Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2004   by Auto Service World

Does Heavy-Duty Emissions Focus Spell Change?

For some time, the car was the focus of governments throughout North America. It was cast as the villain of smog, the perpetrator of pollution. Now, it seems that dubious honour has fallen to the heavy-duty truck.

In Ontario, the recently elected Liberal government has been crowing about tightening standards on heavy-duty vehicles, putting it squarely in the midst of some 16 jurisdictions in North America as having the toughest heavy-duty emissions standards on the continent.

In Quebec just last year, the government of Jean Charest effectively reneged on an assertion that they would push forward on light vehicle emissions testing. Instead of that move, the government opted to start serious investigations only into heavy-duty vehicle testing. The reasons given included the fact that it is a much more manageable initiative, since trucks are fewer and more conspicuous, and that testing could be accomplished using existing truck inspection facilities. Quebec may be reviewing its decision to shelve the light vehicle emissions testing program in favour of heavy-duty truck testing, but the official position remains unchanged at this time.

Considering this and the mandated emission limits on heavy-duty truck engines by the U.S. as part of the Environmental Protection Act that took effect in late 2002–hence the EPA02 nickname–and Canada’s announcement that it would mirror those and call for ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel by 2007, is the car getting lost in the shuffle?

Is the relatively safe political ground that highly visible–literally–diesel emissions can represent attracting governments, while the automobile and the aftermarket is left wanting?

“I think that they have addressed the automotive side with Drive Clean in Ontario, for example,” says Cameron Young, Canadian national sales manager for Robert Bosch. “We’d like to see it spread through the whole province, but the fact that they’re expanding [to cover more diesel emissions] is a natural progression.”

Robert Tribe, chairman of the Suppliers Council of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA), and national sales manager for NGK Spark Plugs Canada, says that it is an important move, even if benefits for the automotive aftermarket are limited. “I think it is important for the whole market to have [emissions testing]. From the government side, they have to start covering all aspects. The truck market got away with a lot over the years.”

Ray Datt, president of the AIA, says that it is part of an evolution. “Time has marched on,” he says. Since emissions testing came into force with B.C. Air Care, operating since 1992, and the Ontario Drive Clean program, since 1999, automotive technology has changed. While the programs differ in terms of structure–B.C. uses centralized test centres, Ontario independent certified service facilities–both have been around for long enough to see significant changes in the car park.

“Governments are considering using OBD II data [rather than dyno testing]. We endorsed the Quebec heavy-duty testing, but we don’t want to endorse any more of the dyno-based testing because the return on investment is so light.” He does say that this does not change their support for emissions testing, nor does he believe that governments are turning away from the automobile.

In the meantime, according to jobber Murray Mackey, owner of Albion Auto Parts, in Mississauga, Ont., (which he says is the trucking capital of Canada), the moves have a limited effect on most jobbers. He got the low-down from one of his good customers who operates a heavy truck emissions testing centre. “He was saying that the spin off for the traditional jobber is heavy-duty filters. The do a complete oil change and hydraulic fluid change, and put in fuel conditioners before the testing.

“There are,” he adds, “more spin-offs for the more dedicated [heavy-duty] jobbers.”

“I don’t think there is a big place in the aftermarket for the heavy-duty emission testing,” says Tribe. “But I don’t think that [government] is shying away from us either. The [automotive emissions testing] plan is in place and the people who are working with it are doing okay. The guys who aren’t clean air shops are doing less business than the guys who are and that is a fact.”

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