Cleaner trucks are risky business

May 8, 2014

LONG BEACH, CA. Calling current efforts to promote cleaner transportation fuels and technologies “scattered and fragmented,” Denny Slagle, executive vice president of Volvo Group, said “it is risky for a manufacturer to bring new technology.

“With all the excitement around natural gas, one would have to ask why none of the major North American truck manufacturers except Volvo are planning to introduce their own natural gas engines,” Slagle said during the keynote address at the 2014 Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo.

The answer to speeding up development and adoption of alternative fuels, he told the group, “is a clearer path on technology and at least the promise of scale and return on investment.  We need a runway to more easily bring technologies that will reduce the burden of low-volume introductions for all OEMs.”

Offering examples of well-intentioned rules that could stifle progress, Slagle pointed to requirements for onboard diagnostics (OBDs) for all new heavy duty engines. “OBDs are not emissions reduction components,” he said. “They just monitor engine emissions.”

With testing and certification of new OBD systems approaching half the cost of developing a new technology like a heavy-duty natural gas engine, that requirement “could sink a new idea before it leaves the drawing board,” Slagle said. Volvo is currently working with government officials on a proposal that would allow low-volume production of trucks using new technology before OBDs would be required, he said.

Slagle also suggested that tax incentives could help both producers and truck users explore the feasibility of alternative fuels. “And we need to straighten out federal excise taxes (FET) by reducing them on expensive new technologies like CNG tanks,” he said. “We should not be penalizing the pioneers.”

Similarly, fuel taxes also need to be updated to acknowledge new options, moving from a tax on volumes to a tax on energy density, he said.

For any solution to be sustainable, ”it must be economically sustainable,” he said.

Calling it “an exciting time for clean transportation,” Slagle ended on an upbeat note. “The business world has never been more ready to find sustainable solutions and accept changes that improve the economy.”

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