The recall of 500,000 Cummins Inc. diesel engines for emissions issues is the largest of its kind on record. But given the state of current powertrain technology, large recalls and various emissions scandals don’t threaten the use of diesel engines in commercial vehicles.
“As far as a fuel option, it will never go away,” said Darry Stuart, principal of DWS Fleet Management Services in Wrentham, Mass. “You’ll have some electrification. But until batteries get a lot better and until the cost gets in line, diesel is still going to be first choice of many and most.”
If anything, the gains in advanced emissions technology are bringing more diesel-powered products to market, including a diesel version of the sales-leading Ford F-150 half-ton pickup.
“It is too big of a train to stop,” said Antti Lindstrom, Englewood, Colo.-based automotive analyst for IHS Markit. “There is too much money invested and being invested. Diesel technology is still being tweaked.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week said Cummins agreed to recall the 2010-15 model medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the United States to correct a faulty Selective Catalyst Reduction emissions device that was wearing out too soon.
It was an embarrassing recall for a company that depends on selling reliable equipment.
“Durability shouldn’t be an issue in this day and age,” said Joseph Phillippi, principal at AutoTrends Consulting in Andover, N.J.
The California Air Resources Board said that about 60 engine families were involved in the recall, though it tested only one. The agency praised Cummins for recalling all affected engines, which are in big rigs, larger pickup trucks and some buses. Heavy-duty truck customers will get details this month, and medium-duty truck owners in March 2019.
A similar issue affects 232,000 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 vehicles with pre-2013 Cummins engines. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spokesman Eric Mayne told Trucks.com that all customers except chassis cab owners have been notified of the recalls that began in 2016 and 2017. Those vehicles and the medium- and heavy-duty trucks all produce excessive amounts of smog-forming nitrogen oxide. CARB said the issue was discovered through portable mobile emissions systems that measured truck emissions while operating on streets and highways under typical operating demands and conditions.
Cummins has set aside $181 million to cover recall costs.
Diesel emissions issues have improved dramatically in the last decade, Stuart said. Part of that is due to more stringent EPA emissions regulations. Part is a natural learning curve. “Gasoline has it down to a science,” he said. “Diesel is still working through trials and tribulations of emissions.”
The Cummins recall results from a part failure. Unlike other companies, the engine manufacturer is not suspected of wrongdoing.
In 2015, German automaker Volkswagen admitted to rigging diesel-powered cars between 2009 and 2015 with a device designed to cheat federal and state emissions testing. Software in the electronic controls of the vehicles changed how they operated when undergoing testing, while on the road the VWs were emitting up to 40 times the legally allowed amount of nitrogen oxide.
Since then, FCA and General Motors have been accused of similar activity.
Mayne said FCA is working with federal authorities to resolve EPA and CARB allegations that it had eight undisclosed Auxiliary Emission Control Devices on 104,000 Ram trucks and Jeep sport-utility vehicles from the 2014-16 model years. The Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Justice Department sued the automaker in May 2017. Mayne said plaintiff’s attorneys may have paid for testing of two of the trucks by West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels and Emissions as a precursor to civil litigation.
A U.S. District Court judge in Detroit in February rejected motions by GM and Robert Bosch to dismiss a lawsuit alleging use of three emission defeat devices in 705,000 Chevrolet HD 2500 and 3500 Silverados and GMC Sierras from 2011-16.
Bosch said in a statement that it “takes the allegations of manipulation of the diesel software very seriously” and is cooperating while defending its interests in several jurisdictions. GM did not respond to a request for comment.