A good-bye to pre-buy?

It seems the ripple effect of emissions regulations will continue for a while, but their amplitude may be waning.

Few issues have had the broad impact that the recent EPA emissions regulations have had on our entire industry. Not surprisingly, the fine art of dealing with the changes the rules have caused dominated the National Truck Equipment Association's Truck Product Conference this year. (See our coverage beginning on Page 20).

But unlike the previous year, when chassis manufacturers didn't have all the answers and the truck body and equipment industry had plenty of questions, all parties seemed to have some degree of comfort with this year's radically redesigned exhaust systems.

A year ago, rumors of trucks sporting 1100° F exhaust systems spawned fears that upfitters would be mounting bodies on mobile blowtorches. What would happen, some speculated, when a work truck took its 1100° F exhaust system off-road? The kindling temperature of grass, as someone observed, is half that amount.

Fortunately, rumors of the potential demise of America's meadows have been greatly exaggerated. But that does not mean that installers of truck bodies and equipment need not be concerned when they are dealing with trucks equipped with the new exhaust systems. Excessive heat still can be a hazard for some truck body installations. PTO clearance may be affected. And the days of easy modifications to exhaust systems appear to have gone the way of home milk delivery and drive-in theatres.

Even so, some chassis manufacturers are offering guidelines for performing the limited exhaust system modifications that the OEMs will allow. But generally, the exhaust system you get is the exhaust system you keep. Some chassis manufacturers offer a variety of exhaust routing options. But order a truck with the exhaust system in the wrong place, and you have a mistake that can cost thousands of dollars to correct.

Of course, the biggest single impact of the regulation has been in truck sales. Customers in 2006 were buying trucks like they were going out of style — which they were. The prognosis last year was that when the pre-buy was over, sales would drop off the cliff.

Well, the pre-buy is over.

Never fear, we have been told. Another round of pre-buy is on the way as the Environmental Protection Agency rolls out an even tougher round of diesel emissions regulations that will take effect in 2010. And this time, the added cost of a new diesel engine could spike even more than what customers are having to shell out for this year's technology.

When speculation first began about how OEMs might comply, eyes turned to Europe and the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems in use there. These systems require the spraying of urea into exhaust systems to substantially reduce emissions. In addition to a urea storage tank, SCR systems require additional vehicle hardware, sensors, and electronic calibrations.

The thought of such systems, of course, triggered a new range of questions, not the least of which is where and how you fill up a urea tank.

Recently, however, U S engine manufacturers have begun to announce that they can meet their 2010 emissions targets with today's technology and without requiring another tank to fill.

Just after the Truck Product Conference concluded, Cummins announced that it will use an evolution of its 2007 technology to meet the near-zero 2010 emissions standards. Navistar followed up the Cummins news October 31 by announcing that its MaxxForce brand diesel engines will meet 2010 emissions standards for all its core applications without the use of SCR.

Engine manufacturers aren't yet saying how much extra 2010 technology — even technology sans SCR — will add to the cost of the truck. But it may be good news for truck customers.

If truck and engine manufacturers can convince customers that 2010 emissions will simply be an extension of 2007 technology, the ripple effects projected for either side of the 2010 deadline may be moderated. That could mean that as we sail toward the next round of EPA regulations, we would not have quite the banner year that the industry enjoyed in 2006. But the good news for 2010 is that we also might avoid the hangover of 2007.

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