question really,” says International's Meitzel. “The right fuel for '07 engines should be available by this October. And it could be crucial to know the quality of your fuel as these engines will be designed to run on good-quality ULSD.”

If final pricing and fuel quality are all medium-duty truckers have to worry about next year, they may indeed agree EPA '07 wound up being a non-event.

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