Grim truth beats grim reaper

Oct. 1 diesel emission predictions appear valid, but manufacturers will survive

Ken Kelley / October 18, 2002

Last spring, there was a forecast to the effect that if only
half of the grim predictions about what was coming this fall in the big truck
and diesel engine fields proved true, those two fields "would suffer a
world-class case of chaos, at least." Indeed, chaos has arrived.

The key diesel engine hurdle ahead is meeting the exhaust
limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It is a 2003 rule,
later moved up to an Oct. 1, 2002, effective date. There is a fuzzy picture on
what is being done to meet the new guideline.

There seems to be some agreement that many workable plans to
meet the 2002 rule will be based on a technique called engine gas recirculation
(EGR). There have been reports that the necessary changes for EGR could add
$2,500-$5,000 to the cost of a diesel engine. Truck operator reaction has been
predictably negative.

Less dramatic are new and advanced engine oils developed for
use in diesels with required emission-control improvements. Their added costs,
if any, have yet to be documented.

Mack Trucks has just announced that nine of its
over-the-road diesels meet the 2002 emissions rule. However, the line produces
six vocational diesels for use in such units as dump trucks and garbage trucks.
Their exhausts are said to run above the 2002 limit and Mack indicated there
will be efforts to win offsets for any penalties.

The emissions standing of engines from Caterpillar, Volvo
and Detroit Diesel, plus many from Cummins, remained unclear as the Oct. 1 exhaust
deadline neared. However, Cummins had the honor of having one of its diesels
rank as the industry's first to earn 2002 emissions approval.

Meanwhile, Freightliner has announced that it will have
qualified diesels for sale here in 2004 that are made by a factory of
Mercedes-Benz in Brazil. Producers based overseas have emissions deadlines
which differ from those applied to U.S. makers. Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz
are parts of the DaimlerChrysler joint venture.

Speaker of the truckers

It seems like many with a truck or engine interest have
added their comments to the diesel chaos. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House
of Representatives, was one calling for a delay of the Oct. 1 rule. His
district contains Caterpillar engine factories.

Meanwhile, the American Trucking Association has already
questioned new emission rules EPA has in the works for 2007. A frequent
complaint about such proposals is that they do not allow time for testing of
changes made to suppress emissions and to engineer refined powerplants into
working trucks.

While all of these things have been going on, truck users
have been out there trying to make a profit under some difficult conditions.
Soaring fuel prices and insurance costs are leading difficulties.

Silver linings have been found. Some of those who rushed to
get a pre-Oct. 1 truck before they were all sold out had to "make do"
by extending the lives of older models in their fleets. style="mso-spacerun: yes">  Many operators have been pleased to note
the good service delivered by these older units which might be called their
"preowned" trucks.

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