In the automotive heating business, many companies plot their markets north and near south of U.S. 70, a highway stretch of highway that cuts below the Midwest and penetrates several western Rocky Mountain states.
Where there’s fog, snow and cold temperatures, there’s an opportunity for a number of suppliers peddling heating systems to transportation contractors, school districts and bus manufacturers.
Cold weather is an obvious sales incentive. However, heating suppliers find market opportunities with high fuel prices and mandatory reductions in fuel emissions. Technologies obviously provide warm ambient air within vehicles, but heating products can provide side benefits of reducing fuel consumption and lowering emissions by minimizing engine idling.
“It takes at least 30 minutes to heat a bus without a pre-heating system. That won’t work in many places, like Connecticut, where they have a three minute limit on idling,” said Derek Pettingale, heater product manager, Teleflex Power Systems.At least 15 U.S. states have anti-idling regulations on the books, according to the American Trucking Associations. In addition to regulations, the U.S. and Canadian governments provide grants and rebates to organizations that ease off gas guzzling idling.
In a Pre-Heating System
Several suppliers provide supplemental technologies that automatically preheat the engine and blow heat into the vehicle interior, all without turning on the engine or idling the vehicle. The systems heat coolant from the engine block, then pump the warm fluid back to the engine and heat exchangers.
Most products are compact packages that work by drawing a small amount of battery power and burning a minimum amount of fuel. Some suppliers offer standard timers that automatically turn on the pre-heating system before the bus driver arrives to start the bus.
Michigan-based Webasto leads the North American school bus markets with its heating product line, including the Scholastic Series, TLS 17 Coolant Heater and Air Top 3500.
Toronto-based Espar Air Heaters penetrates both Canada and the U.S. with its Hydronic and Airtronic lines. And Teleflex, based in Pennsylvania, manufactures its Proheat line in Canada, where it draws significant market share.
These companies and their distributors market to OEMs, bus contractors and individual school districts, pointing out pre-heating system benefits: warming vehicles; reducing fuel consumption; lowering emissions; preserving health; cutting costs and preventing extra vehicle wear and tear. But one of the biggest marketing pitches is pointing out the financial incentives offered by governments.
Heating systems are considered appropriate technology to qualify for money from air quality programs in the U.S. and Canada.
Not far from U.S. 70, sixteen school districts in Colorado aimed to retrofit their fleets with emission reduction technologies, including engine heaters. With the help of a grant management company and Webasto, the districts identified enough funds — via the Colorado Regional Air Quality Council — to retrofit hundreds of school buses with heating systems.
“Any time you can reduce engine idle and maintain temperature, it’s a win for the driver, students and vehicle. Now we’re discussing stage two to retrofit some more,” said Jim Hanson, fleet manager, Denver Public Schools.
During the first grant phase, Denver’s district gained heating systems for nearly half of its 470 school bus fleet. The heaters now help the engine start at operating temperature, which reduces initial emissions by 96 percent.
“For schools, emissions are mainly a concern for health and asthma. Now fuel is a big concern,” said Kurt Van Portfliet, regional manager, Instrument Sales & Service (ISS). “We need to educate others that there are funds at the state, federal and local levels.” ISS helped Colorado schools coordinate the tactics to find funding, technology and installation resources. Teleflex pursued the same tactics to secure government funding for school districts in New York and Illinois.
Both Webasto and Teleflex also help Canadian customers get into heating systems by pursing financial incentives and rebates from FleetSmart. The program, from the Canadian Office of Energy Efficiency, channels thousands of dollars to bus owners for energy audits and product placement.
However, heating companies are cautious about the steady availability of funding.“Will this funding always be available in the future?” asked Reid Landis, marketing manager, Webasto North America. “This is unpredictable.”
More Idling Laws to Come?
While Landis questions the future of funding, he and his colleagues have a close eye on a growing trend of idling reduction regulation.
Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) introduced legislation to allow federal tax credits to operators who install idling reduction systems on diesel powered vehicles. The bill, H.R. 4672, currently sits with the House Committee on Ways and Means. If passed, it could mean an extra boost for heating supplies.
“It’s not so much about cold kids or respiratory development. Now we’re staring at a higher fuel bills. And people are taking no-idling policies very seriously,” said Landis. “The writing is on the wall to join the bandwagon to reduce idling.”
Reprinted from the September 2006 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.