RETAILERS TO TEST TRUCKS WITH LOWER EMMISSIONS

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lucky Stores, a division of American Stores here, and Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., plan later this year to test new technologies designed to reduce the effects of truck emissions.Lucky's Southern California division will test fuels that combine liquid natural gas and diesel fuel. Liquid natural gas produces virtually no emissions and is safer for the environment than traditional

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lucky Stores, a division of American Stores here, and Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., plan later this year to test new technologies designed to reduce the effects of truck emissions.

Lucky's Southern California division will test fuels that combine liquid natural gas and diesel fuel. Liquid natural gas produces virtually no emissions and is safer for the environment than traditional fuels, sources told SN.

Ralphs will test a system designed to make its trucks' diesel engines run more efficiently at lower revolutions per minute, which can help reduce pollutants generated during periods of initial acceleration.

New transportation technologies, particularly those that reduce emissions and pollutants, are major issues in environmentally conscious states like California.

In fact, the state of California and environmental groups filed lawsuits in April charging that distribution centers operated by four retailers -- Ralphs, Lucky, Vons, a division of Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., and Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif. -- expose people to excessive truck exhaust without providing warnings required by law. Diesel exhaust is categorized by the state as a cancer-causing substance.

Retailers told SN their interest in exploring new technologies is not in response to these lawsuits, however.

"This project has been in the planning stages for some time and we have been moving toward finalizing the project," said Judy Decker, spokeswoman for American Stores. She declined to comment on how long the project has been in the works.

Lucky's test of a combination of liquid natural gas and diesel fuel will involve one truck at its Buena Park, Calif. facility this summer, which has a fleet of 430 trucks. "If everything goes successfully with that program, then we would move the following year to a test that would include 25 trucks," Decker said.

If the larger test takes place, Lucky would have the largest private fleet in California using this type of heavy duty liquid natural gas vehicle.

"The technology is pretty much untested and unproven, which is why we consider it a pilot effort," she added. "We need time this summer with one truck to understand how it will operate and work on our trucks before we roll it out."

Ralphs' test of a system designed to make diesel engines run more efficiently at lower RPMs will involve two trucks at its Compton, Calif., distribution center this summer. Engines are most inefficient when idling and in the initial acceleration phase.

"The test will involve one of our older tractors and one of our new tractors, and will be conducted in a scientific method so that we can understand the effect of the change," said Rod Van Bebber, group vice president of distribution, Ralphs, adding that this project has been under discussion since the latter part of 1997.

Both Vons and Stater Bros. are also exploring new technologies. A recent review of Stater Bros.' fleet showed that about 40% of its trucks contain dual fuel engines that can be converted to handle alternative fuels, according to Don Baker, group senior vice president of administration, Stater Bros. However, "such a change would come at a substantial, yet undetermined cost," he said.