A DECADE AGO, a veteran trade publication editor was walking around the 2000 Tokyo Motor Show in search of something new.
He had written stories about trucks that burned diesel, gasoline, natural gas, propane, even hydrogen. Suddenly he saw the weirdest thing — a medium-duty truck that had a diesel engine — and an electric motor. “Interesting concept,” he thought, “but will anyone buy one?”
The answer to that question, of course, is yes. But the ramp-up rate for hybrid-powered trucks has been somewhat less than stunning.
The major Japanese truck manufacturers at that particular Tokyo Motor Show all had hybrids on display. But years later, hybrids were still rare. Years after seeing our first medium-duty hybrid, we saw another on display in the United States. The manager of the exhibit was tense because his continued employment hinged on getting that truck delivered to Europe for an event the following week. As soon as the show was over, the truck was loaded onto an airplane and flown across the Atlantic. Why? It was the only hybrid the company had.
A lot has changed since then. Hybrids are gaining acceptance. Government incentives and spikes in oil prices have provided additional appeal.
Hybrid technology continues to improve — and to bifurcate. Vehicles powered by internal combustion engines and electric motors aren't the only option. Hydraulic hybrid systems are a viable alternative to diesel-electric power — especially in heavy-truck operations such as refuse pickup. These systems capture and store braking energy and then release it when the truck begins to move forward. Such systems improve fuel economy and extend brake life.
Upfitting a hybrid chassis isn't quite the same as working on conventionally powered trucks, and trade associations are beginning to address these concerns. Most recently, the National Truck Equipment Association offered a session on hybrids at The Work Truck Show.
Hybrids, of course, are merely one example of “green” truck technology. Several companies at this year's Work Truck Show displayed trucks powered exclusively by electricity. Trucks powered by other alternative fuels also were evident.
The color green comes in a wide spectrum of shades. So do “green” products. This year's Work Truck Show went beyond chassis that burn alternative fuels. Displays of new “green” truck bodies and equipment were scattered throughout the show. These are products built to save fuel, lower emissions, trim tare weight, improve aerodynamics, and (when they reach the end of the road) stay out of sanitary landfills.
In many cases, “green” products just make good economic sense. In addition to being kind to the environment, they offer practical, “black-and-white” advantages. A couple examples from this year's Work Truck Show:
A product that distributes ice control chemicals more precisely is a green product because it reduces chemical waste. But it's a black-and-white decision when the product reduces the amount of money spent on road salt or liquid deicing materials.
A product is green when it reduces aerodynamic drag, resulting in less fuel being burned. It's black-and-white when we recognize that reduced aerodynamic drag means less money that the customer must spend on fuel.
A product is green when it does not have to be thrown into a landfill at the end of its useful life. It is black-and-white when it retains some residual value — thereby reducing its overall purchase price.
NTEA and its member companies are taking a leading role in getting the commercial truck industry to look at the world through green-colored glasses. Events such as the Green Truck Summit — held in conjunction with this year's Work Truck Show — help those who provide work trucks (and those who buy them) keep the environmental impact of our products at the forefront of our thinking.
Beyond the Green Truck Summit, the association also announced the formation of a new affiliate division called the Green Truck Association. The GTA was created, NTEA said, “to help fleets, manufacturers, upfitters, government agencies, and other industry stakeholders stay current with relevant regulatory and industry developments, while also helping to expand and improve the market for green truck applications.”
High-value products make a difference to the customer's bottom line. With the rise of environmentalism, we may have a new group of customers that views our products in color and not just in black and white. We need to continue develop (and sell) products that offer both environmental and economic value. When we do, we just might make the competition turn green with envy.
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