The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

New Work Engines of Tomorrow

November 2008, by Dan Kratz


Fuel cost savings are the expected benefit of commercial hybrid trucks. Other considerations include reduced emissions, minimal payload reduction from additional hybrid components, and help in complying with anti-idling regulations.

In addition, corporate mandates increasingly require fleets to be environmentally friendly. Corporate environmental policies place demands on fleet managers to find "green" fleet alternatives to implement in vehicle selectors. The underlying consideration, however, is that environmental programs must support a profitable business case.

Companies such as GE recognize that being environmentally responsible is a good business practice. At the heart of its ecomagination program is GE’s belief that an environmentally driven business strategy can benefit society. At its inception, GE set real, concrete goals to make ecomagination viable from a business standpoint. GE is proving it is possible to be both economically oriented and environmentally sound.

Giving Fleets What They Want

Truck manufacturers have been listening to fleet operators and responding by increasing production of medium-and heavy-duty hybrids. The convergence of commercial truck fleets’ demand for hybrids/alternative-fuel vehicles with the willingness of truck manufacturers to produce hybrid vehicles seem to be in place. UPS recently announced a major increase in its investment in alternative fuels, ordering 200 diesel-electric hybrid vans and 300 CNG vans.

Foton America, a Chinese company, recently introduced inexpensive compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in the United States. International Truck and Engine is starting production of its 4x4 WorkStar on a hybrid platform. Currently, medium-duty applications up to 33,000 lbs. GVWR offer the most hybrid opportunities for fleets. These include city pickup and delivery, package delivery, beverage, municipal, refuse, and utility applications. However, Sterling Trucks has announced a production rollout of 700 Class 8 hybrid tractors for this year.

While capital costs may increase up to $50,000 for hybrid vehicles, annual fuel savings and maintenance costs may be reduced up to $6,000 annually. In addition, tax credits and grants from federal and state agencies can reduce the initial costs significantly.

Hybrids in the Limelight

Hybrid (diesel-electric) truck development has accelerated over the past seven years, beginning with a collaborative effort of component manufacturers, fleet operators, and the Freightliner Corp.

Freightliner’s hybrid offering features a parallel diesel-electric system that enables the vehicle to operate the diesel engine alone or in combination with the electric motor.

In 2001, 18 hybrid trucks were delivered, and the model of using hybrids in city pickup and delivery operations took shape. The development of Eaton’s regenerative braking technology has promoted the commercial acceptance of hybrid trucks for nearly all types of fleets.

The use of hybrids can provide fuel savings up to 40 percent and reduce maintenance costs by increasing preventive maintenance intervals. Vocational applications benefit from the elimination of engine idling during the operation of upfitted equipment.

The use of electronic power take-offs (ePTO) combined with energy from the storage batteries produce quiet crane, man lift, and digger operation. Some hybrids are capable of exporting electricity to other equipment off-board from the truck itself.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are similar to automobile hybrids, charging batteries overnight from conventional electrical outlets to store energy to operate the vehicle and upfitted equipment.

The diagram illustrates a typical hybrid propulsion component that propels a hybrid truck. These features differentiate a hybrid truck from a conventially powered truck.

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