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What will fleets buy if their favorite engine is gone?

This has been a soft year for big truck sales, which would normally imply that in 2010 truck sales should pick up. No one seems to be expecting much of a surge at this point, thanks in part to the continuing saga of the economy and the new EPA engine exhaust emissions standards that take effect next Jan. 1. Added to it all is that certain engines will be gone and new ones will be appearing.

The big question is will truck buyers embrace a truck manufacturer's standard in-house power source? Or will many choose to spec what's still being offered outside the captive product? Complicating matters somewhat is how they feel about the new emissions technology coming on-stream in 2010, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) or whether they'd prefer to stick with what they've known since 2007, which is exhaust gas recirculation (EGR)?

There has been a lot of debate about the merits and drawbacks of each technology, much of which has been seen in the pages of this magazine. One of the biggest arguments concerns the effect on fuel economy. One school of thought is that the more aggressive--or "massive" to use the term being hurled by some of the SCR crowd--EGR rates required to meet 2010 standards will increase fuel consumption. The other school says it's pretty much a wash, because SCR requires periodic replacement of a consumable fluid--the urea solution that makes the SCR work.

As all but one of the major North American truck/engine manufacturers are going the SCR route, the choices offered to the truck buyer have become rather thin. In many cases, they can buy the truck with the truck manufacturer's engine, which has SCR; or they can select an engine--again with SCR--from the last large independent engine supplier still standing, which would be Cummins. If they remain leery of SCR, their only option is to buy an International truck with a MaxxForce engine.

Gone are the days where virtually all the Class 8 truck makers (except Mack) would offer Cat, Cummins or Detroit Diesel power. Those names still exist, but mainly as in-house brands. This is largely economics driven. By reducing the complexity of engine offerings and certifications, the vehicle manufacturer has a greater control of where the money goes.

It will take some time to see how each technology fares in the real world, in part because it's likely that there won't be a whole lot of new trucks sold in 2010. The economy will take the lion's share of the credit for that, but it's also a fact that many fleets are extending their replacement cycles, again because of cost. Five to seven years with the first owner has become fairly typical. Leasing companies, somewhat less.

The price of Class 8 trucks and tractors continues to escalate just like most products we buy. We don't usually address prices, but it is important to remember that the going price at retail for a nicely equipped Class 8 conventional day cab tractor under 500 hp is now in the $90,000 range. If it's a sleeper cab, make that $110,000-plus.

Add the bells and whistles and expensive options or accessories and we find units approaching $120,000. If you tack on a 600 hp engine and upgraded driveline to go with it, I'm told $125,000 is in the ballpark.

With trucks and engines, purchase price has become the decision-maker, more so than ever. before. Constraining engineering, manufacturing and sales costs are more important than ever, which has been the big impetus to the drive for in-house engines.

A long-time friend and my equipment advisor, Darry Stuart, president of DWS Fleet Management and Consulting Services, noted recently, "Today we 'shop' for vehicles with specs to perform well in the job they'll be working in. In more and more cases, my customers don't drill in on engines. 'Open the hood to see if the engine is yellow, green, red, etc., that's all I need to know.'

"For most of my customers, 450 to 500 horsepower gets the job done nicely in over-the-road trucking. Drivers are usually satisfied. They're more concerned with comfort and making money today.

"Today we do very well with 500 hp for linehaul and 350 to 400 hp for vocational trucks, some of which spend hours at low rpm running PTO-powered equipment. I'm not a member of the 'Size Matters' Club vs. hp/torque if it gets the job done. Eleven liter's is fine for some applications and it keeps the size and weight down. For the few who are still willing to pay for speed and performance, be my guest but don't complain about fuel bills."

A local truck dealer tells me that SCR may be more economical for linehaul trucking because it allows engines to be tuned for greater efficiency. That would seem to be a point in favor of the SCR proponents.

At the same time, he maintains that 80% of the market needs no more than 475 hp and that fits nicely in a 13 L package. That echoes what Navistar has been saying and suggests that it might not be catastrophic for Navistar to be without a 15 L engine for the months between when it ceases to use Cummins power with SCR and when its own new 15 L is ready.

In summary, 2010 engines will cost more, will be more technically sophisticated and there will be two technologies competing. This is one race I'm not betting on.

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Title Annotation:STREET SMARTS
Author:Winsor, Jim
Publication:Diesel Progress North American Edition
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
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