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April 7, 2008 10:30 AM, EDT

Editorial: Picking an Engine Technology

This Editorial appears in the April 7 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

As we move closer to the next federal mandate on emissions — which comes into force for 2010-model heavy-duty trucks — proponents of the two competing technologies are beginning to publicly argue over the superiority of their choices.

No doubt the stakes are high. This year’s miserable sales performance, in the wake of 2006’s massive pre-buy exacerbated by the slow national economy, only puts more emphasis on the need for truck manufacturers to be ready for the expected economic rebound later this year, and then for the 2010 emission changes.

Truck manufacturers have fallen into two camps when it comes to meeting the new federal standards: an expanded version of exhaust gas recirculation, the technology all engine makers have chosen to meet current emission standards; and selective catalytic conversion, which introduces urea into the exhaust stream to clean the air.

SCR has become the technology of choice in Europe for many manufacturers, and its leading proponents in North America have been Freightliner and Volvo Trucks North America, the U.S. branches of European-based companies.

Paccar, which owns a European truck and engine maker, will also use SCR in its 2010 models.
International Truck and Engine Corp. is the leading proponent of EGR, and will use that technology in its new engines.

Cummins, meanwhile, has a foot in each camp, relying on EGR for its heavy-duty engines for 2010 and adopting SCR for its medium-duty units. The other independent U.S. engine maker, Caterpillar, hasn’t announced its intentions for the new models.

Up to now, truck and engine makers have been preoccupied with surviving the slow freight market. But if this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show is any indication, the war of words has now begun.

No doubt the market will eventually decide the fate of these competing technologies — whether both will survive or one proves superior to the other.

Some analysts are expressing concern, however, that a nasty fight over these competing technologies could lead truck buyers to keep their checkbooks in their pockets, afraid to hitch their wagons to the “wrong” technology.

It’s in everyone’s best interests for the transition to the 2010 emissions rule to be as smooth as possible, to ensure a healthy trucking industry and a healthy truck supply industry.