Will '07 make gas a winner?

The medium-duty market could swing toward gasoline-power as price premiums are levied on diesel-power, thanks to the EPA '07 emission rules, said Ross Hendrix, marketing director for General Motors Fleet and Commercial, at a ride-and-drive event in Nashville last month. GM estimates that changes related to the '07 rules will add $3,000 to $6,000 to the base price of its diesel-powered medium-duty

The medium-duty market could swing toward gasoline-power as price premiums are levied on diesel-power, thanks to the EPA '07 emission rules, said Ross Hendrix, marketing director for General Motors Fleet and Commercial, at a ride-and-drive event in Nashville last month.

GM estimates that changes related to the '07 rules will add $3,000 to $6,000 to the base price of its diesel-powered medium-duty trucks, and $1,500 to $2,000 to the price of light-duties.

Higher equipment costs are only the beginning.The ultra-low-sulfur diesel [ULSD] fuel that has been mandated is more expensive, as are the low-ash engine oils that will be needed, Hendrix told Fleet Owner.

He pointed out that in terms of fuel economy, gasoline engines are now roughly on a par with their diesel counterparts, due primarily to the growing use of Allison automatic transmissions, especially in the stop-and-go operating environments of many medium-duty trucks.

“In the past, diesel used to be [about] 30 cents cheaper. Today it's maybe a few pennies lower,” he said, adding that maintenance costs are also about the same.

Hendrix's confidence in gasoline-powered alternatives comes from the availability of GM's Vortec 8100 MD engine to power its line of Class 5-7 trucks. Though ratings range from just 295 to 325 hp. and 440 to 450 lb.-ft. of torque, the 8100 offers enough power for fleets performing mostly in-city operations and driving less than 25,000 miles a year, he said.

“In 2010, we might see an even greater swing [to gasoline-powered engines] as even more complicated emissions technology is brought to the table,” Hendrix added.

According to Hendrix, medium-duty customers are also showing interest in trucks that could run on blended fuels such as E-85, an 85/15 combination of ethanol and gasoline.

The OEM has been pushing for wider use of ethanol-gasoline blended fuels as one way to help the U.S. reduce oil imports. Brian McVeigh, general manager of the Fleet and Commercial unit, pointed out that ethanol can be easily distributed using current infrastructure and doesn't affect vehicle power or performance.

McVeigh admitted E85's success will hinge on what happens to crude oil prices. “If oil goes back down to $50 or $40 a barrel, then E85 doesn't make financial sense,” he said.

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