According to Sondag, the most critical part was not even the fuel stops themselves, but the cooperation of the drivers: "It all came from the dedication that these guys put into the program," he says. "We can only do so much. We put in our fuel stops, but it's up to his drivers getting in their minds 'Okay, I have to fuel here. I have to get out. I have to make sure this truck is dedicated.' It was a lot due to their part that we were able to test these motors."
So now that the fuel is widely available—and a mandate, not a choice—how does it figure into the cost and performance equation of '07?
"I had two bottles of it sitting on my desk and it was crystal clear. It looked like water," Drake says. Once it was in the trucks? "There was a while where I was a little disappointed, but we worked through it. Keep in mind, we had test engines. And now, fuel mileage-wise, looking back from where we started to where we're at today, we're doing fantastic."
Fuel mileage is perhaps the most critical element to cover, considering that various reports have suggested that the ULSD comes with a mild fuel economy penalty. According to Drake, it's an issue of accepting the change, and being careful not to judge too quickly.
"I don't even look at fuel mileage on our fleet until at least 80,000 miles," he says. "If we get a new truck, I might look at it just to see what it's doing, but to measure it, and to measure it against the rest of the fleet, I give it to 80,000 miles, because that's pretty much the break-in period on a diesel engine. A year ago? Yeah, there was some loss in fuel mileage, but the engines had to be broken in. There were a couple of injector upgrades, and some other things CAT had done, and the fuel mileage came right back up."
Drake goes on to advise other fuel cost conscious fleets, "Just don't be afraid of ultra low sulfur fuel. I was a little leery at first, but as time went on we got more and more used to it. And I'm telling everybody, 'hey, it's here to stay; we'd better get used to it.'"
He also emphasizes the danger in using ULSD as a scapegoat for poor fuel economy. "The cost of the fuel, and the miles per gallon—that's pretty much up to every fleet operator and how they negotiate their fuel prices, or the speed limits they set on their trucks," Drake says. "The speed setting is a huge factor in fuel mileage; I think down the road, everybody is going to realize that."
Quad has its own speed limit parameters to ensure consistent fuel economy returns. "Ours are set on 68 at cruise, and 70 on the foot pedal. We have a very lucrative incentive package for our drivers not to drive over 60," he says. "We have drivers that make an additional $5,000 per year by staying at 60 miles per hour. And that's half of what they save us as a fleet."
The CAT Challenge
The Caterpillar engine may be the most widely anticipated of the 2007 offerings, as the company is in a category of its own: when every other manufacturer endorsed the same technology for the new emissions standards—cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR)—CAT took a different approach with their clean gas induction (CGI) system. According to company literature, "Clean Gas Induction is a proprietary process that draws off a small amount of non-combustible gas after it has passed the engine's aftertreatment system. The gas is then cooled, blended with more incoming cool, clean air and returned to the combustion chamber. The non-combustible gas is a product of efficient combustion, and the gas is taken after it has passed through a new Diesel Particulate Filter. That means contaminants have been removed before the gas re-enters the intake system."
Caterpillar claims that their CGI system will maintain a similar fuel economy as previous model year engines, whereas their competitors will show a fuel economy penalty using cooled EGR. This is purportedly due to the fact that the intake manifold temperature in a CAT engine remains steady (120 degrees) whereas the 2007 EGR system has seen an increase since its 2004 counterpart.
CAT's calculated risk is appearing to have paid off, and they exude nothing but confidence when it comes to their proprietary system: "Bottom line is, we feel pretty good about the '07 engines," says Jason Phelps, on-highway customer communications, Caterpillar. "Caterpillar has been working on a field population of engines that are 2007-compliant for almost two years now. We have almost 12 million miles on our test engines. We've had very good success with those engines to date and so we feel very good about our testing program.
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