Navistar's January analysts call - where companies strut their stuff to Wall Street - tucked a small bombshell in among the predictions: International will have a 15-liter engine in its MaxxForce lineup for 2010.

Navistar International, of course, is a major producer of diesel engines with huge sales at the small, 7-liter end of its business, where it makes and sells the 6.4-liter Power Stroke engine that Ford uses in its F-Series pickup trucks (although that deal is coming to an end). But Navistar also is the top seller in the medium truck and school bus markets.

Its new foray in engines is the MaxxForce 11- and 13-liter. In this program, Navistar has the rights to the iron and the rotating parts of the MAN D20 and D26 engines, with Navistar's engineers doing the air and fuel handling and engine management that they are, in all honesty, pretty darn good at. With these big-bore engines signaling International's return to heavy-duty power, most of us thought that that was that.
Until this announcement.

But wait a minute! That illustration in the Navistar PowerPoint is a Cat C15 rendered in black and gray instead of yellow.

This comes less than six months after Caterpillar announced its withdrawal from the North American on-highway engine business, saying it would not be going through any more development to meet the next emissions hurdle of 2010. At that time Cat also announced it would be selling its own dump truck, built by Navistar.

It is apparent now that the 15-liter will power these dump trucks as well as other models in the Navistar International lineup, notably the older style aluminum cab 9000, the sleek, aerodynamic ProStar and the look-at-me LoneStar.

The plot thickens when you look at the Navistar strategy to meet the 2010 emissions mandate. EPA is allowing the application of credits for engines that are under current limits. And Navistar's are. So with its smaller engines, Navistar has been packing these credits away and will not actually meet the NOx limit of 0.2 g per hp-hr mandated for EPA 2010. Instead, up to 0.5 g is allowed by the rules if sufficient credits are available. Navistar says it can meet this limit on its engines using only exhaust-gas recirculation, setting itself apart from every other engine and truck maker, who will all add selective catalytic reduction as a technology path to beat down the NOx.

It obviously differentiates Navistar from its competition and is being heavily promoted by the company in all its messages to customers. Many are not comfortable with having drivers deal with another fluid in addition to diesel when topping off the tanks, as they will have to with SCR. So it could give Navistar a strong marketing edge.

But it also addresses the inclusion of the Cat C15 in the MaxxForce lineup. I'm guessing Navistar can use its credits on this engine too, at least until its runs out of them in the 2012 timeframe. Or maybe not. Navistar is now lobbying heavily for EPA'10 to be pushed back to give customers more time to get comfortable with the technology choices and, by the way, the additional cost of the trucks that will feature technologies to meet the mandate - variously estimated at $10,000 or more. This is being vigorously opposed by Navistar's competitors, who say they have made the necessary investments and are ready to meet the existing deadline.

One of these is Cummins, which originally announced it would be an all-EGR player with the 15-liter ISX, then last year turned around and said SCR looked like the better bet and that would be its technology of choice.

Cummins is a major supplier to Navistar for vendor engines in the heavy-duty trucks, but given Navistar's EGR-only platform, that will rule out Cummins from 2010. Cummins was adamant in a statement recently issued that it will not pursue an all-EGR solution, even for as good a customer as Navistar. So the private labeled C15 assumes even more importance in Navistar's truck lineup.

All in all, it looks like a pretty smart move.

From the February 2009 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.