January 1, 2010 will be a watershed day for the North America on-highway truck engine business. It is rare enough when a single major change impacts an industry in a given year. In 2010 the truck engine business will deal with at least three fundamental and historic happenings.
Overriding everything these days, of course, is the economy. If business in general is lousy, freight doesn’t move, trucks are parked and truck sales drop. With most forecasters predicting our economic woes will extend into, or through next year, truck sales prospects have likewise dimmed.
On the other hand, the trucks that are running are being kept longer and need on-going parts, service and rebuilding, making at least the service side of most truck dealers a busy place right now.
In 2007, when the last diesel exhaust emissions regulations clicked in, the truck industry saw a sustained and large pre-buy as truck fleets bought a lot of 2006 model year trucks ahead of the more expensive 2007 models.
The pre-buy prior to the 2010 standards is expected to start late this year and is expected to be nowhere near as large as the 2006 pre-buy. Truck prices, driven mostly by more expensive engines and aftertreatment, will definitely go up, and in this economy if a fleet doesn’t have to replace an existing truck with a more expensive model, it won’t. Nonetheless, most industry forecasters are expecting some sort of small increase in on-highway sales just ahead of the 2010 regulations that should help soften the drop in overall engine sales.
Emissions drive every development in today’s diesel engine business. Since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990 and the addition of diesels to the Act in 1995 nothing has been as important to the diesel engine world as emissions regulations.
Now, apparently, the end is near, as January 1, 2010 is the implementation date of the fourth, and likely final exhaust emissions regulation step for the on-highway diesel world. Many expect EPA to go after greenhouse gases from diesel engines (and other sources) in the future, but regulations to limit emissions of particulate matter (PM), nitrous oxides (NOx) and non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC) from on-highway diesel engines ends in 2010.
The 2010 truck standards will drop the key diesel exhaust pollutants to beyond microscopic levels: PM to 0.01 g/bhp-hr; NOx to 0.20 g/bhp-hr and NMHC to 0.14 g/bhp-hr. Those are reductions of more than 98% for PM and NOx and almost 90% for NMHC.
The off-highway markets, primarily agricultural and construction equipment, still have one more emissions hurdle to clear as its Tier 4 standards will be phased in between 2011 and 2014.
In retrospect, what the entire process of imposing exhaust emissions regulations did was set off a massive and expensive 14 year (and counting) engine technology development cycle that literally reinvented the diesel engine.
At the beginning of the cycle, every technology option for engine manufacturers was on the table. As the years and tiers went by, some options dropped out and others grew in importance, and a few emerged from the back corners of development labs.
In the end, most engine manufacturers settled on some technology “givens:” increasingly higher pressure common rail fuel injection systems; exhaust gas recirculation (EGR); some form of variable geometry or compound turbocharging; electronics that seemed to triple or quadruple in capability with every tier. And at the end of the cycle, exhaust aftertreatment such as diesel particulate filters and oxidation catalysts became part of the modern powertrain.
All of these in turn required much higher levels of fuel and lube filtration than ever seen before (high pressure common rail does not handle bad fuel well at all). With pressures throughout the engine increasingly higher, seals, bearings and fasteners became critical engine components. The engines had to get stronger without getting much heavier.
The enabler of many of these technologies was the 2006 requirement that on-highway vehicles use 15 ppm ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD), a fuel that has 95% less sulfur than the 500 ppm levels of low sulfur diesel.
Like taking lead out of gasoline did for the automotive world, ULSD allows many of these technologies, especially aftertreatment systems to function. Without ULSD the other reductions in diesel emissions likely would not have happened.
Now with the 2010 truck regulations here, on-highway diesel engine technology has ended up with two camps; SCR (selective catalytic reduction) and non-SCR. The non-EGR camp, by and large has one member—Navistar. In the SCR camp is everyone else.
Last year in Europe, Both MAN and Scania showed non-SCR Euro 5 level engines, but both companies also have SCR diesels as well. Cummins originally was solidly in the non-SCR camp for its heaviest diesels, but did a stunning u-turn late last year and now is 100% in the SCR camp. Thus, by and large it’s Navistar vs. the rest of the world.
Europe has used SCR diesels for a number of years and it is an established technology there. In the U.S., SCR is viewed as a “new technology,” yet it has been used worldwide in larger output diesel engines, mostly in electric power generation applications, for many, many years. The technology of SCR is not new; its application in truck and vehicle diesels is much more recent.
The concept of SCR is pretty straightforward. Within the exhaust stream, you inject a solution of 32.5% urea and water. The heat of the exhaust converts the urea into ammonia, which passes through a catalytic converter. The ammonia breaks the NOx down to nitrogen, which is harmless, along with water vapor. Downstream of that is a diesel particulate filter, which is used to capture and hold the particulate matter until it’s burned off by regeneration.Navistar, on the other hand, has persistently and loudly maintained it would not use SCR in its 2010 truck diesels, opting for an EGR-based approach. The Illinois truck and engine manufacturer has gone so far as to call SCR a “marooned” technology that will leave truck owners with SCR engines high and dry in the future. As can be expected, Daimler, Paccar, Volvo, Mack and others that do use SCR engine technology dispute this claim with equal vigor.
So along with the economy, 2010 will see the truck world grapple with yet another severe regulation of the engines that power these vehicles, and the resulting higher prices those engines will cost.
And if that wasn’t enough, the third major change in the North America truck business next year is that by 12/31/09, Caterpillar will produce its last North America truck diesel and will depart the truck diesel engine business. It will, of course, continue to produce diesels for its own construction equipment, as well as sales to other equipment manufacturers, along with use in marine, power generation, oil & gas and other applications.
Cat has been a truck diesel manufacturer for nearly 50 years, but the changing demographics of the on-highway business, with almost all truck manufacturers now also building most of their own diesel engines, left Caterpillar fewer and fewer engines it could sell to other truck manufacturers. And with an expensive level of emissions technology it would have had to pay for to meet the 2010 regulations, combined with that shrinking market, the Peoria, Ill., giant decided to walk away.
But Caterpillar always finds a way to make a splash. In June, at the same time it announced it was leaving the North America truck diesel business, Cat turned around and announced it would join with Navistar to develop and introduce a brand new line of Caterpillar-branded heavy duty trucks for severe service applications such as road construction, infrastructure projects and oil and gas developments.
The trucks are expected to be introduced this fall and will be built by Navistar with Cat-branded Navistar engines. Sales of these yet-to-be introduced trucks will be exclusively through Caterpillar dealers in North America. One of the engines that many are speculating will be the power for those new trucks, a new 15 liter diesel, jointly developed by Navistar and Cat, was expected to be unveiled at March’s Mid-America
The truck business and the truck diesel engine business are always busy, fascinating and high competitive markets. In 2010, the level of activity, competitiveness and industry news goes to an almost unheard of level.
Mike Osenga is publisher of Diesel Progress North American and Diesel Progress International magazines and president of Diesel & Gas Turbine Publications, Waukesha, Wis. The Diesel Progress family includes: Diesel Progress North American, Diesel Progress International, Diesel Progress Online at www.dieselprogress.com, and the biweekly Diesel News Network electronic newsletter. The company also produces the annual Global Sourcing Guide, the definitive source of non-automotive diesel engine and engine component specifications.
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