Hybrids – Vehicles, Battery & Hydraulic Technology

The Business Case for Hybrid-Electric Medium-Duty Trucks

November 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

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The fuel savings and environmental benefits of hybrid-electric medium-duty trucks are clear. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA), medium-duty hybrids increase fuel efficiency by as much as 20 to 50 percent over conventional gasoline- or diesel-powered trucks, depending on the vehicle’s size and duty cycle. And, the reduced amount of fossil fuel burned translates into fewer harmful emissions and a “greener” fleet.

Most hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) in the medium-duty truck segment are equipped with parallel hybrid drive systems, which employ both an internal combustion engine (gasoline or diesel) and an electric motor, which can operate together or one-at-a-time, depending on the vehicle’s drive cycle.

This system allows fleet managers to spec a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine, without sacrificing overall power and performance, because the electric motor provides supplemental power assist alongside the combustion engine during vehicle acceleration.

Hybrids also offer electric power takeoff (PTO) capabilities to operate specialty equipment, such as service cranes, dump bodies, and utility bucket hoists, without having to run the engine while the vehicle is stationary, reducing wasted fuel from engine idling.

“Besides fuel savings, the main advantages of a hybrid-electric drive include quieter operation, especially applications that use the [electric] PTO feature,” said Greg Treinen, segment manager, alternative fuels product marketing, Freightliner Trucks, which builds medium- and heavy-duty hybrids equipped with Eaton Corporation’s parallel electric-hybrid system.

“The regenerative braking process (which leverages the motor to slow the truck when taking your foot off the accelerator, while also restoring charge to the onboard battery) provides the advantage of reduced wear-and-tear on the brakes, which ultimately means reduced maintenance costs,” Treinen continued.

But, with a steep up-front additional investment (around $35,000 per truck or more, according to Treinen), does hybrid-electric power make financial sense for medium-duty fleets? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

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