With all the noise in the media and attention at conferences, webinars, and seminar sessions given to electrification, anyone unfamiliar with the fleet business might presume that nothing “else” is happening in our industry.
At the risk of diminishing the “electerrific” euphoria, the business of fleet management continues apace as government fleet managers, while not ignoring electrification, continue conducting business as usual by ordering thousands of vehicles not powered by electricity.
Many governments are still awaiting the fulfillment of orders placed well over a year ago as they work to plan and execute future replacement vehicle strategies for upcoming order cycles that also remain uncertain.
As fleet managers look, plan, and budget for the future, it's a given that electric vehicles (EVs), while certainly included by many in minuscule quantities, are unlikely to be represented by major buys, yet.
Meanwhile, internal combustion engine (ICE) powered vehicles, particularly medium- and heavy-duty trucks, will continue to undergo considerable improvements in efficiency as environmental compliance rules the day and are acquired by public and private sector fleet operators for many years to come.
Fleets cannot afford to have their future vehicular focus diverted from the reality of those upcoming changes. It's necessary that government fleets factor in how the changes will impact fleet operations.
Motor Oil Standards are Changing … Again
You may recall December 2016, when CK-4 and FA-4 oil categories were introduced by the American Petroleum Industry (API) designed specifically for current Selective Catalytic Recovery (SCR) diesel engines. Those categories were driven by the need for greater engine efficiency to exploit the emission control gains realized from SCR systems. Those new categories were requested by the Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA).
And while that may seem like only yesterday, the past is prologue and happening again. As you probably know, diesel emission standards tighten as early as 2024 and will definitely tighten further in 2027 and again in 2031. This has prompted yet another EMA request for a more revised oil formulation, currently known as Proposed Category 12 (PC-12).
When finalized, this new category will replace the current API categories CK-4 and FA-4 engine oils and are likely beginning on January 1, 2027, for 2027 emissions-compliant engines to help meet Greenhouse Gas Emission standards (GHG) that go into effect that year.
Although currently still in the testing and evaluation phases, certain oil attributes seem clear. Lower viscosity is a primary objective. Low viscosity will improve fuel economy by limiting energy lost due to fluid friction, additional refinement may result in modified oil change intervals due to the oil oxidation stability measures added and consistent with the lowered oil viscosity.
Lower viscosity oils are common for gasoline engines; similar “low-vis” oils are likely to be introduced for diesels such as 0w-20 and 5w-20 in these new categories.
Oil additive packages will change as well. New 2027 diesels will feature smaller sizes, lighter-weight material construction (e.g., more aluminum), and operate at higher temperatures than today’s engines. High heat favors SCR systems but poses challenges in oil life and its ability to protect internal components. Consequently, additive package modifications will be needed due to increased oxidation stability (for heat dissipation).
Fleets should pay particular attention to oil change interval changes set by the engine OEMs as a result, especially if new engines are factory filled with PC-12 oil, which is likely. Before industrywide adoption, a new category must successfully pass the multitude of testing protocols set by individual engine OEs.
Each OE has its own oil standards and protocols under which any new oil category must satisfy. How each engine OE incorporates PC-12 and its additional oxidation stability determines how often oil changes will be needed. Stay tuned.
While it is too soon to anticipate whether the new category will be backward compatible as CJ-4 was when introduced, it is likely that just as with the CJ-4 and FA-4 categories, there will likely be two new categories — one that is backward compatible and one that is not.
The lower viscosity ratings will prevent its use in older engines. Fleet managers may again face the prospect of having to inventory yet another motor oil designed only for their newer diesel-fueled vehicles.
It is equally possible that a 2027 engine with the same or similar nomenclature as its 2022 version, may require different oil filtration methods and devices as well.
Are Dual SCR Systems in Your Future?
The maintenance processes for current SCR systems present in trucks built after 2009 have become an unexpected, unpleasant, and expensive surprise for most truck operators.
Who would have predicted in 2010 that emissions system maintenance would rise to become among the top five most expensive maintenance categories for any fleet? The current systems have themselves even morphed with added sensors and more intensive maintenance processes since their introduction in 2010, adding and changing already complicated diagnostic procedures.
To comply with the upcoming tightened emissions standards, engine OEs are testing several engineering changes. Among the greenhouse gas emission and NOx reduction methods being tested is a dual SCR system.
At least two engine OEs are testing engines with two such systems where the exhaust is dosed twice with DEF in its downstream journey to the atmosphere. Cylinder deactivation is also a likely strategy to be employed by engine OEs to assist in emission
Savvy fleet managers are watching these developments closely. Just like in 2008 and 2009, some are considering a pre-buy strategy to purchase trucks prior to the implementation of these new systems likely to come in 2027.
Should government fleet managers watch this and consider implementing a pre-buy strategy too?
Given the delivery and production delays being experienced today and considering the status of current and typically full OEM order banks, even a pre-buy strategy is no guarantee that fleets will avoid or delay the consequences including the expected price increases attendant with the new engine technologies coming soon. A long-term vehicle replacement strategy may be more important than ever.
New Technology, New Hardware, and New Software are All Coming … Soon
At an American Trucking Association meeting last October, Glen Kedzie, ATA’s vice president and energy and environmental counsel stated that “EPA and CARB have adopted, or will soon adopt, more environmental regulations within a 10-year window than in the prior 30 years.”
As stated above, diesel engine modifications including cylinder deactivation, plus 48-volt electrical systems, dual SCR systems, and more emphasis on both down speeding of engines and the use of automated transmissions are all current and advanced technologies OEMs are considering more prominently in 2027 and beyond.
Government fleets cannot afford to be distracted by electrification efforts that divert their attention from their fleet management responsibilities' primary needs and execution efforts.
Yes, the potential transitions to electrification are conversations worth having but the bulk of our effort in government fleets should be to continue being good stewards of our entire asset base assuring our long-term strategies are comprehensive and that our attention continues to focus on the future, which is right around the corner.
About the Author: Bob Stanton – A charter member of the Government Fleet Hall of Fame, Bob spent 25 years in government fleet management. He is currently an independent fleet consultant based in Cumming, Ga.