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April 28, 2009 10:20 AM, EDT
Going ‘Green’ Can Offer Dealers Financial Benefits, Panelists Say

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This story appears in the April 27 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

OXON HILL, Md. — Truck dealers and their fleet customers who feel forced to concern themselves with government environmental regulations should consider embracing the subject, as “green” issues carry increasing weight with the shipping business community and conservation can lead to better profitability, said panelists at a dealer workshop here.

A Maryland dealership manager spoke of wooing state legislators with clean engines. A Colorado trade association executive recommended scrapping old vehicles, and a maintenance expert touted the fact that a well-maintained engine burns less fuel. Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency continues with its vol-untary SmartWay program to increase truck mileage while decreasing emissions.

The April 19 discussion of new trucks as green trucks was part of the American Truck Dealers annual convention and exposition.

“Learn to present issues in a ‘green’ format. It will give you an advantage,” said Mel Fair, fleet sales manager of Central Maryland International Trucks. Fair said he has hosted Maryland legislators at the maintenance shop of his Frederick, Md., dealership and demonstrated low-emission new truck engines by holding a white handkerchief over the exhaust pipe for three minutes — and then showing the cloth remained unsoiled.

He also said dealership personnel have tried to ingratiate themselves with truck-buying customers by offering training on how best to operate trucks with the latest engines that feature complex environmental systems, and how to spec new trucks for better mileage.

Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, said his assessment of public opinion is that Coloradans are unshakably concerned with environmental issues. Therefore, he said, “we decided to meet the public where it was.”

Jackson said his association reviewed University of Denver research showing that the 5% of the state’s car and truck fleet that is oldest — manufactured before 1990 — generates a disproportionately high proportion of the smog. As a result, the trade association started a foundation to buy up older vehicles, recycle the parts they could and then scrap the rest.

“We won support from the media and the public. It may have been ‘low-hanging fruit,’ but we shouldn’t concede the moral high ground to environmental extremists,” Jackson said.

Maintenance consultant Darry Stuart, a recent former chairman of the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations, said recycling and fuel mileage improvement have long been goals of maintenance shops because of their cost-cutting aspects, but they also are environmentally sound.

Among his remarks, Stuart offered some small tips and summarized a large debate on truck engines. He recommended avoiding flimsy radiator caps that allow pressure to leak out and suggested electric passenger-side windows, block heaters, well-insulated cabs and extra-wide, super-single tires when possible.

As for engines, he said that while smaller models weigh less and cost less initially, he still recommends buying versions that are somewhat bigger than the minimal need. A larger engine with more liters of displacement can do its job working at lower revolutions per minute, thereby saving fuel.

“The key to fuel conservation,” Stuart advised, “is low RPM — as low as you can get them.”