Hybrids – Vehicles, Battery & Hydraulic Technology

Hybrid Large Trucks: The Road to Viability

September 2008, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Chad Simon

WestStart CALSTART is a non-profit organization that supports and accelerates the growth of advanced transportation technologies among both public and private sectors.

The Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) is a national, multi-year, user-driven program that assists the commercialization of heavy-duty hybrid technologies. It is operated by Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART, and is supported by the U.S. Army's National Automotive Center (NAC) and the Hewlett Foundation.

HTUF Working Groups are targeted, user-driven teams made up of leaders from commercial and military fleets interested in using hybrid trucks in a specific application.  The seven Working Groups are: Hybrid Utility Truck, Hybrid Parcel Delivery Truck, Hybrid Refuse Truck, Hybrid Bus, Plug-In Task Force, Incentives, and Class 8 Over the Road/Regional Delivery.

Thirteen utility fleets that wanted to cut their dependence on foreign oil and combat global warming purchased and evaluated hybrid trucks through the help of WestStart CALSTART. Consider them early stalwarts or trailblazers of an unproven technology in medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Business Fleet surveyed five participating Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) fleet managers to learn how they have benefited from implementing hybrid trucks for their specific application. These were the results.

GEORGE SURVANT

Director, Fleet Services

Company: Florida Power & Light

Fleet Size: 3,500

Number of Hybrid Trucks in Service: 20

FP&L's hybrids are primarily 27,000-lb. GVWR service trucks made by Azure Dynamics and Ford with Eaton hybrid and Odyne plug-in hybrid units sitting on an International chassis. The fleet also has P-Series vans (UPS style).

FP&L was the first to put medium-duty hybrid trucks in service nearly two years ago. Survant, who heads HTUF's Hybrid Utility Truck Working Group, says his fleet's hybrid program has saved about 40 percent in fuel costs from January to June of this year.

Survant notes other benefits of the hybrid trucks include quietness of operation and cleanliness. The fleet's equipment operates around residential districts, hospital zones and other noise-sensitive areas.

Hybrid trucks are well suited for power take-off (PTO) applications. On a utility truck, the boom is the primary PTO operation. Other PTO-driven tools include winches, hydraulic pumps, lift gates and loading applications. During PTO applications, the truck's main power plant shuts off and the boom operates solely on stored battery energy.

FP&L received purchase help for its first three hybrid trucks from the Department of Defense through a 21st Century partnership operating in conjunction with HTUF and WestStart CALSTART. The fleet replaces about one-tenth of its equipment annually.

Depending on how the hybrid truck is equipped, there's a $30,000–$40,000 premium over its diesel counterpart, and it can be as much as $60,000 depending on customization, Survant says.

"When we did the business case for these trucks several years ago, fuel was about $2.50 a gallon," Survant says. "We felt it would take about eight years to pay off the upcharge for the hybrid trucks, but subsequent prices have reduced that down to less than four years," says Survant.

Less Maintenance

Hybrids require less maintenance than conventional diesel. The electric motor not only powers the PTO applications, it powers the truck while idling in traffic, so the engine doesn't work as hard or as often, extending the life of the truck's components.

Regenerative braking takes wear off the brake system, extending brake life.

Because maintenance cost is lowered, Survant targets reselling one of his trucks in this class in about 10 or 11 years, though the batteries may need to be replaced every six or seven years. He says extending the trucks' lifecycles to 12 or 14 years will save more money.

The electrification of truck features including air conditioning, power steering and power brakes will be another big step in making these trucks more commercially viable, Survant says. "It's not too difficult to envision the future where you have really efficient batteries and a very small powerplant burning very little petroleum."

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