Michael Rudolph, assistant vice president, power equipment division, Honda Engines
Brad Murphy chief operating officer and executive vice president, Subaru Industrial Power Products

RER: What are some of the technological changes and developments in your engine product line?

Michael Rudolph: Honda maintains its focus on fuel efficiency and durability. To support these goals, we have increased the compression ratio and added Digital-CDI with variable ignition timing on a number of Honda engine models for industrial and commercial applications. In addition, Honda has made advances in lowering reciprocating weight, integrating additional fuel filtration, optimizing combustion chamber design, and improving cooling — all to support long engine life and efficiency without compromising performance. These features and design attributes are ones that the Honda Engines development team targets as highly valuable to rental proprietors and customers.

Brad Murphy: Our engines have gone through many significant changes throughout the years. Subaru is a company very focused on technology, and we’re always looking ahead to see how we can better utilize it to build a better engine. Being a sister company to an automobile manufacturer, we have access to a lot of the new developments and technology being utilized in automobile engines. For example, we were the first to bring the overhead cam design to a small, air-cooled engine. Recently, we brought fuel injection technology to a single-cylinder, recoil engine; then we brought it to our twin cylinder engines. From major changes to even the smallest adjustments, we’re always innovating and bringing positive change to our engines.

RER: What kinds of changes in technology will affect the way engines are manufactured in the coming years?

Rudolph: When it comes to the increasing demands of reduced emissions of engines over a longer useful life, extreme precision in controlling manufacturing materials and processes is what helps Honda achieve and maintain its reputation for reliability and durability of its products.
As Honda strives for continuous improvement in manufacturing, we also have focused on minimizing the environmental impact of our products and facilities. One such example resulted in a proprietary aluminum alloy used globally by Honda Engines — one that is highly durable, light weight, easy to machine, and high in recycled content.

Murphy: Going forward, I see fuel systems as the next major factor impacting engine designs. EPA and environmental emissions laws have traditionally played a major role in how technology is applied to engine designs, and that’s only going to continue. As the EPA and emissions regulations get stricter and stricter, we’ll be searching for new technologies and tweaking existing ones in order to produce an engine that runs cleaner. Certainly this will be essential in meeting regulations but the other side of it is it allows us to deliver a better engine. That’s always our primary goal, to produce an engine that runs more efficiently and is better for our customers. So I think the industry as a whole is going to see some major technological advances in the future of improved fuel systems, both Subaru engines and very likely other manufacturers of both diesel and gas engines.

RER: How will those changes affect rental equipment?

Rudolph: Honda manufacturing processes allow our engines to be certified to the maximum useful life period, underscoring our commitment to the rental customer: a commercial-grade product design that ensures maximum performance and reliability for demanding rental applications, while minimizing our impact on the environment.

Murphy: Any time there are changes in emissions regulations, rental centers need to be aware of how it affects, not only the engine itself, but the piece of equipment that engine is powering. It’s common for the regulations to require certain changes to the equipment’s components like fuel caps and hoses. A recent example of this: in January of this year, the EPA Phase 3 emissions regulations went into effect and it was up to rental centers, dealers, OEMs and end-users to all be aware of how this affected their gas-powered equipment. At Subaru, we knew this was coming, so naturally our engines were already in compliance. But we also took the necessary steps to make sure our Subaru-powered equipment, like generators, was in compliance too. It’s one less thing for our dealer and rental center customers to worry about.

RER: What are the main regulatory issues that affect engine makers and rental companies that rental companies should be aware of?

Rudolph: Honda engines are designed to meet the strictest environmental standards. To maintain regulatory compliance, engines must remain in their factory-certified configuration to avoid any charges of ‘tampering’ as defined by the EPA.

Tampering occurs when any device or element of the engine that is in compliance with regulations is removed or rendered inoperative. Examples of tampering include removing a certified fuel tank, use of incorrect replacement parts, or making governor system or air cleaner modifications without recertifying. Honda recommends the use of genuine Honda replacement parts; if aftermarket parts are used, you should have assurance by the parts manufacturer they will not adversely impact emissions.

Further, Honda engines are certified to operate on unleaded gasoline with a pump octane rating of 86 or higher with no more than 10-percent ethanol (E10). As background, in January 2011, the EPA partially approved the E15 Waiver Request that allowed E15 for use in 2001 model year and newer cars. E15 remains unapproved for use in outdoor power equipment and it is important to educate rental customers to prevent misfueling — before rental equipment is used or returned — especially since E15 may soon be offered at lower cost.

Murphy: This all ties together, as emissions regulations are the leading factor that affects both the manufacturers and rental centers. Tier 4 is certainly the biggest factor affecting diesel engine manufacturers, as well as OEMs. For Subaru, Tier 4 doesn’t directly apply to us, as we don’t manufacture diesels, but certainly we remain aware of all regulations and how they impact the entire industry as a whole.

While it hasn’t been as much a focus as Tier 4, EPA regulations regarding small gas engines have been changing and will continue to change in the future. The new EPA Phase 3 emission regulations impact manufacturers and rental centers along with distributors, dealers, OEMs, repair shops and even end users. Last year, all small spark-ignition engines and equipment greater than 225cc were impacted. This year, the regulation went into effect for all engines and equipment smaller than 225cc. Next January, all gasoline-powered equipment will need to be certified by the EPA. And again, emissions regulations affect the rental center operator greatly, as he or she has the responsibility to provide customers with compliant equipment.

These government regulations drive engine designs so much, and my opinion, especially for Subaru, they really are a benefit to us. We have always been and will remain a manufacturer of a premium product at a premium price point. These laws essentially drive better engine designs. rer