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February 12, 2015 3:45 AM, EST

Alternative Fuels, Efficiency Top Agenda at TMC Meeting

2014 Photo by John Sommers II/ Transport Topics
By Michael G. Malloy, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Feb. 2 print edition of Transport Topics.

Alternative fuels and ways to measure fuel economy are prime subjects at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s annual meeting Feb. 16-19 in Nashville.

The agenda for the show includes a focus on alternate fuels — even as crude oil and diesel prices are near five-year lows — and will feature about eight suppliers, including those for vehicles and components, said Carl Kirk, TMC executive director.

TMC’s history started out with an exhibit of a single tractor in a hotel lobby, and “there’s no reason it can’t grow the same way for alternate fuels,” Kirk told Transport Topics.

Donald Broughton, chief market strategist for Avondale Partners, said he plans to talk about the significance of fracking in the United States during an address at the event’s kickoff breakfast Feb. 17.

“Fracking is an incredibly innovative technology, and the United States still has a monopoly on it,” he told TT last month. “I think the single most important thing for people to understand is why, and how, fracking has changed the availability and the cost of crude, and in turn diesel.”

With the falling cost of diesel, equipment has eclipsed it as the second highest cost for trucking companies behind labor, he said.

“As the price of diesel falls, the truck and all the ancillary equipment — the trailer, the tires, etc. — are going to cost more than the diesel does,” Broughton said.

“If I was running a trucking company, [are low fuel prices] something I can enjoy for a long time, or should I be putting plans in place to deal with the price of crude and diesel spiking back up, or is this something that I can benefit from for a long period of time,” he said.

Broughton said he would “do his best to answer those questions,” adding he also will be discussing freight flows and the overall economy.

Fuel costs play an important role in fleets’ economic health, and TMC’s sustainability and environmental technology study group’s Feb. 18 session — “Demystifying Heavy-Duty Vehicle Fuel Economy Testing” — will explore new metrics for measuring fuel efficiency.

The session will take into consideration TMC and SAE International standards, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program. “The industry should have one test” for fuel-economy, Kirk said.

Another highlight will be a session on emissions tampering, Kirk said.

“If a repair dealer, knowingly or unknowingly, sells a vehicle in the secondary market where the emissions were tampered with, they are liable for some pretty serious fines,” he said. “So what we’re trying to do through that task force is develop best practices so people can tell if a vehicle’s been tampered with.”

The meeting also will look at proper “pilot review” — the process of making sure that trucks have been properly spec’d as they come off OEMs’ assembly lines. The process, he said, can protect manufacturers and buyers of new trucks.

“The OEMs aren’t going to be hit with any surprises, and fleets have got a document now on what should be tested during a pilot review,” Kirk said. “It’s like a standard practice for trucks coming off an assembly line.”

TMC also is putting out a call for papers for the planned launch of its Journal of Commercial Truck Technology, which the group is developing as a collaborative effort with industry practitioners and academics interested in trucking.

“It’s an outlet for students, and IT and logistics people, too, who want to get published,” Kirk said. “We’re not going to accept or publish papers that are generic. They’ve got to be spot-on” about trucking.

Papers also could be in the area of IT logistics — for example, he said, “a new algorithm to identify backhauls. . . . In this whole area of transportation logistics, you probably have more authorship in that area than someone writing about new piston designs for LNG engines.”

TMC plans to have papers peer-reviewed by industry and academics, and is targeting publication next year.

Other highlights include automated and connected truck sessions, in which task forces are studying international developments.

While TMC expects roughly the same number of exhibitors — about 380 — it had at last year’s show, registration is pacing ahead of last year’s 3,500 attendees. But it’s exhibit hall space that tells a better story, Kirk said.

“The more revealing statistic is square footage,” he said. “Right now we are at 370,000 square feet for 2015, versus 290,000 square feet for 2014,” which means companies are buying larger exhibits.

“Our events department has done a great job, and the supplier community is on a roll,” Kirk said. “They’re doing very well when you look at component and truck sales.”

The show, at Nashville’s Music City Center, also will feature Grammy Award winning singer and musician Michael McDonald as its featured entertainment on Feb. 18.