'02 diesels gaining acceptance

The wait-and-see attitude that truck and engine makers expected fleets would take toward trucks spec'ed with post-October 1 engines may be breaking down. Heavy-duty engine makers and OEMs that warned that Class 8 truck sales would drop after the EPA emissions deadline for cleaner-burning heavy-duty diesel engines went into effect now say they have started to see a change in fleet buying attitudes. Cummins Inc. said that more than 140 fleets have ordered trucks to be spec'ed with its post-October 1 engines, and is increasing its build rates to accommodate them. Just a month ago, Cummins announced it would consolidate its heavy-duty engine plants into one facility, and warned investors of a falloff in engine sales."We are also seeing a great deal of interest from fleets who have not operated Cummins products for several years," said vp sales and service Jeff Jones. Jones said that several fleets are also testing trucks equipped with the new Cummins engines, and said it should lead to significant orders for 2003. Fleets including Knight Transportation, P.A.M. Transport, Tyson Foods, Mesilla Valley Transportation and Celadon each purchased more than 100 trucks spec'ed with the new Cummins engines, Jones said. "The early feedback has been extremely positive," Jones said. "Drivers are immediately impressed with the performance characteristics, and fleet managers are reporting excellent reliability and operating costs." Kenworth Truck Co. recently held a conference to help fleets learn the facts about the new engines. "There's been concern in the industry over the new engines," said Bob Christensen, Kenworth gm and vp of parent company Paccar. "We've worked very closely with both Caterpillar and Cummins management and technical experts to help ease this transition to the new engines." The event gave fleet owners and managers a chance to try out trucks equipped with 2002 Cat "bridge" engines or Cummins EGR engines. "I couldn't tell much difference, although the new Cummins EGR engine may be a little more responsive," said Jeff Foster, owner of Superior, WI-based Jeff Foster Trucking. "I drove a truck with a load and it ran and pulled fine. I came away with less of a concern about the new engines." Jean Bourassa, president of Bourassa Transport of St. Jean, Quebec, said he drove the T800 with the Cat bridge engine and was satisfied that it would be a good performer in the five Kenworth T800s planned for delivery to his general freight-hauling company. "I drove a T800 and found no difference in the performance of the Cat engine," Bourassa said. "We are not concerned about the bridge engine. We only run Cats and we've had good support from them in the past." During the Kenworth conference, both engine makers participated in a panel discussion that featured six senior engineering managers involved in 2002 engine development. "I think the audience appreciated the frank words they heard from the panelists," said Jim Bechtold, Kenworth's chief engineer. "Overall, the panel members expressed confidence in the new products and their performance and reliability."

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