Looking down the road at new air pollution rules, Vons has been testing the nation's first long-haul truck tractor to run on compressed natural gas.
The retail food chain has been using the prototype 18-wheeler on its regular run from a distribution center in El Monte to stores in Bakersfield. "We have been very pleased with the results," said Julie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Vons Cos.
Federal air-pollution regulations covering interstate transporters begin to tighten in 1994. Natural gas is far less polluting than diesel fuel and is considered particularly appropriate as an alternative fuel for fleet use.
So far, air emissions from the Vons truck are 50% to 75% less than comparable diesel big rigs, according to Mike Eaves, research manager for industrial and transportation research at Southern California Gas Co.
The project is being sponsored by the gas company, South Coast Air Quality Management District, California Energy Commission and U.S. Department of Energy--as well as Ford Motor Co. and Caterpillar Inc. Caterpillar built the engine; Ford built the tractor. The Energy Commission plans to release a report on the test early in 1994.
"If this engine works well for Caterpillar," said Bob Aldrich, a commission spokesman, Caterpillar and Ford could find a large market not only in natural gas big-rig truck fleets but eventually in contractors using other heavy-duty equipment, including off-road earth-movers.