Stiffer emissions rules may prompt Ford Motor Co. to suspend sales of diesel pickups and sport-utilities in some states by 2007, according to internal documents.
Unless proposed emissions standards are relaxed or new technologies can make the vehicles cleaner, sales of diesels with gross vehicle weights of 6,000 to 8,500 pounds could halt in California, Massachusetts and New York, the documents say.
Those three states will begin phasing in tough new emissions standards in 2003 that most experts agree effectively will ban diesels. The rest of the nation will see less stringent new federal standards beginning in 2004.
The documents were posted on www.blueovalnews.com, an independent Web site that Ford has sued to remove company material.
The documents indicate that Ford's light-duty diesel trucks, including those powered by a new 4.5-liter V-6 being developed for Ford by Navistar International Transportation Corp., will struggle to emit legal levels of particulates and oxides of nitrogen.
The new V-6 engine will be offered in 2002 Ford Expeditions and 2003 F-150 pickups, the documents show. The company forecasts a volume of 50,000 F-150s in 2003 with the V-6 diesel. The 6,000-8,500-pound gvw class covers Ford Expeditions, some F-series pickups and Econoline vans, and Lincoln Navigators. The new Ford Excursion sport-utility is exempt because versions have a gvw of 8,600-8,900 pounds.
A Ford spokesman declined to comment, saying the documents were published against copyright laws.
With their higher compression ratios and dirtier fuel, diesels generate more NOx and soot particles than gasoline engines. The federal and California standards, which also have been adopted by New York and Massachusetts, contain stringent limits on both, although the federal standards are ultimately more lenient.
By 2007, a diesel sold in California, New York or Massachusetts will have to be twice as clean of particulates and three times as clean of NOx as a diesel sold elsewhere, said Jason Mark, transportation analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley, Calif.
'We're talking about a factor of 10 reduction in emissions within six or seven years,' Mark said. 'Given that diesel engines have reduced their emissions by a factor of 10 only over the past several decades, it will be a real engineering stretch. The technology may exist to meet California's requirement, but it will require near engineering perfection.'
California's standards will be phased in between 2003 and 2007, while the federal standards will be phased in between 2004 and 2009. If more states adopt California's rules, it could end all diesel sales, Mark said.
The documents indicate Ford is speeding implementation of technologies such as particulate traps and urea catalysts in an effort to meet the federal standards. A urea catalyst injects an ammonia-like liquid into the catalyst to break down NOx into nitrogen and water vapor.
The system requires a separate tank of urea that must be refilled. The catalyst also requires sulfur-free fuel to work, but pump diesel is typically high in sulfur.
Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust in Washington, said Ford should be able at least to meet federal standards, despite what any documents say.
'I would take them with a degree of skepticism. The history is that automakers say we can't do it, we can't do it, and then it happens.'