FIRST OFF, I hope you all had a fine Christmas or whatever else it is that you celebrate at this time of year. I’m actually still celebrating, on holiday this week, so this rendition of the newsletter will be brief. Well, briefish. I don’t seem to write short very often.
I’m tempted to launch into a full-bore review of the innovations I saw in 2010, but the fact is it wasn’t a spectacular year. No surprise in THAT statement. So I’ll narrow things down to one.
The big story has to be the somewhat contentious birth of a new emissions regime and thus a new batch of engines with one of two approaches to limiting nitrogen oxide (NOx) — an aftertreatment process employing selective catalytic reduction (SCR) or an in-cylinder solution using an enhanced version of exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR). As if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know this, only Navistar chose the latter, and it has yet to get its engines down from the present 0.5 to the required 0.2 grams NOx level. For the moment it’s doing this quite legally by way of credits, and it remains to be seen how 0.2 grams will be achieved. Enhanced EGR can do it, I believe, but perhaps with an intolerable fuel-economy penalty. Some additional gizmology may well be required.
That’s mere speculation, and in fact the performance of any of these new diesels is really still unknown. There are relatively few International engines out there yet, nor millions of SCR motors for that matter. Orders just didn’t materialize until the latter half of the year, and even then they were few and far between. Buyers were leery of the new technologies, many of them confused by which of the two routes to choose, and hardly anyone wanted to pay the 2010 price premium in a year when work was scarce and rarely compensatory.
It seems there are a lot of 2010 Cummins engines in the field compared to the other brands, and the company claims to have shipped nearly 37,000 EPA 2010-certified engines in North America through the end of September. It hasn’t announced subsequent build/ship rates, but it does claim that the new engines are delivering up to 6% better fuel economy as compared with their EPA 2007 counterparts.
I’ve maintained all along that we won’t really know much about any of the new engines for quite a while yet. A few of them will have racked up 60,000 miles or more by now, but so few as to be meaningless in the larger scheme of things. By this time next year we’ll have a pretty good idea of what they’re really made of, though I’m going to start some serious canvassing of users in the next few weeks to see what they think so far.
I do have some slightly unnerving evidence, albeit just one anecdotal case, of difficulty in finding diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), the stuff that makes SCR work. That’s been one of the major fears expressed by some truck owners and a criticism levelled by Navistar at the SCR camp. The tale of woe comes from a friend of mine, a former driver and fleet manager who’s semi-retired but keeps his hand in the game by delivering specialty vehicles across the continent one at a time. Needing DEF one recent evening as he set out on one of his long-haul deliveries, he couldn’t find it at either of two truckstops in the heart of truck country just west of Toronto. In fact, none of the attendants he talked to at those places had even heard of DEF. He did find it at a truck dealership eventually, but this raised a few alarm bells.
Like, what happens at a truckstop somewhere in the boonies?
I can’t imagine that this situation will last long at all once 2010 engines are out there in force, but for the moment it looks like carrying a jug or two in the truck will be required, just in case. It seems not to be an issue in the U.S. of A.
AND NEXT YEAR’S NEWS? Sticking with engines, the big news should be the promised introduction of the International MaxxForce 15 diesel from Navistar, likely to happen in March though we may not see it delivered and in revenue service until as late as 2012. A 15-litre motor based on the iron of the Caterpillar C15, with fuel- and air-management systems designed mostly by Navistar engineers, it will also power the year’s other big news, Cat’s coming on-highway vocational truck, the CT660. In that guise the engine will be called the CT15. The truck and likely the engine will be unveiled on March 22 next year at the ConExpo/ConAg show in Las Vegas.