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Manufacturers hit ‘pause’ on natural gas

Lucas Deal January 20, 2014

CumminsNatural gas has been a talking point in the commercial vehicle market for several years. But with Cummins’ announcement this week that it is halting production of its 15-liter natural gas engines, it appears that talking point has officially been placed on the back burner.

Cummins’ decision follows a 2013 announcement by Westport to also temporarily exit the 15L natural gas engine marketplace. As the industry’s largest producers of 15L natural gas engines, Cummins and Westport’s exits from marketplace could signify a dwindling interest from long-haul fleets in the alternative fueled technology.

There’s no reason to supply engines that aren’t in demand.

When the 15-liter engines cease production later this year the Cummins-Westport 12L natural gas engine will become the largest exclusively NG fueled new engine in the industry. (Conversion kits will continue to offer 15L products.)

RELATED: Omnitek notes growth in conversion market.

Both Cummins and Westport neglected to note when they expect to return to 15L production.

In spite of this week’s events, there is reason to anticipate the engines will eventually return to the Class 8 truck marketplace.

Ever volatile diesel prices and emission regulations will continue to create issues not experienced with clean burning natural gas. And an ever burgeoning fueling network — new NG fueling stations open daily — also should ease fuel accessibility concerns and increase fleet interest.

And if Cummins and Westport are serious about the ‘temporary’ portions of their decisions, there is reason to believe this production pause may offer the manufacturers’ time to design even more powerful, efficient and affordable engines than their current iterations.

The question becomes when will they return?

WestportInterest in natural gas as a fueling option has outpaced engine demand for several years. What will need to change to get assembly lines moving again?

RELATED: North America leads the planet in LNG truck orders.

At this moment, both manufacturers are taking a wait and see approach.

Cummins says it plans to re-evaluate the market later this year for changes. Westport has turned its efforts to direction high pressure direct injection (HPDI) technology that aims at working directly with OEMs.

Lucas Deal is the editor of Truck Parts & Service and Successful Dealer. He can be reached at lucasdeal@randallreilly.com.

You can follow me on twitter at @lddeal85

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