It seems like a classic case of taking the good with the bad.
Fleets with engines built to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 emission standards are reclaiming some of the fuel economy enjoyed before the addition of components like Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) systems. But they still can’t seem to escape a steep increase in purchase prices and higher maintenance costs, maintenance managers were told during the annual meeting of the Technology and Maintenance Council.
“Back in September and October 2002 we were told a lot of these things were going to cost very little,” said Mike Moynahan, assets and procurement manager for HEB Grocery, which operates 480 tractors in Texas and New Mexico. “They cost a lot, and from my individual standpoint they have had a massive impact on our fleet.”
His fleet’s engines that meet 2007 standards generate eight percent more work orders than earlier generations of equipment thanks largely to problems with EGR coolers and defects in aftertreatment devices like sensors and fuel-dosing components.
While the newest trucks seem to be offering “pretty good” fuel economy, some of the gains are not linked to emission standards. In 2007, for example, the fleet dropped engine speeds to 1,000 rpm from 1,200 rpm, and reduced axle ratios to 3.07 from 3.21. The engines built to 2010 emission standards were also accompanied by a shift from 6×4 tractors to 6×2 designs, while axle ratios dropped to 2.93 from 3.07.
“We have not had a driver complaint on gradeability and power,” he stressed. “The performance from their standpoint is excellent.”
The story about added maintenance needs has not been as positive. The post-2007 engines spend more time in the shop. “The downtime has a direct effect on our operating costs,” he said. “We incur equipment shortages and delays which affect our on-time delivery percentages.”
Frank Nicholson, vice president of maintenance at TransAm Trucking in Kansas City, stressed that most breakdowns of his late-model equipment are related to aftertreatment devices and sensors. “The base engine is very reliable,” he said of the designs meeting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2010 standards. “Overall, our experience with the 12.9-litre engine compared to the 15-litre EPA-07 product is excellent.”
But Preventive Maintenance costs for engines built to 2007 or 2010 standards are up 200 percent compared to pre-2007 engines.
Luckily, many maintenance issues with 2007 engines have been addressed. “Initially our downtime for that vintage of EPA engine was off the chart,” Nicholson said. Now a mere two per cent of the trucks are down on any given day.
There have certainly been gains in fuel economy. TransAm trucks that meet 2010 standards are 10.5 percent more fuel-efficient than the 2007 models or those that came before them. Granted, some of his fuel economy gains came from other areas as well. The fleet has shifted from long-nose conventional trucks with Texas bumpers to equipment with aerodynamic cabs, sloped hoods, skirted tanks and tighter tractor-trailer gaps. Speeds have been slowed, tires are more fuel efficient, oils are now synthetic, and gear ratios have been reduced. “We got the fuel economy,” Nicholson says, “but the fuel economy comes at a cost.”
FedEx Freight has found that engines built to 2007 standards are 33 percent less reliable than those built to 2004 standards, said Brian Baker, fleet maintenance specialist. In contrast, the 2010 engines are 7.2 percent better than 2004 designs, and 60 percent more reliable than 2007.
There are fewer miles between breakdowns, he added. There was a 38 percent drop in these distances when comparing 2004 and 2007 technology, and there was another seven percent drop from 2007 to 2010. But the purchase prices are undeniably higher. The overall tractor purchase costs were up 10 per cent between 2004 and 2007, and 15.9 per cent from 2007 to 2010.
The fuel economy has been on a steady rise at this fleet as well. There was a 1.95 percent improvement in fuel economy between 2004 and 2007 models, and a 5.37 percent increase from 2007 to 2010. The latest models are faring 7.43 percent better than 2004 designs.
Like other fleets involved in the presentation, however, FedEx gains have not been limited to engines alone. Baker credits some of its improvements to fully automatic transmissions.
Schneider National has found that service costs for 2010 engine designs are 52 percent higher than 2004 designs, and 15 percent higher than 2007. There has been a 50 percent drop in the life of five micron fuel filters, Diesel Exhaust Fluid lines and valves can face problems, and new crankcase breather filters require extra maintenance. But service intervals on the Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs) have been pushed to 550,000 miles from 300,000 miles.
Work orders, however, are up four percent, partly because of an “excessive” number of engine fault codes, and there are problems with some engine parameters.
When all the new emissions technology is combined, there has also been a need for extra training. Schneider’s drivers get an extra hour of training on the new technology, lead mechanics need 35 to 40 hours, general mechanics get five hours, and the call centre requires two hours of its own training. “The training of technicians lags the availability of the product,” Duley added. “That’s part of the challenge.”
Another part of the challenge has come in the form of higher operating costs. Maintenance relating to emission changes has added eight to 10 cents to the cost per mile. “That was more than what we spend on all of maintenance in 2002,” he said. Compared to the pre-EGR engines, the 2007 engines saw maintenance costs rise 35.7 percent including warranty credits but excluding accidents and tires. Earlier engines fared poorer than that, with maintenance costs that were about 123 percent higher from 2004 to 2006 model years.
United Parcel Service has faced maintenance struggles of its own.
Engines built prior to the 2002 standards represent 39 percent of the fleet and 31 percent of breakdowns, but 2004 designs account for 40 percent of the fleet and 44 percent of breakdowns, even though they’re newer. Move forward to 2007 models, representing 14 per cent of the fleet, and the trucks account for 21 percent of breakdowns.
“I would always expect my older tractors to cost me the most,” said Duane Lippincott, engineering and maintenance manager. The maintenance costs were up 19 percent with 2007 models when compared to their older counterparts. But the 2010 maintenance costs are actually 64 percent less, thanks in part to an extended warranty program.
Fuel economy is improving here as well. Compared to pre-EGR engines, the 2004 designs use 3.2 percent more fuel, and 2007 models used 4.4 percent more fuel. In contrast, the 2010 models are 4.2 percent better. “We finally got the trend in the right direction,” said Lippincott.
Still, equipment prices have been increasing rapidly, even when accepting that material costs should increase about three percent a year, he said. Based on that assumption, tractor costs should have increased 12 percent between 2000 and 2004. They were up 40 percent. The truck costs should have been 24 percent higher in 2007, but they were up 64 percent. And while an EPA 2010 engine should be 33 percent more expensive, it cost 115 percent more than those bought in 2000.
“As a company and industry, we can’t keep absorbing these kinds of increases. We need help to drive the costs down wherever we can,” he added. “It’s not picking on any one OE … It’s what’s been given to us to have cleaner air.”