- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

ATLANTA (AP) Some trucking-fleet operators are rushing to buy current truck models to avoid a new generation of less-polluting diesel engines that take over the market in October.

Trucking companies say that the new engines mandated by federal rules to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions will cost more, weigh more, use more fuel and likely require more maintenance.

"I think most of the major carriers are trying to position themselves to not have to buy those engines," said Rob Goates, chief financial officer of Utah-based Central Refrigerated Service Inc. "They're just trying to minimize their risks."

Nitrogen oxides help produce ozone and smog, and can aggravate asthma and cause respiratory problems. Heavy diesel trucks pump about 2.6 million tons of oxides and other pollutants into the air each year.

The new rules are expected to cut truck pollution by more than 90 percent by 2010. But they are also likely to add $3,000 to $5,000 to the price of a heavy diesel truck engine, which now costs $12,000 to $25,000.

US Xpress Enterprises Inc., the fifth-largest publicly traded trucking company, has ordered 1,200 new trucks this year to avoid having to buy the new engines for as long as possible. The company, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., also will extend the time it drives each rig, from three years to four or more, Chief Executive Officer Max Fuller said.

"The economics in this thing are so upside down it's not worth the gamble. Usually when you adopt new technology you're looking for a payback," Mr. Fuller said.

"I'm for clean air, but I think there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. This one feels like it's being slammed down the industry's throat right now."

Beneto Tank Lines of West Sacramento, Calif., arranged for its 80 new trucks to be delivered by Oct. 1 to avoid the new regulations, said Paul Schultz, vice president of fleet maintenance for the petroleum hauler.

"There's a tremendous amount of horror stories out there on the new engines," Mr. Schultz said.

Trucking officials say the technology is being rushed through before it has been tested thoroughly enough, and before alternative technologies have been developed.

The industry agreed to move up the date from January 2004 to October of this year as part of a 1998 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department, which had accused manufacturers of making and selling engines that didn't meet existing pollution standards. While manufacturers admitted no intentional wrongdoing, they agreed to pay out $83 million for selling engines that polluted too much.

Only one type of engine has been certified so far as meeting the new standards. It circulates exhaust gases back through the combustion chamber to reduce the amount of oxides sent into the air.

Truck companies expect a 3 percent to 5 percent loss in fuel efficiency with the recirculated systems. They also expect more oil changes will be needed.

The added costs will further trim the thin profit margins of an industry that recorded revenue of more than $600 billion in 2000, the last year for which totals are available. There were 2.6 million of the large Class 8 trucks, which traveled a combined 120 billion miles in North America.

The engines are being made by several companies, including Cummins Inc., Detroit Diesel Corp. and Volvo Trucks North America Inc. Other technologies are being developed.

The trucking companies are worried that, with a tight manufacturing schedule and limited testing, no one knows how the engines will perform in the real world of steep mountain grades, hot desert roads and icy northern highways.

"It's kind of like selling life insurance to a Martian. I don't know anything about this creature. Does he live 50 years or 5,000 years?" said Larry Strawhorn, vice president of engineering at the American Trucking Association.

Caterpillar Inc. of Peoria, Ill. which with Cummins now owns about half of the heavy truck engine market is not making recirculating engines. It instead has focused on a competing technology that is not yet ready, and is negotiating with the EPA over penalties it will pay for selling nonconforming engines.

Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel, part of DaimlerChrysler AG, have asked a federal judge to extend the Oct. 1 deadline. A decision is expected later this summer.

The EPA, meanwhile, has launched an inquiry into whether engine makers have used the arrival of the new engines to promote sales of the old a practice prohibited by the 1998 consent decree. Spokesmen for Caterpillar and Cummins said they had not encouraged "pre-buying" of 2002 models.

Many large fleet operators are "speculating on worst-case scenarios" about how much change the new engines actually will bring, said Thomas Kieffer, a Cummins spokesman.

"At the end of the day, it's going to add cost to every truck that's purchased," he said. "And that's obviously something that people don't want."

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