UPS, Cummins, Navistar, Honda execs discuss clean transport innovation

 ( Photo: FreightWaves )

(Photo: FreightWaves)

Panelists weighed in on CA’s lawsuit against the EPA and regulatory uncertainty

After Jay Craig of Meritor delivered his keynote presentation to kick off the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, manufacturers, fleet owners, and policymakers came together on a panel to discuss “Global trends accelerating advanced transportation innovation.” The participants included Steve Gilligan, VP of Product and Vocational Marketing, North America Business Unit, Navistar; Tamara Barker, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of Environmental Affairs, UPS; Julie Furber, executive director of electrification at Cummins; James Burrell, assistant VP of the advanced powertrain group at American Honda, and Analisa Bevan, assistant division chief of ECARS, California Air Resource Control Board. The panelists first offered brief comments by way of an introduction.

Navistar’s Gilligan said that, “We’re an OEM, and as such we’re an integrator of technology; we have to make all this technology work together. We see several active fields: the connected vehicle (cab tech, vehicle operation and support, because uptime is so important); the human driver interface; fuel economy and emissions related technology including greenhouse gas legislation, electric vehicles, and finally advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).”

Tamara Barker, who started at UPS 30 years ago as a driver, said that her team was establishing KPIs to measure sustainability at UPS operations. Barker went on to highlight UPS’s Rolling Lab, an active study of over 9,000 vehicles to determine which alternative/advanced fuel technology best fits each market. So far, propane is  best suited for rural routes of 100+ miles; electric/hydraulic hybrids are ideal for suburban trips averaging 100 m, full battery electric worked best for city center trips less than 60 miles, etc. 

Meanwhile, Julie Furber, from Cummins, said that there were four key drivers for new technology adoption: technology, regulations, infrastructure readiness, and total cost of ownership (TCO). “If you’re already driving a long haul vehicle that goes 500 miles a day coast to coast, I’d say a diesel powertrain is the best thing you can have,” Thurber remarked. “And Cummins works continuously to make diesels cleaner than they’ve ever been. But if you’re a regional route and you have easy access to NG, that’s the cleanest and most efficient solution available. In the future that will change.”

James Burrell, of Honda, thought that California Gov. Jerry Brown’s statements about electrification and natural gas refueling infrastructure provided important policy direction for industry. “Two things to focus on: the hydrogen refueling network and EV recharging network,” wrote Burrell. “By 2025, California will have 300 hydrogen stations and 200,000 EV charging stations. Today, we have 34 hydrogen fueling stations and 25 are in the construction stages. The state is spending $94M in hydrogen refueling for next fiscal year; $134.5M in EV charging structure for next fiscal year… those figures represent huge increases over the roughly $20M previously proposed [for each category].” Then Burrell touted Honda’s latest alternative fuel car offerings: the Clarity battery electric car, the Clarity plug in hybrid, and the Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car. The battery electric and fuel cell versions have been leased in California so far; the plug in hybrid model has already been launched nationwide.

Analisa Bevan, from the California Air Regulatory Board (CARB), spoke about her role as a policymaker and regulator, and then announced that Tuesday morning, the state of California and 17 other states were suing the Environmental Protection Agency over Administrator Pruitt’s April 2 determination that emissions rules for light trucks and cars were too stringent and had to be revised. “Instead of doing what the law requires, Administrator Pruitt released a mockery of a final determination… Instead of a technical analysis, the current EPA administrator draws on nothing at all—no evidence, data, science, or proof—to support his claims that these standards are unachievable… We are asking a court to recognize that Administrator Pruitt broke the law with his sham of a document,” said Bevan, reading from a statement by her boss, Mary Nichols, who joined Gov. Brown and Atty. Gen. Beccara in Sacramento to announce the lawsuit.

In the ACT Expo audience, there was a palpable sense of pride in California’s aggressive environmental regulations and status as the ‘gold standard’ of emissions limits among states—Bevan’s announcement and fiery rhetoric received an enthusiastic round of applause from the attendees. 

The panel’s conversation, with its mixture of fleets (UPS), OEMS (Navistar, Honda, Cummins), and regulators (CARB), was useful for understanding the push-pull dynamic in clean transportation technology innovation. That is, government regulations push the industry by creating new standards that must be achieved by a certain date, but customers—whether they’re businesses who use UPS or fleets buying commercial vehicles—also have their own ‘green agendas’ and want to limit emissions across their own value chains. Customer engagement and collaboration on environmental and zero-emission initiatives have become just as important as regulatory compliance for these companies, especially for those with large Western European customers. 

Still, in response to questions about California’s EPA lawsuit, all of the attendees agreed that a single and certain regulatory standard would create the best business climate for further investment in clean technology. 

Furber said, “[At Cummins] we’ve always been a company that pushes for tougher regulations.” Navistar’s Gilligan said, “We assume that the standards that have been set into place are in fact going to stay the course. We’ve already invested millions of dollars moving in that direction and we’re going to continue to invest. We already have multiple workstreams in place that won’t go into effect until 2023-2024 and beyond. Our biggest request is a single standard and uniformity over the standard.”

UPS’s Tamara Barker said, “Multiple standards drive uncertainty, cost, and makes it take longer to reach compliance. A uniform standard would be a better outcome.” She went on to say that customers have an important role in driving UPS’s shift toward zero-emission vehicles. “We’re seeing it from customer demand. We have inquiries regularly from our large customers with regard to delivering their premium packages by zero emissions vehicles or low emissions vehicles. They want to make a statement about how sustainable their brand is, and they want us to be a key part of that.”

Cummins’ Furber said, “I think there are outside of California and some other states, we’re seeing way more activity outside of North America—Europe and China. China has 95% of the world’s electric buses. So those countries are starting to lead the way, and a number of European cities are moving rapidly toward zero emissions.”

In response to a question about whether the rapid proliferation of low- and zero-emissions technologies were diluting the marketplace and preventing any one solution from gaining enough marketshare to break through, most of the respondents said that a variety of choices was necessary for their customers. Tamara Barker pointed to the diversity of UPS’s operations and operating conditions, saying that it was critical to have the flexibility of multiple vehicle types to optimize emissions and costs. Furber said of Cummins that “Choice is good, good for the customers, and making sure customers are successful. In the end, the right technology comes through; we’re right now at a point of migration and pivot and at some point we’ll be more clear as to what the path is forward… we’re in a bit of a state of flux right now.”

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