Class 8 trucks experiencing proliferation of downsized engines

The North American trucking industry, historically characterized by large displacement engines typically above 14L, has recently experienced a significant shift toward downsized engines. The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulation for model year 2014-2018 heavy duty trucks, going into effect starting 2014, has created an urgency among market participants to identify, develop and deliver advanced powertrain technologies aimed at reducing emissions and enhancing fuel efficiency in heavy duty trucks.

The complete set of such technologies, including downspeeding, hybridization, waste heat recovery, boosting technologies, aftertreatment, in-cylinder advancements and engine prognostics, is on every major truck OEM’s radar for deployment into their products in the near future. In fact, downsizing is not a strategy that is dictating OEMs’ powertrain modifications, but is an outcome of the fuel efficiency enhancement and emission reduction strategies of truck makers.

Engine Displacement

Frost & Sullivan’s in-depth research focused on all major Class 8 truck makers in North America expects the weighted average Class 8 truck engine displacement in this geographical area to shrink by two to three percent in the next five to seven years. This will lead Class 8 engines to move from a current range comprising of 13.7L to 14.1L of weighted average displacement to 13.4L to 13.7L by 2018.

This shift does not necessarily mean that fleet owners/operators will have to compromise on power. On the contrary, development of advanced technologies will enable downsized engines to deliver higher power output than current levels.

The corresponding weighted average power density of Class 8 engines is expected to move from the current 36.6 brake horsepower (bhp)/L to 38.9 bhp/L by 2018, thus presenting a win-win scenario for the fleet managers, as they will be better equipped to meet total cost of operation (TCO) pressures without compromising performance.

Among the different technologies mentioned, the level of industry interest is relatively higher for downspeeding, advanced aftertreatment and waste heat recovery.

Cummins, a global leader in diesel engine technologies, is actively looking at waste heat recovery as a technology to boost fuel efficiency and reduce emissions without the need for compromising power. However, on an overall industry basis, the force and momentum driving downsizing is clearly coming from the OEMs, who tend to benefit more from downsized engines as this catalyzes their vertical integration strategies.

Market Segments

This downsizing trend is expected to be stronger in the regional, local and vocational haul segments rather than the linehaul segment. Frost & Sullivan expects that a 13L engine platform scalable for both long and regional haul segments will become strategically imperative for all the heavy duty engine manufacturers in North America.

This will in turn enable the North American manufacturers to develop regionally scalable global engine platforms, thus paving way for sustained sales and revenues in a market that is slowly, but surely, experiencing the proliferation of platform-based truck production.

As the heavy duty truck market is a part of a strongly interconnected business environment, it is anyone’s guess which trends in any tier of the business will have upstream and downstream implications. Specifically, the engine downsizing trend is expected to have important implications for the fleet maintenance market.

Impact on Fleet Maintenance

As a rule of thumb, it is safe to expect that the need for service and maintenance will increase as engines become incrementally loaded with a number of advanced technologies. With that said, it should also be noted that every individual technology, system and component provider is using the opportunity accorded by GHG regulations to develop products that deliver a superior total cost of ownership benefits.

Reduction in maintenance and service needs is a key component in this equation.

Classic laws of physics and thermodynamics suggest that smaller sized engines featuring higher power density will face heat management issues. Moreover, these engines will require effective and efficient lubrication and heat dissipation.

This suggests that technologies such as advanced semi-synthetic/fully-synthetic lubricants, hollow valves and prognostics, among others, will be increasingly used to reduce service and maintenance burden placed by host trucks.

The installation of downsized engines will also offer aerodynamic design flexibilities to OEMs, which can result in new packaging configurations for under-the-hood systems and components. This indicates that the new breed of GHG regulation-compliant trucks featuring downsized engines will feature new technologies and thus create new challenges.

Nevertheless, there is comfort in knowing that OEMs and engine makers are also working towards reducing the service and maintenance burden on fleet maintenance managers.

In conclusion, we can safely assume that heavy duty trucks of the future will reduce operating costs for fleets and will play a greater role in reducing emissions. The reduction of lifecycle costs brought about by these new engines will imply a greater availability of funds for fleets, which can be invested in fleet maintenance and technician training – highly important strategic necessities for fleet managers today.

For more information on Frost & Sullivan’s commercial vehicle research, contact Jeannette Garcia, corporate communications associate, at or at (210) 477-8427.

Ananth Srinivasan is a senior research analyst with Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive & Transportation business. Sandeep Kar is the business’s global director of commercial vehicle research. Frost & Sullivan provides in-depth research and best-practice models to drive the generation, evaluation and implementation of powerful growth strategies for a broad range of industries.