#MATS2014 Daimler’s Bernhard gets “real” on viability of natural gas for longhaul applications

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. –The hype surrounding natural gas as a fuel alternative for trucking is gone and realism is setting in, the head of Daimler’s global truck and bus business told business leaders gathered for the annual Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association breakfast at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

“The buzz was bigger last year….The enthusiasm is broken. We don’t see any long-haul applications so far. But it’s not going to go away,” Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard said to the sold-out breakfast event. ”…My alternative fuel is diesel and we will continue to perfect that technology.”

Bernhard cited several concerns with natural gas, including an immature infrastructure.

“Before we can introduce this technology further, the infrastructure has to be there. We still have 200 times more diesel stations than natural gas stations,” he pointed out.

He added engine technology still needs work in adjusting to natural gas for long haul applications.

The previous day, in a press briefing, Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler North America, said natural gas seems a more viable option for local delivery applications and agreed with Bernhard that long-haul applications for natural gas are not currently viable.

“That might change if the price of natural gas continues to drop,” Daum added, however.

Bernhard also tackled the larger issue of greenhouse gas emissions by emphasizing that the full vehicle must be considered, as well as the infrastructure on which vehicles operate, in going forward with new legislation.

“The best (GHG reducing technology equipped) truck stuck in traffic is not doing much good,” he pointed out.

He also stressed that any GHG emissions innovations have to make economic sense for truck buyers. An 18-month payback is what is acceptable to buyers, he said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency, in drafting future emissions regulations, has to concentrate “on the screw that makes the biggest difference” but be careful not to “tighten it until it breaks,” Bernhard cautioned during the previous day’s press briefing.

“When we have to force the customer to buy stuff he doesn’t want, that’s not good.”

Also during the press briefing, Daum emphasized the target should be more reductions in CO2 emissions and that any further emphasis on Nox reductions ”would be disastrous.”

Bernhard also suggested that North American and European emissions regulations are now so similar it would be worth accepting each other’s standards.

“If we agreed to that, we can put money currently wasted (on meeting both standards) towards new innovation,” Bernhard said.

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