Hybrids Hold Promise Over The Short-Haul

First commercial models may be available later this year.


Preliminary field tests of diesel-electric hybrid engines in parcel delivery and utility line repair trucks have yielded fuel savings of 40 percent to 60 percent, and the technology holds particular promise for trucking operations with frequent starts and stops, significant idle time and a need for exportable power, particularly food and beverage delivery, according to many trucking industry insiders.

"I do not think that all fleets will get results that high," says Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of WestStart-CalStart, a California-based non-profit organization that works with the public and private sectors to develop advanced transportation technologies, foster cleaner air and lessen U.S. dependency on foreign oil. "Savings of 20 percent to 30 percent are probably more likely.

"These early results are very promising. While we need to test these trucks on a larger scale and over a longer period of time, we continue to see indications that these vehicles are commercially viable and will deliver real value to customers," he says.

All the major truck and engine component manufacturers are working on hybrid technology right now, and many are running limited pilots with a handful of companies, but, if all goes well, the first commercially available models could hit dealers towards the end of this year or early next year.

International Truck and Engine Corp., Warrenville, IL, hopes to be the first to market, with between 100 and 200 hybrid trucks as early as the winter.

Other truck and engine manufacturers are expecting to have hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) available over the next three years. Paccar, makers of the Peterbilt and Kenworth truck brands, plans to begin production of a hybrid truck by 2008. Swedish truck maker Volvo plans production in 2009. Japanese truck makers Hino, Mitsubishi-Fuso and Nissan are all field testing hybrid trucks in Japan this year before making them available to the U.S. market.

In those trials, Mitsubishi's medium-duty cabover diesel/electric hybrid, called the Canter Eco Hybrid, has achieved as much as a 30 percent increase in fuel efficiency.

"The Mitsubishi Fuso Canter Eco Hybrid demonstrates the potential for combining environmental performance and efficiency in an alternative drive vehicle," says Bob McDowell, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America (MFTA), headquartered in Logan Township, NJ. "This vehicle shows the technological capabilities and environmental dedication associated with the Fuso brand."

In similar tests, Nissan's Atlas 20 Hybrid showed between 15 percent and 35 percent improvements in fuel economy in city driving situations. The vehicle's carbon dioxide emissions are 25 percent less than conventional trucks.

To date, most of the testing of hybrid truck technology in the United States has occurred in the parcel delivery and utility industries, but some testing of hybrid vehicles is already underway in a number other markets, including city buses and refuse collection. Retailers and manufacturers in the food and beverage industry have been following developments closely, and a handful of them are just now starting to seek out pilot programs for their light- and medium-duty delivery vehicles.

Among those that have expressed an early interest are Coca-Cola, Schwan's, Wal-Mart, Danone Waters, Nestle Waters Group (Perrier), PepsiCo, Yosemite Waters, Safeway and Kroger. Coke started a trial involving a 4000-Series International truck with hybrid components from Eaton Corp., Cleveland, in September 2004.

Wal-Mart, in keeping with a company goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, has plans to double new truck efficiency by 2015. The nation's largest retailer has already put more than 100 hybrid vehicles into operation in its light-duty fleet and has requested another 100 for introduction in 2007.

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