Last year, California took a step that riled plenty of RVers. A new California Air Resources Board (CARB) rule essentially hit the off-switch on RV generators. While not outright banning small (less than 25 horsepower) generators, the state severely tightened emissions restrictions. The reaction was quick. The lynchpin of the RV generator industry, Cummins, announced it would no longer sell LP and gas-fired Cummins generators in California after the end of 2023. The backlash was swift. RV industry talking heads issued immediate warnings. If the regulations stuck, the RV industry would lose a million dollars in sales in the Golden State in the first year alone. So what’s the latest on this from Cummins?
Back-down on posturing?
Last week, the company released a short statement, “On impact of California regulations.” It seems Cummins generators will be available in California—and elsewhere—after all. Referring back to their earlier stand that the company would simply stop selling RV generators for California consumption, the big “juice maker” company now says this: “As stated in a letter sent to RV industry partners and customers, Cummins immediately began evaluating potential options to meet the new emissions standards outlined by CARB. At that time, we transparently communicated the challenges involved and stated we would not have any spark-ignited products available for sale in California by January 1, 2024.”
Perhaps it was Cummins’ way of pressuring California regulators to cut some slack and make concessions. In the months that have passed since that volley was fired, there have been no further shots. Instead, in its January 10, 2023 statement, Cummins’ change in posture is made clear: “With significant investment in product development, we now intend to take a phased approach to release a portfolio of CARB SORE compliant products in early 2024.” SORE is CARB’s acronym for Small Off-Road Engine regulations. While those regulations have certainly made some RVers pretty “sore” (as shown by the huge number of comments we’ve seen), it was apparently enough to get Cummins generators into a new technological realm.
Cummins generators play coy
We asked a Cummins representative just how this will all play out. And just what RVers can expect to see rolling out of the factory. Cummins is playing coy. It told us that it will, “have a number of generators that will be able to meet CARB regulations.” You—and the RV industry—will be able to keep buying the current crop of Cummins generators until late in 2023. Evidently that includes Onan QG 2500i, Onan QG 2800i, Onan QG 3600, Onan QG 4000, Onan QG 5500 and Onan QG 7000 models. But come the end of this year, it sounds like these units will be gone. Gone, at least in their current technology incarnation. What will replace them? Cummins wouldn’t say, only telling us that, “More information will be coming.”
The Cummins representative did tell us that the company has been working closely with the California regulators to ensure their new generation of small generators will meet CARB/SORE regulations. We heard nothing in terms of price points. But if the history of emission controls on passenger vehicles is any indicator, be prepared to pay more. A report published by the Air & Waste Management Association, a non-profit group, looked at the cost impact of air pollution equipment on cars manufactured in 1990. That report shows that emissions controls tacked on an average of $745 to the price consumers paid for cars. That amounted to a 3.5% cost increase.
How much will you pay?
Will you pay as a little as that for the new SORE-compliant generators? Only time will tell. Another thing to watch for will be just how the “bugs are worked out” in the new technology. The path to relatively trouble-free pollution control equipment in cars and light trucks is littered with breakdowns and unhappy drivers. We’ll hope the new Cummins generators will have fewer birth and growing pains.
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