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UPDATED: Cummins to “pause” development of 15L natural gas engine, leaving void in marketplace

TORONTO, Ont. -- Cummins has confirmed to US trucking publication Commercial Carrier Journal that it will be putting development of its 15-litre natural gas engine on hold, leaving the market devoid of a 15-litre product after Westport...

TORONTO, Ont. — Cummins has confirmed to US trucking publication Commercial Carrier Journal that it will be putting development of its 15-litre natural gas engine on hold, leaving the market devoid of a 15-litre product after Westport announced last year it was discontinuing production of its own 15L GX engine.

In a conference call last fall, Westport said it was shifting strategies, and would focus on being a technology partner to OEMs rather than building its own loose natural gas engines. It took the final orders for its 15L GX engine in mid-November, meaning customers currently have no 15L natural gas engine available for order. The Cummins ISX15 G was scheduled to enter full production next year.

Canada’s heavy-duty natural gas pioneers, Groupe Robert, Vedder Transport and Bison Transport, expressed mixed reaction at the setback. Robert Penner, executive vice-president and chief operating officer for Bison Transport, said if a 15-litre remains unavailable for an extended time, the company will have to re-evaluate its natural gas trucking program.

“This essentially takes natural gas completely out of the heavy-haul application,” Penner told “Our initial strategy was to deploy LNG in applications where our fuel cost per mile was highest, which is our LCV division. Since that is no longer possible, we must re-evaluate to determine what, if any, go-forward plan exists for us.”

Bison has been running 15 LNG-fuelled Peterbilt trucks between Calgary and Edmonton pulling double 53-ft. trailers grossing 63,500 kgs. The company entered into a fuel supply agreement with Shell, which has already opened one LNG fuelling station in Calgary with plans for others in Edmonton and Red Deer, creating an LNG fuelling corridor linking Alberta’s two largest cities.

Fred Zweep, president of Vedder Transportation Group, said a 13-litre engine will fit many of Vedder’s current needs, and that he’s confident the company can extend the life of its 50 existing Westport GX 15L engines until a suitable replacement becomes available.

“Currently we measure the utility of our 50 15-litre HPDI GX engines in two fashions: hourly for the tractors assigned to hourly-measured work and kilometres for equipment operated over the highway,” Zweep said. “As we push over 175,000 hours on the hourly tractors and just over six million kilometres on the over-the-highway tractors, we remain very pleased with the performance of the tractors and look forward to an extended life on these natural gas engines above and beyond what we currently anticipate a diesel engine in the same weight classification to do. Once we run the life of the engines, we have the option to rebuild and keep the truck chassis rolling up and down the highways. Westport continues to support our HPDI GX engines and we are confident Westport will be there to assist us if and when we might run into unforeseen challenges.”

Vedder uses some of its LNG tractors to haul heavy loads of trash from the Lower Mainland of Vancouver to a landfill site in the B.C. Interior and others for regional agricultural work closer to home. For the latter application, a smaller displacement engine may well work, Zweep said.

“At the time our fleet adopted the natural gas 15L HPDI GX engine, the 13L was not available,” Zweep pointed out. “Had it been, 50% of our HPDI order would have been in the 13L category.”

He added: “At this time we don’t foresee any impact on the fleet, nor are we planning to make any adjustments to our operating processes…Natural gas is here to stay, the technology is visionary, the technology is durable as our fleet is a testament to the fact it works and once you wrap your head around the reality that the price for natural gas is economically more viable than diesel it shouldn’t be difficult for OEMs to recognize the time is right for them to partner with Westport to develop the next evolution of a natural gas engine.”

Groupe Robert, for its part, plans to try smaller displacement natural gas engines until a 15L becomes available.

Yves Maurais, technical director, asset management, purchase and conformity with Robert, told “I guess we have no choice (but) to go to a smaller 13L or 12L engine if we want to keep improving our fleet and continue our conversion to LNG.”

He said he’s encouraged by some of the product that’s coming online over the next year or two.

“The Volvo 13L engine will be powerful enough for LCVs, but not the (Cummins ISX12 G) 12L which is limited to 400 hp,” Maurais said. “We are anxiously waiting the new Volvo design as we think this will be the next step for us. Meanwhile, we will keep running the GX 15L from Westport in our 125 trucks currently on the road. The new Volvo LNG trucks should be available in 2015, so we’re not too far out. We may look at some 12L Cummins engines for short-haul and local LTL operations but nothing is in the works right now.”

A priority for Groupe Robert involves convincing the federal government to consider lifting some of the emissions requirements on LNG-fuelled trucks so that they no longer require SCR and DPF systems.

“We know that LNG trucks produce less GHGs that an equivalent diesel truck; is there really a need to carry all of those systems (DPF, EGR and SCR) when you are using LNG?” Maurais pointed out. “We know it’s an uphill battle, but we will keep fighting to promote and facilitate the use of LNG in Canada.”

UPDATE: Here is the official statement from Cummins, courtesy Christy Nycz House, on-highway marketing communications director:

“As a result of market timing uncertainty, Cummins has paused the development of the Cummins ISX15 G natural gas engine. While we believe natural gas power will continue to grow in the North American truck market, the timing of the adoption of natural gas in long haul fleets preferring 15 liter engines is uncertain. We believe the adoption of natural gas in long haul fleets will be paced by a variety of factors beyond the engine and include fuel tank technology and public fueling infrastructure.

Cummins remains committed to the natural gas market.  Heavy-duty fleets desiring natural gas power currently have the option of the Cummins Westport ISX12 G, which is available in a wide range of heavy-duty truck OEMs.

We will re-evaluate the market demand and readiness for the ISX15 G later in 2014.

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