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March 10, 2008 3:00 PM, EDT

Survey Says 70% of Carriers Are Satisfied With ’07 Engines

By Frederick Kiel, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 10 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

A survey of 87 trucking companies operating 2007-model engines showed 70% were satisfied with them, but fuel economy, soot filters and onboard computers were the top complaints of those that were not satisfied.

Commercial vehicle consulting firm Power Systems Research said its survey, in the fourth quarter of 2007, showed 30% were either “somewhat” or “very dissatisfied” with the engines, built to meet new federal diesel emission standards.

“Fleets found three main concerns with the 2007 engines,” Chris Fisher, analyst at Power Systems, St. Paul, Minn., told Transport Topics Feb. 28.

Fisher said about 19% of the fleets reporting dissatisfaction cited reduced fuel economy was a “significant problem,” and that “the reduction in fuel economy ranges from 2% to 4% for trucks equipped with the 2007 engines.”

“It’s important to stress that the dissatisfied customers were able to work out most of their problems with the new engines,” Fisher said.

“Most of the firms in the dissatisfied sections also said the problems would not stop them from buying more trucks with the new engines,” he said.

Engine and truck manufacturers told TT that nearly all their customers have given the new engines good marks.

“The 2007 engines are being well-received,” Roy Wiley, spokesman for International Truck and Engine Corp., told TT on March 3 in a reaction typical of the rest. “If there were some issues when the engines were first introduced, they were resolved long ago, and we’re only hearing good things.”

Neither large nor small trucking companies contacted by TT were totally favorable toward the 2007 engines.

Two major companies, Knight Transportation and Schneider National, said that they liked the new technology but said problems exist.

“We feel very comfortable with the new engines,” David Williams, Knight’s vice president of equipment and maintenance, told TT. “We actually bought some of the first 2007 engines right out of the chute.”

Knight, Phoenix, No. 40 on the Transport Topics 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers, has 1,000 new engines, nearly all made by Cummins Inc.

“The engine itself has performed very well,” Williams said. “They’re comparable to downtime of previous engines.”

Williams said that “degraded” fuel economy was the main drawback, although the onboard computers also initially confused some drivers.

“It’s about what we expected with EGR’s [exhaust gas recirculation] higher rate of heat, seeing some degradation of fuel use, and that’s what happened,” Williams said. “That is the most disappointing aspect of the ’07, as we continue to see a rise in fuel prices.”

Williams said that the new engines have not created any more maintenance or repair problems than earlier engines.

“We added the diesel particulate filter, and there’s not much we’ve had to do with it,” Williams said. “We anticipate cleaning it at least once after 250,000 miles, but none of our production models have reached that target yet.”

Steve Duley, Schneider’s vice president of purchasing, was less satisfied.

“The ’07 engines have good power and responsiveness, and drivers like their driving performance,” Duley told TT. “But they have poor reliability, high cost and high downtime.”

Schneider, Green Bay, Wis., No. 8 on the TT 100 list, has 73 new engines, including models made by Cummins, Caterpillar Inc., as well as Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Detroit Diesel.

Duley said his comments applied to all four manufacturers. Schneider has been running road-test models for two years and up to 250,000 miles, he said, though engines purchased last year have less mileage.

“They get 2% less fuel economy, due to fuel used for the regeneration system, and 5% less than pre-2002 engines before EGR was added,” Duley said. “We’ve had nu-merous problems with the aftertreatment controls, components, and regeneration process.”

Smaller firms also said they had problems with the engines.

“My experience with the new engines is not good,” Rick Esler, head of maintenance at Saturn Freight Systems, Carol Stream, Ill., told TT. Saturn, with 46 trucks overall, has run five ’07 engines for about six months.

“The new engines are constantly failing and breaking the drivers down on the side of the road,” Esler said. “All of the problems are in the emissions control and the DPF [diesel particulate filter].”

The engines are under warranty, but “the warranty doesn’t help if you can’t get your freight to its destination,” Esler said.

James Hulsey, shop manager for Eastern Fresh Freight Inc., Atlanta, which has 40 trucks, said the company bought three new engines and has run them for nearly a year.

 “One of them I can’t get out of the shop,” Hulsey told TT. “The other two, I’ve not had any problems with.”

Hulsey said the problems “were all with the emissions control system, from the EGR coolers, all the way down the line.”

Hulsey also said that all three trucks “don’t get any fuel mileage either, at least nothing like we were told they would.”