ITA rallies engineering troops

Regulation was the hot topic at the Industrial Truck Association's (ITA) spring meeting. Of particular interest was what's happening in California. That's where the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is pondering "the electrification of lift trucks" of up to 8,000 pounds capacity. That's a polite way of saying "ban propane." Not even James Moran, senior vice president of Crown Equipment (whose line is all electric) thinks that's a good idea. He said so while wearing the hat of current ITA president, during his address to the membership.

"The ITA has begun to work with the Propane Vehicle Council and the Propane Education and Research Council to fight what we consider an unrealistic goal of increasing the sales of electric trucks in California," he said. "I can't believe I said that. Ordinarily I suppose companies like Crown might be in favor of such a development, but it's clear to us that the proposal would not meet the needs of customers in California. We want to make sure that any regulation on this issue is realistic."

After presenting the Propane Industry's side of the story during a session on the CARB proposal, Brian Feehan, executive director of the Propane Vehicle Council, told MHM that it's up to end users to contact their legislators about this issue.

"We need a coordinated effort of writing, faxing and calling," he said. "A lot of the fleets in California are three to five vehicles. The owners have just as much to lose from this as the owners of big fleets, because they operate on smaller margins. They'll have to replace their lift trucks and either rent or buy new electric trucks -- and absorb all the costs associated with [a conversion to] electrics."

Gary Cross, ITA's general counsel, told MHM he doesn't feel CARB will be inflexible on this proposal. They just need guidance.

"I think they will admit now that they really didn't understand this issue well enough and they're somewhat back to the drawing board," he says. "That doesn't mean they're not going to try to regulate some group of lift trucks. But I would be very surprised if they went forward with this 'everything 8,000 pounds and below,' guideline. It's possible that they might say 3,000 pounds. It's also possible they could abandon that approach but try to squeeze the industry more on the actual emissions from the engines."

The bottom line is, CARB is looking for more emissions reductions from fuel-powered lift trucks, and it's not enough to tell them that electrification of an entire category of lift trucks is a non-starter. Their goal is cleaner lift trucks, Cross concludes. It's up to the industry and its customers to propose a more reasonable solution.

Other topics addressed at the ITA's 2003 sping meeting:

-- OSHA does not appear to be backing down from its announced intention to change the directive in the General Duty Clause regarding seat belts. The idea is to leave seat belt use optional in cases where it's determined that there's no tip-over hazard. "We know seat belts save lives and we need to do everything possible to change this stance," said Jim Moran. "We believe the proposal will result in injuries and death. Your continued support in this effort to communicate with OSHA is essential to our success."

-- ITA is considering entering into an 'alliance' with OSHA. In establishing its alliance program with employers and associations, OSHA's goal is to "foster training and education, outreach and communication, and to promote a national dialogue." Such an alliance would last for two years, be renewable, and include quarterly update meetings or conference calls. The hope is that a formal alliance would put the ITA in a better position to get OSHA’s ear on issues such as the seat belt proposal.

--ITA has succeeded in reducing the number of objections to the International Standards Organization's ISO 3691 draft standard to just a handful. "We're continuing our efforts to ensure we come up with a document that reflects the needs of U.S. markets," said Moran.

-- ITA is developing a closer working relationship with the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) to develop best practices that could help OEM suppliers to the automotive industry.

The spring meeting concluded with an address from Congressman Michael G. Oxley (R-OH). Oxley says he's optimistic about the future of U.S. supply chain security because it is supported by American engineering know-how.

"More and more technology is becoming available to make it easier to provide the kind of security we need," he said. "The great thing about our system is it encourages people with new ideas to make us safer. No place in the world comes close to this kind of intellectual energy."

--Tom Andel, chief editor

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