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Celebrating 2007

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Jim Park

These are boon times for the chattering class — the talking heads that grace many of the pages in this magazine. There’s absolutely no shortage of stuff to write about these days, and no shortage of controversy either. Speed limiters top the list, but I’m getting bloody tired of that one. If it’s such a great idea, just do it in-house.

And there are the less provocative but no less contentious issues: wide-base-single tires, Homeland Security, and the Ambassador Bridge come to mind. These, and many other matters tempt the writer to take off on tangents, but to what affect? Rarely are the issues solvable in 700 words or so.

So instead, I come to the table with three cheers for the engineers who have accomplished the near impossible — meeting EPA’s 2007 emissions reductions mandates while maintaining drivability and extracting a high degree of efficiency from our new engines.

I’m glad we’re doing something about emissions. While I don’t quite buy into the whole climate change and Greenhouse Gas charade, I feel intuitively that pumping thousands of tons of junk into the air — in addition to the volcanoes, cow farts, and swamp gas — isn’t doing our environment any favors.

I’m concerned more about my daughter’s future than mine, to tell the truth, but I feel good about being part of an industry that’s taking steps in what I feel is the right direction. We’re an awfully long way from replacing the diesel engine as the preferred mode of propulsion in trucking, so doing all we can to minimize our environmental footprint as we move forward can only be seen as a good thing.

Yeah, they’re going to cost more, and likely achieve slightly poorer fuel economy, but get over it. It’s a cost of doing business. Pass those costs along to the consumer. We are all so concerned with quarterly performance, that damn few of us ever stop to consider the legacy costs of what we do today. Our kids will be paying for our shortsightedness for a long time — just as they are and will continue paying for Pierre Trudeau’s deficit-financed attempt at social utopia. We willingly passed along those costs.

To date, I’ve toured all the engine makers’ engineering facilities. I’ve talked to countless engineers about the subtle and not-so-subtle changes they had to make to the software and hardware to get their engines performing to EPA standards while keeping their operators happy.

Smoke maps, fuel curves, de-rate algorithms, and more. I can’t even spell half the stuff these people talk about with the same degree of familiarity I have with giving directions to my office.

Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of joining a crew of engineers from Freightliner on their high-altitude testing. I got to drive trucks that had more than a mile of extra wire onboard leading to and from a multitude of sensors. In the sleeper lurked an engineer with a laptop, “ohhing and ahhing” as the parameters on the screen changed. These folks were genuinely enthusiastic about what they were seeing. It was validating what they had conceived and created in the labs back home.

More recently, I was in Portland on a Detroit Diesel ride-and-drive event, communing with the engineering staff, and they were talking proud of what they’d accomplished with their engines. And a proud bunch they should be.

I marvel at the complexity of the emissions equation, and all the intellectual horsepower that has been brought to bear on the problem. The few pounds of new and inelegant hardware on the side of the engine don’t tell half the story.

The new engines will work, but we’ll take them more or less for granted anyway, bitching about the cost and the weight, or whatever, or the fact that we have emissions regulations in the first place. But I’m more than a little proud to be part of an industry that’s doing something positive.

So on behalf of my daughter, to the legions of men and women who work in the labs and test centers, and in the baking heat of summer testing or the sub-zero temperatures of northern Manitoba in the winter, take a bow. You’ve earned it.

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