After sitting in an office all day working on Grainews articles, one of the things I’ve often looked forward to is getting into the tractor cab in the late afternoon for a little “diesel therapy”. That means getting out from behind a desk and getting behind the wheel of a tractor to enjoy putting its big engine to work.
Maybe that’s what separates automotive writers from machinery writers. Hearing a diesel rumble under a load and seeing a little—or a lot of—black smoke come out the exhaust is our equivalent of getting into a muscle car and cruising down the highway with the top down.
But sadly, the smoke-out-of-the-exhaust part of that soothing experience is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Although I recognize the absence of that stream of soot blowing up into the sky is a very good thing for the health of all of us who live on the planet, I will still miss it.
This year all the major manufacturers unveiled their new Final Tier 4 engines to the media at events in August. The stringent emissions standards mean there is now very little of anything in that flow of hot air coming out of the exhaust stack. In fact, even the conventional muffler is becoming obsolete.
At the glitzy shows where new 2014-model machines were presented to large audiences in closed stadiums, equipment roared across the stages without a hint of diesel smoke or smell. In contrast, I can remember working in the service department of a farm equipment dealership back in the 1970s. We had to leave the shop door open when we brought a single tractor in for repairs so the blue haze and sulphur stink could dissipate. None of that is necessary with today’s new engine technology.
The trouble is, there is never gain without pain. All the engineering required to create diesels that speak without a hint of bad breath comes at a cost, and farmers who buy new equipment over the coming years will be the ones paying for those gains. That cost is likely to be one of the factors that some industry insiders expect will slow machinery sales in the coming years.
“Being able to meet that final standard is not really providing a benefit to the producer,” said Jim Walker, vice president of Case IH, North America, at a media event in Denver last month. “But there is a cost to it, so it’s going to deter purchases going into next year. When we went to Tier 4A we were able to bundle features together. We introduced a band new line of Magnum tractors with 1,000 new part numbers. You got a brand new Steiger with suspended cab when we introduced Tier 4A. You got an entirely new tractor and we were able to introduce fuel efficiency in that engine.”
The opportunities manufacturers had to combine those new features along with cleaner engines has been used up. As the Final Tier 4 standard comes into force in January for diesels above 174 horsepower, farmers will have to be satisfied just knowing they’re getting a cleaner-burning engine—and the warm feeling that comes with doing their part to reduce global emissions.
The talk among marketing reps at the manufacturers now has gone from “fuel efficiency” to “total fluid efficiency”, meaning the combined consumption of diesel and DEF (diesel exhaust fluid). That new term will likely come to dominate off-road engine descriptions in everything from company brochures to Nebraska Tractor Test Lab results over the coming years.
Unlike the proud announcements of still more fuel efficiency gains that were everywhere when Interim Tier 4 engines were introduced. Marketing reps aren’t really that eager to talk about fuel consumption rates this time. Most want to brag about how their technology finds the “sweet spot” for total fluid consumption.
One of Jim Walker’s comments kind of summed up what Final Tier 4 means for farmers who will be paying the fuel bills “We will hopefully be able to hold on to the fuel efficiency we have today,” he said.