"Any of the battery and storage solutions are getting fairly strong support from the drivers," Damman says. "Again, it has to be mobile; they have to be able to use it whenever they want. It has to be quiet, so it's not disturbing their sleep. And they want it to have the capacity they need to get a good night's sleep in a comfortable environment. Right now the battery and storage solutions are the leading preference of the drivers."
"There are always the drivers who will complain, because it takes up too much space, or it doesn't keep him cool enough," Beauchamp says, "but then I remind them what the alternative is, which is nothing."
The opinions of the maintenance team must also be taken into consideration when the final selection is made, but testing has been so trouble-free so far there is virtually no maintenance history to analyze. As Damman has pointed out, the battery systems that have been under evaluation for three years are still running strong on their original batteries, so the outlook is positive. Still, any time you're dealing with power supplies, control systems, and air conditioning compressors, components can fail. With 200 units running from now until next September, there is still a chance that reliability issues will arise, and sway the outcome of the test. Only time will tell.
ASKING TOO MUCH?
Although Damman's hope is to find a simple cooling solution, even the simplest will add another layer of complexity to Schneider's fleet. When do we reach a point where we're simply asking too much of the truck?
"We are asking a lot," Damman admits. "You take a look at the complexity of what's going on with the engines in 2007, the filtration and regeneration, and dosing, and having two ECMs instead of one ECM now on the truck, and most of the OEMs are now heading towards multiplexing. Hopefully, some of these things are going to be big improvements to the trucks, and to diagnostics, but they're new right now, and anything new is scary at first, because you don't have a good feel for what the reliability is going to be.
"Cab cooling certainly has that status," he continues. "We really don't know how these systems will perform two or three years down the line, or what their reliability will be, or what will be the ‘weak links' in the system. What I can say is that we're pretty happy with the first couple of years of testing we've done, in that we've had fairly few reliability issues. But until we get through this next summer, we probably won't have a very good grasp on how well these systems are going to perform."
One thing is certain: at this time next year, Schneider will be committed to a single engine-off cab cooling solution for its entire fleet, and the fleet will most likely be achieving impressive new goals in idle-reduction.
Oh, and there's one other certainty: at this time next year, Mike Beauchamp will still be keeping his options open.
"I keep thinking there's still something out there that hasn't turned up yet," he says. "There's some technology or some idea that hasn't been explored yet that will be cheap, easy, won't take up much space, but we just haven't seen it yet.
"We had originally committed to make this decision last year, and we could have even made it the year before," he admits, "but I keep putting it off because I think there's something out there that could still come up. So we'll leave our options open.
Even after we make a decision next fall, we won't be married to the technology if something better comes along. We'll always be looking. I really think there's something else out there; I just haven't found it yet."
The new energy bill will fuel growth of the already-booming idle-reduction industry.
Virginia Truck Center, with six locations throughout Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, has signed an agreement to sell, install and service Idle Free electric APUs.