What technologies do OEMs believe will help heavy trucks comply with federal fuel economy/ greenhouse gas (GHG) mandates due to go into effect less than two years from now? And do fleets face penalties if their vehicles are not in compliance with those rules?

Those were just two of the questions posed during the inaugural “Fleet Forum” event, held at the 2012 Mid- America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, last month. Fleet Owner was a cosponsor of the Fleet Forum.

Fleet Owner Editor-in-Chief Jim Mele moderated a panel of representatives from major truck and engine OEMs, along with executives from several key suppliers, to examine the impact of the GHG rule on the heavy truck industry. Entitled “The Future of the Heavy Duty Truck Powertrain,” Mele posed questions to seven key heavy truck industry executives: Jeff Seger, executive engineer for global automotive customer engineering, Cummins; Mark Groeneweg, director of powertrain engineering-NAFTA for Daimler Trucks North America; Thomas Stover, chief technology officer-vehicle group with Eaton Corp.; David McKenna, director-powertrain sales and marketing, Mack Trucks; Joe ElBehairy, vice president-engineering, Meritor; Craig Brewster, vice president, Paccar; and David Piech, director-product regulatory affairs at Navistar.

Those executives stressed that GHG and fuel economy are essentially two sides of the same coin, as reducing emissions from carbon dioxide—the main component of GHG—is achieved by reducing the amount of fuel burned as a result of combustion.

Near term, the panelist agreed that both engine and truck makers will be able to meet the initial requirements by fine-tuning current products. OEM panelists pointed out that the trend towards “vertical integration” is being viewed partly as a way to reduce GHGs, as OEM-built transmissions, engines, and chassis can be more efficiently linked together to share specific data in order to “tune” fuel economy.

Independent suppliers, however, said products from axles to transmissions are now being customized for specific OEMs to better integrate into trucks and provide desired fuel economy gains plus GHG reductions.

Powertrain future detailed at Fleet Forum Further down the road, there are several different technological pathways to achieve the more stringent economy standards. One is via the use of diesel-electric hybrid systems whereby an electric motor powered by batteries can reduce the load placed upon the diesel engine. This allows it to operate less or at reduced power, thus burning less fuel.

Another method is to “capture” and use heat lost during the combustion process. Known as waste heat recovery, this technology seeks to use heat typically lost via the exhaust system to power turbines and turbocharger components, providing power to the truck.

The biggest question mark centers on whether fleets will face fines if their trucks fail to comply with the regulations post purchase.

Navistar’s David Piech cautioned that the verdict is still out on what kinds of fines might be levied; however, all the OEMs and suppliers present confirmed that their products will be certified to 2014 GHG standards and beyond. Some engine makers, notably DTNA, will comply a full year ahead of the first deadline in 2014.

Piech said that within the 400-plus pages of the GHG rule, the “potential still remains” for fines against fleets if their vehicles do not remain in compliance. It has not yet been established how such compliance will be determined.