After the higher prices and maintenance concerns that resulted from the introduction of EPA-compliant heavy duty truck engines, many fleet owners viewed the new Tier 4 standards for Transport Refrigeration Units with some trepidation. Now that they have taken effect and new products have been introduced to address the issue, the outlook is not so gloomy after all.
Contrary to earlier reports that the EPA Tier 4 Final emissions standards impacting Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs) would drive up costs significantly and be a general headache for fleet owners, the opposite seems to be true so far. The two major manufacturers of TRUs – Thermo King and Carrier — have revamped their product offerings to comply with the new standards for non-road diesel engines without the addition of high-priced add-ons or technology.
In January of this year, the standards limiting pollutants in engines in the 25-50 horsepower (hp) range took effect. Since most TRUs fall into this hp category, the manufacturers had to go back to the drawing board several years ago to develop products that would comply with the EPA’s standards by the deadline. Each took its own path to compliance, but so far both have accomplished the goal of lowering particulate matter and nitrogen oxide while delivering the significant benefits of better fuel economy and improved performance.
In the case of Carrier, the company was able to employ existing technologies used on other models to improve the efficiency of their new TRUs, so that even at peak power, they will not exceed the threshold of 25 hp and be subjected to the strict Tier 4 regulations. According to Carrier, its next-generation technology is quieter, reduces engine power by 18-20%, and enables 5-20% reduced fuel consumption, with only a modest increase in cost over previous models. Carrier also offers an option to purchase the Engine Emissions System (EES), which makes the units forever CARB compliant.
Thermo King has taken a slightly different route to compliance. Its recently introduced S-600M model meets both the EPA standards and those of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements in the 25-50 hp category (CARB requires that even existing non-compliant units over seven years of age be replaced). Although the S-600 is slightly higher in price than previous models, that increase is offset by a longer warranty and substantial fuel savings that can run up to the 20-25% range, according to Thermo King. These units are also viewed as “evergreen” in the eyes of CARB, therefore not subject to the seven-year life limitation.
No one can blame fleet owners for the feeling of déjà vu when the new TRU standards were first announced. After the substantial cost increases that came long with the rollout of new EPA-compliant heavy duty truck engines, you can’t blame owners for finding something new to worry about.
But in my opinion and that of most of the trucking industry, it’s good news this time around: expensive after-treatment systems and other systems were avoided; any resulting extra costs seem to be offset by higher performance characteristics; manufacturers are allowed to sell existing inventories during the short transition period; and existing equipment not subject to CARB is exempted from complying with Tier 4 standards. We’ve indeed seen something potentially negative turn into a positive for our industry.