Blue-sky thinking?

According to recent statements by top executives of several truck and engine manufacturers, the next round of diesel emissions standards will ultimately be met handily. However, those same executives indicate they won't know exactly which technologies will be implemented until the end of this year. This delay in committing publicly to what hardware will next come into play doesn't sit well with fleet

According to recent statements by top executives of several truck and engine manufacturers, the next round of diesel emissions standards will ultimately be met handily.

However, those same executives indicate they won't know exactly which technologies will be implemented until the end of this year.

This delay in committing publicly to what hardware will next come into play doesn't sit well with fleet owners. Many are already peeved, to put it mildly, at having had to begin running EGR engines last year that were unproved in their own operations — because their suppliers were forced by legal action to bring product to market sooner than expected.

There's no consent decree governing what suppliers can do — or say — his time out, so there is perhaps greater freedom to experiment, as well as to disclose what can be expected, earlier than was the case with the much maligned EPA '02 engines.

But many fleets are not liking what they are hearing so far because engine and truck builders are hemming and hawing on which technologies will actually be used to meet the '07 not to mention the '10 regs.

Clouding the crystal-balling is the reality that certain engine and truck builders may be compelled by simple economics to advance one technology over another. That is to say, manufacturers that are also deeply involved in the European market appear to favor emissions technology that would work relatively easily in both places.

Also fogging things up is the fear that the ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) that all '07 engines will be designed to run on may not be fully in the pipeline by '06, which would make it hard for fleets to do much pre-testing before having to buy the engines.

The upshot of this fear of repeating the past, coupled with uncertainty about the future, is that some observers are already predicting that '05-'06 will bring a pre-buy the likes of which the industry has never seen.

Undaunted by that prospect, at least three truck OEM chiefs have publicly stated they will have trucks with '07-compliant engines in them ready in due time.

Noting that the industry is “at a technological crossroads” in terms of emissions solutions, Rainer Schmueckle, president & CEO of Freightliner LLC, recently said the OEM currently expects the '07 solution will involve selective catalyst reduction (SCR) technology. But he noted this approach will come with its own challenge — making the urea that SCR requires widely available where trucks are serviced.

According to Michel Gigou, president of Volvo Trucks North America and chairman Mack Trucks Inc., “the biggest change from '04 to '07 will be [for suppliers] to ensure that '07 is a non-event for the industry.”

And Daniel Ustian, CEO of Navistar International, has stated development of '07 engines is “on pace” but the industry needs ULSD fuel on hand as “an enabler” to ensure the emissions technology employed does work.

Meanwhile, for their part engine builders report they will decide on which technologies they will deploy by year's end. Tim Tindall, director of emissions programs for Daimler-Chrysler Power Systems has said the choice will come down to using EGR with a particulate filter or using SCR with a particulate filter.

Whatever the final word is, deciding it by later this year will mean sample engines can be available for customers by mid-05, according to Cat's John Campbell, director of on-highway engine development.

That may still not be good enough. Some fleet executives say they will petition EPA to at least “soften” the '07 deadline until whatever new technology is utilized has been somehow proven.

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