Applications and Innovations

| April 1, 2011

It’s a Natural Gas

Diesel alternatives making headway in the work truck world.

By Jack Roberts

Several years ago, the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) Work Truck Show aligned itself with the newly born Green Truck movement. This partnership, that seemed so unlikely at first, has proven to be highly prescient given the alarming spikes in gasoline and diesel prices experienced in 2007-2008. Over the years, the Work Truck Show has evolved as a showcase for the latest in alternative fuel vehicle technology. And this year, with fuel prices once again climbing skyward at an alarmingly fast rate, the show’s emphasis was clearly on low cost of vehicle ownership throughout the lifecycle of a work truck.

The stars of the show in Indianapolis last month were natural gas-powered vehicles – a market segment that is maturing rapidly, particularly in terms of infrastructure (i.e., refueling) issues and an ever-widening array of product offerings for every imaginable vehicle application. Virtually every OEM at the show proudly displayed new propane (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles in their booths. A wide array of new hybrid-drive trucks as well as all-electric trucks also took their turn in the spotlight.

But it appears at this early juncture that LPG and CNG drivetrains are quickly taking the lead as the alternative fuel of choice as the costs of diesel and gasoline approach the $4-a-gallon mark. At a Green Truck Ride-n-Drive for editors during the show, I was able to take several LPG and CNG vehicles out on the road to see just how well they performed. The results are surprising. These spark-ignited, clean alt-fuel burning engines are typically as quiet as gasoline engines. Indeed, in most cases, a driver behind the wheel would not be able to tell much of a difference between a natural gas engine and a gasoline one. And while it is true that natural gas does not possess the power density of diesel or gasoline, the difference from behind the steering wheel is actually negligible: I found throttle response to be noticeably peppy during my test drives. Unless you encourage your drivers to drag-race your trucks, I simply don’t think this power density difference (roughly a 10-percent depreciation compared to gasoline engines) is a major inhibitor to adopting this technology. A similar reduction in overall vehicle range when using natural gas engines would be an obvious disadvantage in long-haul applications. But the fall-off is relatively minor and would not pose any major problems for construction trucks working in a specific geographic area and returning to a set location every evening.

And the best news is that the United States currently has one of the largest supplies of natural gas reserves in the world. Even better news is the fact that, as of this writing, propane and natural gas is currently selling for around $2.15 a gallon.

There is no doubt that diesel will continue to be the fuel of choice in construction trucking applications for the foreseeable future. But as fuel prices rise, fleet managers will be happy to know there are increasingly viable alternatives to gasoline and diesel on the market now that can help alleviate skyrocketing operating cost.

Western Star’s Newest Star

Western Star Truck Sales used the show to introduce an all-new Class 8 vocational truck, the 4700. The company says with a 110-inch BBC (bumper to back cab) length, and available in a set-forward or setback configuration, the truck is the “ideal solution to meet the needs of the dump, mixer, crane, roll-off, sewer vac and plow segments” of the industry. Powertrain options include the Detroit Diesel DD13 and the Cummins ISC and ISL engine. A broad range of transmissions is also available, including the latest Eaton Ultrashift PLUS and the Allison 3000 and 4000 series.

The truck features a galvannealed steel cab, a newly-designed sloping hood for better visibility, and a 55-degree wheelcut for better maneuverability. The truck’s body-builder interface connectors and transmission control unit is located in-cab. There is also a bolt-in pass-through plate in the cab floor that eliminates unnecessary drilling and an easily accessible routing path for wiring.

In-cab batteries free 17 to 34 inches of rail space for body equipment installation, and the 4700’s DEF and air tanks can be placed under the cab to free additional rail space. Air and electrical lines are suspended away from the frame rails to reduce rubbing and to allow road debris to pass behind them rather than build up in the bundle.

Hino Hybrids

The new Hino 155h and 195h Diesel-Electric Hybrid cab-over-engine trucks were designed from the ground up for the North American market, says the company.

The Class 4 and Class 5 diesel models will be available starting in August of 2011 at Hino Trucks dealerships. The hybrid models will follow a “roll out” approach and will be available in the following markets in December of 2011: New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Atlanta; Dallas; Houston and California.

Isuzu’s New N-Series

Isuzu introduced its 2012 N-Series trucks at the show. The 5.2-liter turbo diesel found in every 2012 NPR-HD, NQR and NRR generates more horsepower and lower emissions while delivering better fuel economy than earlier-generation engines, says the company.

All 2012 Isuzu N-Series trucks meet EPA 2010 and CARB OBD emissions standards, and are clean-idle-certified. Isuzu diesel trucks are the first in their class to offer Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to reduce NOx emissions by 85 percent.

The N-Series trucks have a tighter turning circle than earlier models. Aisin six-speed automatic transmissions are standard on every 2012 diesel N-Series truck.

The 2012 N-Series gas truck is powered by General Motors’ 6.0L Gen IV small block V-8 engine, coupled to a new double-overdrive, six-speed automatic transmission with lockup torque converter that improves both vehicle performance and fuel economy. The engine boasts 297 horsepower and 372 foot-pounds of torque, a 100,000-mile maintenance-free ignition system, a long-life timing chain and cast stainless-steel exhaust manifolds.

New for 2012, the company’s N-Series gas truck is also available with an optional CNG/LPG-capable engine.

Hella Lights It Up

Hella launched the Hella Mega Beam LED Work Lamp Generation II at the show. This compact, high-output work lamp uses four high-performance LEDs as the light source and delivers 600 lumens of light output with a minimal power consumption of 15 watts. The low-power consumption requirement of Mega Beam’s LEDs makes it ideally suited for use on battery-operated vehicles or vehicles where the alternator is under heavy load.

At a temperature of 6,500 degrees K, the Mega Beam creates a bright white light that provides exceptional close-range illumination similar to daylight, says the company. This means, says Hella, that colors can be distinguished more clearly in the dark than in the yellowish light of halogen bulbs, making perception to the human eye significantly easier, and preventing fatigue.

Hella has released its new Hella Power Beam 2000 LED Work Lamp that provides 2,200 lumens of lighting output (at a light color of 5,700 degrees K) while using only 43 watts of power. This lamp incorporates 16 high-performance, long-lasting LEDs. The company says the Hella Power Beam 2000 has a lifespan of more than 16,000 hours and will last 100 times longer than a traditional halogen bulb.

Fuso’s Canter Arrives

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America introduced its Canter FE/FG Series at the NTEA show. The new Class 3, 4 and 5 cabover models feature an advanced 4P10 turbocharged, dual-overhead cam, dual balance shaft, intercooled 4-cylinder diesel engine and a DUONIC six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

Other features include Daimler’s BlueTec SCR emission control technology, extended service intervals (18,000 miles) and the company’s five-year/175,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.

The FE models feature dual-caliper hydraulic disc service brakes with vacuum servo assist and ABS on all four wheels. The FG 4×4 uses hydraulic drum service brakes with ABS all around. All models include an electronic brake override system.

Canter FE models with a 110.2-inch wheelbase feature a 34.1-foot turning circle, which the company says is “shorter than the turning diameter of a MINI Cooper (35.1 feet).”

TerraStar Goes Four Wheeling

Navistar unveiled the International TerraStar 4×4 commercial truck at the show. A 4×2 model was launched last year.

The new truck features a 300-horsepower, 6.4-liter MaxxForce 7 V-8 engine, delivering 660 foot-pounds of torque. This engine features a compacted graphite iron (CGI) block that offers high strength without added weight. The TerraStar features MaxxForce Advanced EGR emissions technology.

The TerraStar features what Navistar says is best-in-class visibility. With an industry-best 107-inch BBC, it offers outstanding maneuverability. There is room for three adults to fit comfortably in the front seat. The TerraStar is also available with optional extended cab or crew cab configurations.

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