9 October 2003

On 1 October 2003, the City of Tokyo and neighboring prefectures started a diesel vehicle retrofit program—the largest diesel retrofit in the world. Under the program, thousands of heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses have to be retrofitted with devices to control emissions of diesel particulate matter (PM), or else replaced with newer, cleaner models. The program covers vehicles travelling in the area, whether registered in the respective jurisdictions or not. The exact number of affected vehicles varies depending on the estimate, but it may be as high as 600,000.

The regulation applies to diesel powered trucks and buses (including special vehicles based on trucks and buses, such as campers, garbage collection trucks, and refrigerator/freezer vehicles), which were registered for the first time more than 7 years ago. In this group, vehicles which were originally manufactured to meet the 1989/90 emission standards or older must be retrofitted with approved, 60% efficient PM controls, such as diesel particulate filters (DPF). Vehicles manufactured to meet the 1993/94 standards must be fitted with PM control devices of 30% efficiency, such as diesel oxidation catalysts (DOC). Retrofit requirements do not apply to passenger cars.

The diesel emission regulation was issued in 2000 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Three neighboring prefectures—Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa—also adopted diesel retrofit rules based on the Tokyo regulation. On the first day of the program, blue-uniformed inspectors started checking vehicles for compliance. Vehicles in violation are facing a ban on travel in the affected areas. Their owners may be also fined up to 500,000 yen, or approximately $4,500 (USD). According to some Japanese press reports (Asahi), an estimated 40,000 (or 20%) of the affected diesel vehicles in Tokyo were not meeting the retrofit requirements by the October 1st deadline.

The increased demand in the recent months caused a shortage of emission control devices. Faced with the supply problems, the government issued a three month grace-period on the installation of emission controls. To avoid non-compliance penalty, vehicle operators must carry a letter from their supplier, stating that they placed an order for the required PM controls. One of the prefectures, Kanagawa, introduced a six month moratorium on levying penalties.

The purchase of PM control systems was in part subsidized by a combination of programs from local governments and the national Japanese government. Many of the subsidy programs, however, reached their budgets and stopped accepting applications, leaving some truck operators with no financial assistance. According to press reports, the cost to install a DPF system ranges from 400,000 - 1.3 million yen ($3,600 - $11,900).

All PM control devices have to be approved for the retrofit by the Tokyo Government. The devices have to demonstrate the required PM emission reduction and meet other requirements. All devices approved in categories 1 and 3 are DPFs (passive or active), while devices in categories 2, 4 and 5 are DOCs. The list of suppliers includes such companies as UNICAT, Mitsui, Apex, Hyundai, Engelhard, and Nett.

To enable catalyst-based emission control technologies, diesel fuel of 50 ppm sulfur content has been made available—ahead of national regulatory requirements—in the areas of the retrofit program.

Many of the oldest trucks were scrapped or sold to areas outside the retrofit, and replaced with new models, causing increased truck demand. Japanese truck suppliers—Hino, Isuzu, Nissan Diesel, Mitsubishi—reported 50-90% higher truck sales in September, compared to September 2002.