The $94.5 Million Jackpot

Ninety-four and a half million dollars—that's how much money has been earmarked for the proliferation of idle-reduction technology for heavy-duty trucks in the U.S. government's newly-enacted energy bill. Much of that money will directly help fleets, to help subsidize the installation of auxiliary power units (APUs), shore power systems and truckstop electrification (TSE) sites. The financial boost comes none too soon, as idle-reduction regulations continue to spread across the country and rising fuel costs gouge deeper into fleets' balance sheets. But what does it mean to you?

"I think the energy bill as a whole will be fairly positive for the advancement of idle-reduction technologies in general," says Brian Lawrence, heavy-duty truck and marine OEM sales manager for power inverter manufacturer Xantrex Technologies. Lawrence points out that in addition to financial subsidies, the bill also allows for a 400 pound weight exemption for the installation of idle-reduction technologies.

"For our particular product that's great; the 400 pound exemption basically covers our equipment, plus some additional batteries that can be used to cover that 10 hour rest period," Lawrence says. "While everyone can benefit from the weight exemption, for some other technologies, the 400 pounds doesn't quite cover it. There'll still be some additional weight that will cut down on the revenue-generating capacity of the truck."

"It's going to create demand from the fleets going back to the truck OEMs, and the truck OEMs are coming up with their own systems," says Mike Meleck, product manager, power systems, Phillips & Temro.

"I know that Bob Clark, head of the Truck Manufacturers' Association, has stated that all the truck manufacturers would have idle reduction systems in place by 2008, and by that he meant systems that could stand alone, such as an APU or some other battery-based system, but could also be hooked up to truck stop electrification, if available. What this bill is doing is creating larger demand, which is going to bring that date forward. So you're going to start seeing these systems, of which Phillips & Temro is a part, in 2006, available on the trucks directly from the OEMs. Once they're available from the OEMs, that in itself brings forward some other financial benefits to the fleets."

"I think 2006 is a little aggressive" for across-the-board idle-reduction availability from all truck OEMs, says Jennifer Harris, on-highway product segment manager for Freightliner Trucks. Nonetheless, Freightliner does offer a hint of where other OEMs might be headed with its own factory-installed custom system. Offered in partnership with Tundra/Dometic and Temco Products, the "Idle Solutions" package consists of a Dometic 14,000 BTU HVAC system and a Temco 7.2 kilowatt power generator which operate completely independent from the main engine and other truck systems. "We've also offered shore power and Xantrex converters for about five years," says Harris.

But, according to Freightliner's product marketing director, Jonathan Randall, the company's idle-reduction offerings are a function of market demand, not federal "Our customers are coming to us and saying, ‘We need help reducing idle time,'" he says. "So that's motivating us more than anything in offering a solution."

"Our plans are set and we can't change our plans," says Wayne Wissinger, product strategy manager for Mack Trucks. "We'll offer what we're going to offer, regardless of the energy bill."

Since 1991, Mack has offered basic idle reduction technology in its V-MAC system, and Wissinger says that about half of the company's customers make use of the timer-controlled idle shut-down feature. Sometime in 2006 the V-MAC system will be upgraded to offer an automated stop and start system, licensed from Temp-A-Start, which Wissinger says should save a half-gallon of fuel per hour while idling.

He also mentions that Mack is working on moving cab air heaters, inverters and shore power packages onto the standard option list. "All that idle technology is going to happen for us in the next few months," he says. "We make a very nice inverter we put in the battery box. It doesn't take up storage under the bunk.

"Inverter use is just skyrocketing," he goes on, citing the fact that sister company Volvo Trucks is up to a 70 percent penetration on inverters on their VN780 sleeper.

"When we've polled customers, 90 percent want to buy inverters from the OEM, because the wiring's integrated," he explains. "There are no problems with those nasty retrofits that can happen with inverters. But we think that inverter use is going to go up now, too, with the idle regulations, because you've got the truck stop electrification, and that's going to spawn more use of shore power, which is going to spawn more use of inverters, because you're going to have more 110 volt appliances inside the sleeper."

Indeed, Phillips & Temro's Meleck has been working on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Standards Committee to establish just what will be required of shore power packages for heavy trucks.

"We have a new 120 volt AC standard that should be coming out this November," he says. "We're setting the standard for what's going to be the interface on the truck-to-truck stop electrification, should it come about. I'm also on another committee, which is part of the Electric Power Research Institute; that's going to set our standards for what's at the truck stop or at the depots, or other distribution facilities."

The new standard, SAE J2698, will call for shore power stands with two 20 amp circuits, which, Meleck admits, will cause trouble for APU manufacturers that build 30 and 40 amp power units. Nonetheless, he says, "We all stood together and said this is what we need."

According to the official SAE statement provided by Meleck, "With the two 20 amp circuits available to provide a total of 40 amps/120VAC (4.8 kW), each OEM is confident that they will be able to cover all idle reduction and convenience system power requirements. For example, one 20 amp circuit may be used for the block heater in winter and an air conditioning unit in the summer. The second 20 amps could be used for hotel loads such as microwave or television. The standard will be flexible to encourage truck design innovation but strict enough to ensure all safety aspects are met."

While cash incentives from the government will surely motivate many new fleets to equip their vehicles with idle-reduction technology, many others have been testing the waters for years.

"We started looking at anti-idling equipment back in '95," says John Drake, fleet manager for Sussex, WI-based Duplainville Transport™, where he oversees maintenance of 60 over-the-road tractors, 14 day cabs, and 280 trailers. When he started installing cab heaters on his over-the-road tractors, he found that "It was only good during the winter, and most of our idle time was air conditioning. So we went through a cycle of trucks with the heaters on, and just abandoned that idea so we could get to the next level."

The next level was to equip the over-the-road tractors with APUs. But that step was a disappointment, according to Jeff Kruepke, director of Quad/Transportation Services™, of which Duplainville Transport is one unit. "Early on we bought some APUs," says Kruepke, "and I thought, ‘I never want to get one of these again!' They were broken down more than they were running. So I know I had a really sour taste in my mouth."

According to Kruepke, those early APUs never stood a chance in a heavy truck. "Some of the stories we heard were that the older units weren't engineered as solidly as they are now," he says. "Some of the initial units were using automotive air conditioning compressors."

"Many of the APUs that came out originally were engine-based," confirms Phillips & Temro's Meleck. "As far as delivering power, or having a system that was smart enough to know when to shut off or when to go into different modes, that was beyond their capabilities and understanding. And their volumes were so low, they couldn't afford the right electronics."

Because of the bad experience, Drake faced a hard sell when he asked Kruepke to investigate new TriPac APUs offered by Thermo King. But in the end, Kruepke saw enough improvement in the technology that he was willing to try the APU solution one more time.

"What steered us to TriPac is they were using off-the-shelf reefer parts from the Thermo King line, so this is obviously proven technology, proven components," he says. "There have been cooling constraints with these that a lot of the manufacturers have solved now. I think they're putting in better components, not using ‘car parts.'"

According to Drake, the 25 trucks fitted with the new APUs are already averaging 70 percent reductions in idling time, and have not needed any increased maintenance. The tractors are brought in every 10,000 miles for "mini-serve" PMs, and every 20,000 miles for a full PM. The APUs are serviced at every mini-serve. "We might be stretching the hours a little bit on it, but we're just going to do it every 10,000 miles," he says. "On these units, we only have to service the air filter once a year, we change the oil and the filter every 10,000 miles, check the belts and hoses and look her over. It takes about an hour."

The fleet is so pleased with the new APUs that they are ordering units for 32 more trucks, and Kruepke couldn't be happier. "We're pretty conservative in our ROI calculations," he says, "and from what we've seen we're going to be pretty close. And the price of fuel is going to bring that ROI down, and make it more attractive.

"So it seemed like we were ready, the products were ready, the regulations were making us ready, and it seemed to be the right time to jump into this technology," Kruepke says. "In life and in business, there aren't many easy answers, but this one was."

As pleased as he is, Kruepke considers the new APUs a three-to-five year solution, and says he will consider whatever new fuel-saving technology becomes available in the future. Down the line, Freightliner's Randall and Harris suggest, that could mean more aerodynamic cabs and better cab insulation. Meleck sees the movement to truck stop electrification moving forward quickly, but admits that there is a long road ahead. In the short term, Brian Lawrence suggests, "synergies" between idle-reduction technology providers may point the way.

"I think where you're going to see your next technological advancements are going to be in the synergies between battery, shore power and APU systems," Lawrence says. "You're going to use storage technology in batteries, and inverter technology, in particular power control, which Xantrex is able to bring, so that you can run the diesel APU as little as possible. Use it when you need it, as an efficient method of recharging the storage batteries on the vehicle, and by doing so, you can address some of the issues that plague both inverter systems and APU systems. You can reduce the size and weight of the APU, because it won't need to run all the time. And from the inverter standpoint, adding a small diesel generator means you can reduce the size and weight of the battery pack, and you can address that issue when you've got a large load, like if you're sitting in Phoenix, AZ, in August, and it's so hot and the air conditioner is trying to go all the time—that's a difficult load for a battery pack to support, and that's where an APU would shine.

"If you combine them both, you can have a smaller, smarter package that pollutes less, and by running the diesel engine on the APU less, you can increase the maintenance intervals, so they more line up with that of the truck. That's been one of the major drawbacks of APUs, is that they require more maintenance, or more regular maintenance, than the truck does. That adds to the cost, so if you can service the APU at the exact same time you're servicing the truck, that would certainly make it a more attractive option. That's where we see the industry going."

"I definitely think there's going to be a next generation and I'm sure it'll be coming through the OEMs," says fleet director Kruepke. "We would talk to the OEMs we deal with two or three years ago, and they would say, ‘Yes, we know about this, but we're busy working on our '04 engines.' But if you look today, I think you'd see that every manufacturer is going down some R&D path. I would think that within five years you're going to have that option from the manufacturers."

The California Challenge
According to Wayne Wissinger of Mack Trucks, a new idle cap due to go into effect in California in 2008 could throw the idle-reduction industry into a spin.

"The California Air Resources Board is going to make idle shut-down required on all trucks, so they can only idle five minutes and that's it," he explains. "So we're going to have to make Idle Shutdown so a customer can't program it on California vehicles, so it's fixed. We're debating with California right now on whether that means it's programmable only by the dealer or does that mean only Mack can program it. Because it becomes a special set of problems if those trucks are traded when they're done, and they're used out of state.

"California is also putting rules on APUs, where they have to meet certain emission standards as well," he goes on.

We're looking into whether or not we can meet those emissions standards with the basic engine. In 2007, our engines are going to be so clean you can practically breathe the exhaust. So, as an ultimate goal we would like to pass the APU emission standards with the main engine, so Mack engines wouldn't be prohibited from idling in California."