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OEM panel discusses alternative fuels and other ways to go green

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Natural gas trucks could soon comprise 10% of the Class 8 market, OEM representatives speaking at the Green Truck Summit agreed. The only point of contention is just how long it will take to get there.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Natural gas trucks could soon comprise 10% of the Class 8 market, OEM representatives speaking at the Green Truck Summit agreed. The only point of contention is just how long it will take to get there.

Brian Daniels, product manager, vocational and alternative fuels with Daimler Trucks North America, predicted that natural gas trucks will account for 10% of industry-wide production by 2020.

Andrew Douglas, national sales manager with Kenworth, was even more bullish, estimating natural gas trucks will make up 10% of the Class 8 market within three years.

There’s been increasing confidence among truck buyers that natural gas is a viable alternative to diesel for heavy-duty trucks in each of the past few years, as the product line-up has broadened and fuel availability has improved.

Douglas said 2013 represented a “tipping point” for the on-road segment, with about 2-3% of Class 8 trucks ordered with natural gas power. Three forces came together to make natural gas an attractive option for buyers: the low cost of gas as vast shale formations have become accessible; the development of new engine technology; and expansion of the fuelling infrastructure.

Douglas said there’s a lot to like about natural gas. It’s a mature technology and the engine shares about 80% of its componentry with its diesel counterpart, it’s robust and there’s a proven return on investment in high-mileage applications.

Daniels said OEMs are taking a two-pronged approach to reducing emissions, by producing vehicles that consume less fuel and that consume cleaner fuel. Natural gas fits into the latter category, however Daniels said a wider array of natural gas engines is required for further gains to be made.

Daimler itself offers a range of diesel engines from 6.7- to 16-litre, with a power range from 200-600 hp.

“Right now, as an industry, we have an 8.9- and a 12-litre (natural gas) engine,” he said. “The next step is rounding out that portfolio, looking at a true 15-litre engine, so customers are not forced to compromise.”

Daniels also said it’s important that as the government brings forth further fuel economy standards for diesel-powered heavy vehicles, that the technologies used to comply can be adapted to natural gas trucks as well.

“One frustration I have as an alternative fuels manager is, I don’t feel the GHG regulations give enough recognition to fuels like natural gas,” Daniels said. “The GHG regulations focus on diesels and a good deal of that (technology) will carry over to the natural gas portfolio, but some will be challenging to make a business case to bring over. Natural gas will always be less fuel efficient than diesel and the more diesel improves in fuel efficiency, the bigger the gap becomes and the more challenging that payback period becomes.”

While natural gas commands most of the attention on the heavy-duty side, it’s not very attractive to medium-duty operators who don’t run enough miles to deliver a return on investment, according to Glenn Ellis, vice-president, marketing and dealer operations with Hino Trucks. Ellis said electrification remains a more attractive option for medium-duty truck operators.

“We feel hybrid technology is one way we can easily enter the (green truck) marketplace today,” he said. Hino’s hybrid has a higher residual value than its diesels, it can run on B-20 biodiesel, it doesn’t require any additional fuelling infrastructure and it’s a proven technology with more than 15,000 hybrid Hino trucks in the marketplace, Ellis said.

But the easiest way to reduce emissions from the commercial vehicle population, according to Kenworth’s Douglas, is to remove the heavy-polluting 1990-era trucks from the road. He pointed out a 1990 heavy truck produces as much tailpipe emissions as 65 EPA10-generation vehicles.

“The single greatest impact customers can have is to get that old 1990 vintage truck off the road and upgrade,” he said.

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