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I love trade shows and conferences. They provide a look at the future of trucks and trucking.

My show season starts with Hanley Wood LLC's World of Concrete, which exhibits heavy-duty vocational vehicles. Next, the Technology and Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations meets to develop recommended practices and training materials for commercial vehicle maintenance. Members also display the latest in truck equipment and components.

After that, the National Truck Equipment Association presents the Work Truck Show, showcasing all that's new in light- and medium-duty commercial vehicles. Finally, the Mid-America Trucking Show introduces long-haul and regional truckers to the latest general trucking products. The following are highlights from this year's shows and conferences:

Diesel exhaust emissions strategies. A battle is raging among engine makers over the best way to meet the EPA 2010 diesel exhaust emissions standards. Every manufacturer except Navistar International Corp. has announced that they will use selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to meet the limits for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) of 0.2 grams per horsepower per hour (g/hp/hr).

SCR requires a new after-treatment assembly behind the diesel particulate filter. Fed by a supply of an urea-water mix called diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), the system chemically converts NOx into nitrogen and water vapor.

Navistar will increase the amount of exhaust gas recirculation, the method all engine makers have used since 2002. International Truck and Engine Corp., a Navistar company, claims their in-cylinder solution costs less than SCR and requires no operator intervention, such as maintaining DEF levels. Proponents of SCR say under-hood temperatures are lower, smaller and lighter cooling systems are needed, and fuel economy is as much as 5% better. International is using credits, earned by making engines that surpassed previous standards, to meet EPA2010 since their current NOx output is 0.5 g/hp/hr.

Green vehicles. At the Work Truck Show, the main focus was green initiatives for work trucks, including alternative energy. Attendees were able to drive electric vehicles, natural gas- and propane-fueled trucks, and both electric and hydraulic hybrids.

The 10-minute ride-and-drive courses had some fairly steep block-long ramps, but all vehicles performed as well as or better than conventionally powered trucks. Domiciled trucks that are refueled or plugged in every day should present no problems for fleets.

Smith Electric Vehicles Corp. displayed two innovative electric trucks. The Newton handles payloads to 16,000 pounds. When limited to 50 mph, its range is 100 miles. The electric Transit Connect, based on Ford Motor Corp.'s new compact commercial vehicle, hauls 1,600 pounds for 100 miles at speeds to 70 mph. Both vehicles are dead quiet.

Idle reduction. Until recently, idle-reduction equipment was primarily for trucks with sleeper compartments, since over-the-road truckers need climate control when asleep. But day cabs also get hot and cold, and workers need comfort in extreme temperatures. Dometic Corp. and Artic Breeze manufacturer Hammond Air Conditioning Ltd. both offer battery-powered air conditioners. For heating, Autotherm's engine-off heater draws residual heat left in heater cores and the heating/cooling system to provide comfort for short periods.

Safety and security. In today's economy, theft is an increasing problem for all fleets. Some of the highest value targets are wheel and tire assemblies and catalytic converters with their precious metal cores. And when prices rise, fuel seems to disappear from unprotected tanks. TruckProtect Ltd.'s NECK-IT! securely fits into most fuel tanks. It has multiple holes that allow 25 gallons/minute fuel flow. No hole is larger than ¼-inch diameter so siphon hoses can't be used.

Plus, the company's WheelStop-It! makes cylindrical lug nuts. Wrenches can't turn them. They're driven by a hex pattern tool with up to seven randomly spaced drive pins.

Jam-JC Innovative Products' Cat-Clamp protects catalytic converters with a cage around the converter. Its alloy assemblies clamp around inlet and outlet pipes, holding multiple cables surrounding the converter. The cables are highly resistant to reciprocating saws or bolt cutters.

Safety is increased if others see you better. Koneta Inc. introduced the Spray-down System mud flap that reduces splash and spray dramatically, improving other drivers' ability to see your vehicle and for you to see behind your vehicle in bad weather.

Material handling. Ford has taken advantage of every show this year to promote the Transit Connect, a European small van now developed for the American market. Only 180.6 inches long but almost 80 inches tall, the Transit Connect carries 1,600 pounds or up to 135 cubic feet of cargo. It comes as a two-person cargo van or a five-person wagon. The load floor is less than 2 feet off the ground.

Lighting. At the Mid-America Trucking Show, Truck-Lite Co. Inc. introduced a 12 V version of the light-emitting diode (LED) 7-inch round headlights, used on Army and Marine combat vehicles. The polycarbonate housing and lens is 30 times more impact-resistant than glass, and the beam pattern is greatly improved. LED headlights are rated for 10,000 hours, compared to less than 500 hours for normal lamps.

Grote Industries introduced Light-Form technology, an innovative approach to LED safety lighting. Tiny, bright LEDs are embedded in a thin, transparent film that can be cut and trimmed to shape and applied using automotive trim adhesive. Clearance and marker lamps meet Federal Motor Carrier Safety Standard 108 governing lighting, while using only 2% of the material of ordinary markers.

The technology can flash or strobe, with full intensity observable over a 180-degree arc. Emergency lighting for oversized loads, snow plows, and emergency vehicles can be achieved without the use of external light bars and strobe lamps. Police vehicles can be stealthy, with no lamp assemblies showing until LightForm is activated. The lighting, placed on windshields and front and side windows does not interfere with drivers' vision but flashes at full intensity when activated. Grote plans to launch Light-From later this year.

— Paul Abelson ([email protected]) is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association, a board member of Truck Writers of North America, and active in the Society of Automotive Engineers.