First Westport, Now Cummins: Uncertainty for One Natural Gas Engine

Cummins Inc., one of the world’s largest engine designers and manufacturers, says it is halting – at least for now – its development of a new spark-ignited natural gas engine.

The company announced its plans to develop this platform, the ISX15 G, back in March 2012, saying it was aiming to strengthen its position in the natural-gas-for-transportation segment. At the time, Cummins anticipated that its new 15-liter engine would be in limited production sometime this year – a goal that is now on indefinite hold.

Cummins’ announcement comes two months after its partner in other natural gas engine designs – Westport Innovations Inc. – stopped taking orders for its own flagship 15-liter power plant, the ‘Westport 15L,’ which was previously known as the ISX G.

If there is some confusion among those who are only loosely familiar with these diesel and alt-fuel household names, it’s understandable. Here’s a crash course: It all started with Cummins’ diesel ISX engine for heavy-duty trucks and buses, which debuted in the late 1990s. Westport Innovations applied its proprietary high-pressure direct-injection (HPDI) natural gas technology to the ISX platform in the early 2000s, and the ISX G was born. Then in 2012, Cummins said it was pursuing its own spark-ignited natural gas technology for the ISX block.

The additional layer of potential confusion is that Cummins Westport Inc., a joint venture between Cummins and Westport Innovations, offers other natural gas engines, such as the wildly popular 8.9-liter ISL G and the new 11.9-liter ISX12 G. However, Cummins Westport never developed a 15-liter natural gas engine in the joint venture.

When Westport confirmed in October 2013 that it was suspending production of its 15-liter natural gas engine, it was evident that the Cummins Westport ISX12 G had, perhaps, whipped up enough excitement to chop away at the Westport 15L’s potential customer base. Westport itself acknowledged that its future production would gravitate toward the ‘next generation of HPDI.’

For its part, Cummins has not said that it is completely abandoning its spark-ignited 15-liter natural gas engine. Rather, the company cites ‘market timing uncertainty,’ saying it will reassess the market potential for the new engine later this year.

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