Promising obvious operating benefits and more manageable upfront costs, hybrid engine systems are set to make inroads with OEMs in the near future, an alternative technologies executive said.
When it comes to gauging the potential of hybrid systems for commercial trucks, Bill Van Amburg, senior vp for Pasadena, CA-based WestStart-Calstart, a group that promotes the use of alternatively-powered vehicles, believes the key may be found in urban areas, where stop-and-go patterns are the norm.
“I do believe, based on our market assessment to date, that medium- and heavy-duty hybrids will start to emerge over the next two to three years in certain key markets: refuse, utility/specialty, regional/beverage delivery, and parcel delivery,” he said.
“The reason is simple-- there is a business case for [fleet] users in urban environments based on fuel reductions plus reduced engine, brake and other vehicle maintenance, coupled with increased utility productivity,” added Amburg.
Purely from a fleet perspective, fuel cost reduction is going to be the main driving force behind the adoption of hybrid technology in the commercial truck market, he said, pointing to the introduction last year of a hybrid utility service truck developed by International Truck & Engine Corp. that’s being purchased by electric utility Florida Power & Light.
“That vehicle is going to see fuel economy improvements of 40% to 60% -- that’s a lot of savings to any fleet, but especially one such as a utility operation where a lot of vehicle idling is involved,” Amburg said. “By extension, similar operators could see the same benefit, such as cable TV, telecommunication, and tree trimming fleets.” Yet he noted that the potential maintenance savings offered by hybrids is another key cost factor commercial fleets must look at.
“If the engine doesn’t run as hard or as long, you’re talking about not only extended maintenance intervals, but perhaps longer engine life as well,” Amburg said. “And that could start to change the business equation for life-cycle planning on the fleet’s part.”
Using the hybrid system to reduce brake wear through regenerative braking would add to that life cycle benefit, he noted.
“The key is that fleets could get both lower cost of operation and ownership through hybrid systems,” Amburg said. “That makes a very compelling case for this technology to move forward.”