Bendix, Meritor Look for Boost From NHTSA’s Truck-Rollover Rule

Bendix, Meritor Expect Boost From NHTSAs Rollover Rule
Meritor WABCO's SmartTrac system integrates active safety systems technologies including electronic stability control and roll stability control for commercial vehicles. Source: Meritor WABCO

Two of the biggest truck-parts makers, Bendix Corp. and Meritor WABCO, are maneuvering over who will benefit more when the U.S. Transportation Department acts to reduce heavy-duty truck rollovers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has made rollovers its highest short-term priority for heavy-duty trucks. Agency officials have said they expect to propose a crash-prevention standard by the end of the year. The agency’s research indicates electronic stability control will be as effective in large trucks as passenger cars.

How NHTSA structures the mandate will determine the direction of a marketplace divided into differing technologies offered by Bendix, the Elyria, Ohio-based unit of Munich, Germany-based Knorr-Bremse AG, and Meritor WABCO, a joint venture between Troy, Michigan-based Meritor Inc. and WABCO Holdings Inc. of Piscataway, New Jersey.

“A lot of times technology is driven by regulation,” said Tim Kraus, president and chief operating officer of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. “It would be great financially for the companies providing the technology, and it would be great for the companies using the technology.”

The consequences of a big rig rolling over can be dramatic, such as when a tanker-truck crashed in 2009 in Indianapolis, sparking a fireball fueled by liquid propane. The crash closed 14 miles of Interstate 65 for eight hours. The National Transportation Safety Board is issuing a final report on that crash July 26.

700 Deaths

Being in a rollover increases a truck driver’s fatality risk by 30 times, said Daniel Blower, director of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, which conducted research NHTSA is using to back its rulemaking.

The systems would prevent 5,510 rollover crashes and 4,803 loss-of-control crashes, according to a January agency report. The dangers of rollovers led NHTSA to mandate the technology in passenger cars by 2012, said NHTSA spokeswoman Lynda Tran.

About 700 truck drivers die in the crashes each year, according to agency data. An ESC mandate could save 126 lives, while RSC could save 106, the agency says.

“Rollover crashes are the deadliest among all crash types,” Tran said. “Building on past ESC research, we expect to initiate a rulemaking later this year to require these systems in large trucks and motorcoaches.”

Option to Standard

About 20 percent to 25 percent of new trucks today are sold with some type of stability control, almost always sold as optional equipment. NHTSA’s rulemaking would make that almost 100 percent.

Equipment manufacturers also expect the truck market to grow rapidly, from 250,000 to 260,000 heavy-duty models sold this year to around 300,000 next year, said Kraus of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association.

Trucking companies will face higher upfront costs, but ultimately will benefit, Kraus said. A single fatality costs operators millions of dollars, through legal costs and lost productivity, he said.

The initial technology for preventing rollovers was known as roll stability control, or RSC. It’s designed to slow down wheels as a truck heads into a turn too fast. Electronic stability control, or ESC, builds on the roll-stability system, adding sensors that correct steering in emergency situations.

Bendix, ESC

Bendix and Meritor WABCO have been developing stability-control systems for years, and both offer the two principal types of systems NHTSA evaluated. Stockholm, Sweden-based Haldex AB is also in the mix.

Bendix was the first to bring electronic stability control to the market in 2005, said Fred Andersky, the brake supplier’s director of government affairs. The company has sold 130,000 systems since then, and it won’t take five years to sell another 100,000, he said. The systems sell for $1,800 to $2,400 per truck, he said.

“We see ESC as the better technology,” Andersky said in an interview. “It helps drivers in a lot more situations.”

The company has sold fewer than 10,000 rollover stability systems, Andersky said. It’s making a big bet that the NHTSA mandate will spur demand for ESC, which it markets as “full stability.”

Meritor, RSC

RSC has been more popular with fleet customers as it’s more cost-effective, Meritor WABCO President Jon Morrison said in an interview. The company has sold about 100,000 RSC systems and “far fewer” ESC systems, he said. Costs are likely to come down with a mandate from NHTSA, he said.

“All of this will be available well before there’s a mandate, and there are more and more customers who understand the value,” Morrison said. “Mandates generally lower the costs.”

Rather than push ESC, Meritor WABCO is marketing a safety system that includes radar to detect impending collisions, Morrison said. The company has sold 11,000 “OnGuard” systems in the past three years at between $2,500 and $3,500 per truck, he said.

The American Trucking Associations, representing large carriers such as Con-way Inc. and Swift Transportation Co., supports the broader use of technology

“Financial or regulatory incentives can lead to more rapid deployment of these technologies than a federal mandate,” Sean McNally, the Arlington, Virginia-based trade group’s spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “However, we will reserve judgment on NHTSA’s proposal until after it is released.”

The government and large trucking companies are teaming up to push technology over simpler, cheaper solutions like better driver training, said Joe Rajkovacz, director of regulatory affairs at the Grain Valley, Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“It forces people who probably never have had a crash to buy the technology,” Rajkovacz said.

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