Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Gliders offer EPA 2010 engine loophole

It seems that glider kits are attracting increasing attention in North America. On the one hand, Class 8 truck operators seemingly face problems and dissatisfaction with their EPA 2010 engines while on the other hand the glider kits offer them an opportunity to ‘wriggle round’ current EPA emission regulations.
So what is a glider kit?  The term is unknown in Europe. According to one such kit builder, a glider kit is a new truck specially ordered from the factory without engine or transmission while at the same time “allowing the operator to make use of pre-emission engines”.

“These can result in better fuel economy and lower maintenance costs,” the custom truck builder adds.

Some builders of glider kits claim to have over 30 years’ experience in the truck industry, having built “hundreds of gliders in the last few years due to the demand for new trucks with more reliable pre-emission engines”.

One builder describes it as “a great alternative” to current production trucks; one that “saves costly down-time with a more dependable truck and improved fuel economy”.

The benefits can amount to: substantial fuel savings (some custom builders claim as much as $22,164 a year per truck based on fuel priced at $4/gallon and 10,000 miles a month); longevity and reliability; no DPF filter problems; no urea/diesel fuel additive; the possibility of the operator being able re-use its own favoured engine/transmission; and ease of service/ maintenance.

Such cost savings can be a significant item to an operator with just a few trucks.

The practice appears to be unique to North America where it is not uncommon for a Class 8 truck to cover well over one million miles and to last at least between 15 and 18 years, or even longer.

In Europe, after a period of 10 years, a heavy commercial vehicle would be sold on in the second-hand market for further use in Europe, before finally ending up in Africa, or elsewhere, for further activity of one kind or another.

Added to which, in Europe the introduction of an ‘old engine’ into a ‘new’ chassis and cab configuration would be frowned upon by regulators who would raise questions about ‘date of manufacture’ as well as the legitimacy of fitting a non-Euro 6 engine to a ‘new’ truck.

There is the added complication of installation. In bonneted, North American Class 8 trucks there is generous volume available to accommodate a previous generation of engine, such as those from Caterpillar, Cummins or Detroit Diesel, for example.

In European trucks, on the other hand, with their forward control configuration, under-bonnet space is confined, making it more difficult to install older designs of engine. So in Europe there are both regulatory and practical constraints.

Independent custom truck builders in North America appear to have developed a fine art in the ‘manufacture’ of gliders, even to the point that re-manufactured engines are available for use. The spirit of North American enterprise seeks any opportunity to make a fast buck.

The market for gliders is no doubt aided by those occasions when operators have vehicles involved in on-highway pile-ups or common road accidents. Anxious to repair their vehicles quickly to have them back on the road, operators will use all means at their disposal to find new axles and wheels, for example; or make use of the previous truck’s noble items – the engine and transmission – in a ‘new’ glider.  

But the practice of building glider kits is not restricted to independent specialist suppliers, or kit companies. For example, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is ‘cashing in’ on the practise, anxious not to lose even a single sale to an independent custom glider builder.

The Daimler subsidiary even has its own website – www.dtnaglider.com – to which potential buyers can go to effectively design their own truck either around their own engine or one ‘remanufactured’ by DTNA. Such websites as this give gliding an air of respectability.

The website proclaims: “A Daimler Trucks Glider Kit is a brand new assembly to repair your wrecked or badly worn vehicle that includes the frame, cab, steer axle and wheels, plus a long list of standard equipment. Every Glider also comes with a loose parts box containing up to 160 parts — everything you need to get rolling. Don’t compromise your productivity with a used truck that may not fit your needs. Spec a Glider with the exact configuration and equipment you need, choose from a wide range of options, and get like-new performance while reducing your cost of ownership.”

All of this appears to give the impression the DTNA glider can be built to order, almost like a new truck. Certainly, by this move Daimler AG aims to hold onto its Class 8 market share, and even gain points from others. The move further bolsters in-house vertical integration, of which the German company is a keen protagonist as well as a shining example.

It is possible to obtain gliders for Kenworth, Peterbilt and Western Star Class 8 trucks. It is not obvious that Paccar or Navistar International are participants in this business activity; certainly Volvo Trucks North America frowns upon such practice.

It seems the market for gliders is principally revitalised by a degree of dissatisfaction by operators of some Class 8 trucks fitted with EPA 2010 engines which either suffer from reliability issues or are not so economic to operate as their previous counterparts.

By buying a glider, such disillusioned operators can ‘cut their losses’ and trade in their EPA 2010 vehicle and make use of ‘old’ Caterpillar, Cummins or Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines they can lay their hands on to bring the glider to life.

Alternatively, they can select a remanufactured engine. A number of engine manufacturers produce such engines.

The question remains: To what extent are the US authorities happy with this situation? It is possible that while the number of glider vehicles coming onto the market remains low, nothing will be done; but as the numbers grow action may well be taken.

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