Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Clearing the Air on 2007 Diesel Regulations

January 2006, by - Also by this author

“The new diesels will shut down while driving if you don’t burn off the ash from the filter.”

“You’re going to need to put urea in the tank every time you fill up, and it leaves a nasty ammonia exhaust smell.”

“Your drivers will have to worry about keeping the filter clean.”

“You can put a white handkerchief up to the new diesel exhaust and it’ll stay white.”

Though the 2007 emissions standards are 11 months away, there’s been a paucity of public information on the subject. That gap has been filled with misinformation and half-truths like the statements above.

Let’s clear the air on what we do know. The changes will impact truck costs, fuel economy, maintenance and inventory.

On January 1, 2007, new tighter emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel engines will take effect, mandating a 55 percent reduction in NOx emissions and a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter (PM). The EPA is also introducing an ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, which will cut sulfur content from 500 parts per million (ppm) to an unprecedented 15 ppm.

Manufacturers will meet the new requirements with a diesel particulate filter combined with existing exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology or ACERT technology, proprietary to Caterpillar. The new systems eliminate the need for a muffler.

Urea injection and NOx traps as part of Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) are not factors in 2007. They are strategies for reducing nitrogen oxide, the target of 2010 emissions standards.

Fuel economy/performance
The reformulated fuel will result in a fuel economy decrease of about one percent.

The new engine controls present another challenge. Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs for the Engine Manufacturer’s Association, told BF the new engines might cause a slight miles-per-gallon drop of 1 to 3 percent. Steve Matsil, General Motors’ chief engineer for medium-duty trucks, told us he’s “hearing numbers that range from a half to 2 percent.”

Caterpillar told us that mid-range Cat engines could expect a fuel economy increase of 2 to 4 percent.

Other manufacturers told us that, in wording that would please a lawyer; “initial tests indicate there will be no significant drop in fuel economy.”

The universal consensus on vehicle performance is it will not be compromised.

Depending on duty cycle, a medium-duty truck may need its filter cleaned only once every four years, or every 150,000 miles for severe duty applications.

However, the filter walls collect particulates that need to be burned off (regenerated) regularly for optimum performance. Regeneration might take place once a day or week, again depending on duty cycle. Most manufacturers are installing controls to initiate active regeneration, making the process transparent to the driver.

General Motors is employing a slightly different strategy. Matsil said the instrument panel on GM-built medium-duty vehicles will have an icon that will alert the driver to the need to regenerate. This can be done in two ways. The driver can either pull over to a safe place and push a button to initiate regeneration, or bring the vehicle up to an acceptable speed (30-35 mph) for a certain amount of time (20 minutes) to get the engine hot enough to regenerate. The driver has the flexibility to regenerate at a convenient time.

Price increases: who blinks first?
Manufacturers are being tight-lipped on price increases. The default answer is “it’ll be what the market will bear.” That’s another way of saying OEMs are waiting for someone else to go out on a limb on pricing.

International was the first on that limb, saying the increase will be between $5,000 and $6,000 MSRP for medium-duty trucks and $6,000 to $10,000 for heavy-duty.

Todd Bloom, vice president of marketing for General Motors Isuzu Commercial Truck, told BF the new equipment will add from $2,000 to $4,000 to the cost of the trucks, and the cost to the consumer will “be in that neighborhood.”

Inventory Shortages
This will be a robust year for medium- and heavy-duty truck sales. Meeting demand will be tight for the first six months of this year, as both GM and Ford are at or near capacity. But there is no mad rush of orders yet, say both manufacturers.

That may change as we enter the third quarter, when manufacturers finally announce pricing for 2007-calendar year models. This will give fleets the first concrete numbers on how much extra diesel vehicles will cost. When that reality hits, there may be a scramble for remaining ‘06 models.

Chicken Little?
As the medium-duty truck market is vocation driven, generalizations are difficult. Think a little longer range this year. Talk to your dealer and bodybuilder now about anticipated shortages and price increases.

Let’s not lose sight of the benefits to the new standards. The last statement above — about the white handkerchief? That one is true. The sky is not falling. In fact, it will look a little more blue.

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