If you're basing new equipment plans on the hope that the Federal government will deliver a last-minute reprieve from the October deadline for new engine emissions standards, you'd better come up with a new plan in a hurry. Medical, legal and, above all, political realities ensure that there won't be any such postponement.
Not only is a delay a dead issue, but smart fleets recognize that trucking needs to publicly embrace “clean” diesels if they hope to fight off attempts to restrict or even ban this efficient power source in commercial vehicles.
Come Oct. 1, all new trucks sold in this country will be certified for the new levels. As a fleet, you have just three choices, none of which is without potentially significant downsides.
You can move ahead with your current trade cycles, buying new trucks with the low-emissions engines. Those engines will cost more, probably adding $3,000 or a bit more to the price of each truck. Fuel economy will also take a hit, perhaps as much as 5%, depending on your operation.
While you might not like the added costs, you can at least plan for them. The real concern is uncertainty over reliability.
With one exception, engine makers are using new cooled exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR) systems to meet the requirements. The holdout will certify “bridge” engines that don't quite achieve mandated levels by paying a non-compliance fine until its alternative technology is ready in 2003. However, even these bridge engines will use some new technology, including exhaust aftertreatment.
Engineers are confident both types of systems will work, but they've yet to be proved in real-world use.
The second option is to do nothing, extending the life of the trucks you already own. It's always tempting to do nothing when faced with an unpalatable choice.
Given the high reliability and durability of today's heavy-duty trucks, that option might work for a short time. But will the potential for service failures be greater with aging trucks or the new engines? And do you have the infrastructure in place to handle an increase in repairs that comes with running trucks longer into their life cycle?
The third option is to replace your oldest trucks with late-model used vehicles. However, this strategy assumes you can find trucks that actually fit your operations and that you have the shop time and talent to prep used trucks for your needs. Then there's that pesky reliability issue again.
Some have talked about a fourth option — pre-buying trucks before the Oct. deadline. Putting aside the negative public relations aspect, few fleets have the access to enough capital to make pre-buying significant numbers of trucks possible.
In today's business world, customers aren't very tolerant of service failures, even if they're caused by efforts to improve air quality. Unfortunately all three of your practical options carry that risk.
Trucking's best hope is that the new engine technology is as good as the engineers promise because extending current cycles or buying used trucks are at best stopgap measures. In the long run, the new engines are going to be the only game in town.