The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is probing allegations that some heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers may be encouraging customers to "pre-buy" engines before new clean air regulations take effect in October. The agency is requesting marketing information from key players to see whether they are adhering to the noncircumvention provisions of a 1998 consent decree.

NEW RULES Cleanup in October. (Photo courtesy of Caterpillar)

The largest heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers, including Cummins Inc., Caterpillar, Detroit Diesel Corp., Mack Trucks and Volvo, signed the consent decree with EPA stating that they would meet the new emission standards. They require a 40% reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions by 2004 for on-road diesel trucks and buses. The consent decree was driven by discovery of defeat devices–computer software that would turn on pollution-control equipment during testing but off at highway cruise speed–and is intended to push ahead compliance by 15 months. The decree forbids engine marketing or stockpiling activities intended to circumvent the deal.

EPA wants data dating from October 2000 to the present on price and financing terms, numbers of engines ordered and monthly and annual sales plans and production. The agency also wants to know if firms supplied promotional or other materials referencing or comparing new engines. "We want to see if they changed their sales practices from two years ago to help determine if there are sham contracts between truck makers and engine manufacturers," says Bruce C. Buckheit, EPA’s air enforcement director. "We are not concerned with individual customers who elect to purchase a truck this year rather than next."

Customers worry about the new engines’ fuel economy and reliability. "We have no interest in a pre-buy because we want normal buying patterns and not a slowdown this fall," says Carl Volz, a Cat spokesperson. "However, one is under way because large fleets want more time to test engines."

Cummins says it can meet the standard using new cooled-exhaust gas recirculation technology (ENR 5/7/01 p. 33). Detroit Diesel and Mack also say they will meet the new standard. Caterpillar is to have an engine ready using advanced-combustion emission-reduction technology. Failure to comply will result in substantial fines.