Effort to drive hybrid truck sales powers up

BALTIMORE. The official deployment of 143 hybrid commercial vehicles manufactured by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) under the auspices of the Maryland Hybrid Truck Initiative (MHTI) here this week is being characterized as but the first step of a long-term three-stage process to build acceptance and then demand for hybrid technology within the U.S. fleet community

BALTIMORE. The official deployment of 143 hybrid commercial vehicles manufactured by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) under the auspices of the Maryland Hybrid Truck Initiative (MHTI) here this week is being characterized as but the first step of a long-term three-stage process to build acceptance and then demand for hybrid technology within the U.S. fleet community.

“This is really the first stage; a government funding effort to pick up the incremental cost of hybrid trucks so we can get them into the hands of fleets,” Mark Lampert, DTNA’s senior vp of sales and marketing, told Fleet Owner here at a special “ribbon cutting” ceremony held at Nestle Waters North America’s Deer Park facility outside Baltimore.

“The second stage is marked by leveraging the efficiencies hybrid technology brings to fleet operations, demonstrating the benefits it can bring to a fleet’s bottom line,” he explained. “The third and final stage is building broader demand for hybrid trucks based on those demonstrated efficiencies, creating economies of scale to bring the cost of such vehicles down so we can eliminate the need for government funding.”

How long this “three-stage” process takes is unknown, Lampert stressed, because so many factors are involved beyond a simple cost-benefit analysis of hybrid systems in trucking operations. “For example, it took us two years to get this point today, from applying for the grants, to being approved, to getting the trucks built and into the hands of customers,” he said. “That’s why the overall time line remains uncertain.”

MHTI is using $5.9 million in grant funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, also known as the “stimulus bill”) through the Dept. of Energy to help offset the incremental costs of these 143 vehicles – diesel-electric hybrid Freightliner Business Class M2 tractor and straight truck models, as well as diesel-electric and hydraulic hybrid Freightliner Custom Chassis “bread vans.”

Those trucks are being deployed in local operations within Maryland with five fleets: Nestle Waters North America, UPS, Aramark, Sysco Corp. and Efficiency Enterprises.

“This project is designed to significantly reduce petroleum consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other pollutants in our state,” Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), said. “It fits into our statewide strategy of reducing overall energy consumption 15% by 2015, having 20% of our energy come from renewable sources by 2020, and reducing GHG emissions 25% by 2025.”

Woolf added the MHTI program is all about creating “leverage” in the truck market, in order to give hybrid technologies a chance to prove themselves on the road in real-world fleet operation.

“The government invests $5.9 million to cover the incremental cost of the technology – about a third of the overall hybrid truck cost – while the fleets pay the base price for these vehicles,” he said. “This allows folks to see the benefits of hybrids in their operations first-hand.”

DTNA’s Lampert noted these hybrid trucks – both the hydraulic and diesel-electric models – can deliver anywhere from 20 to 60% fuel savings, depending on the type of operation they are placed in. “Make no mistake: the cost of a hybrid is much higher than a standard truck,” he emphasized. “Yet the grants help our customers invest in such higher-cost technology to find the benefits, while staying competitive in the markets they serve.”

Jeffrey Bush, national fleet purchasing manager for Nestle Waters, told Fleet Owner that his company is only now beginning to reach the point where the true lifecycle cost benefits of hybrid trucks can be tallied.

“We’ve been operating several diesel-electric hybrids for three years now and are only just now beginning to see the potential benefits of this technology,” he explained. “To start, they are improving fuel economy 25 to 30%. We are also now reaching the point where we’d typically service the brakes, and our technicians are telling me the brakes on the hybrid trucks still can go for more miles.”

This is an example of what Nick Nigro, a solutions fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said is the end result such public-private partnerships aim to achieve.

“We need to reduce our dependence on petroleum and reduce the pollution it causes, yet we do not want to stifle the freight sector, for our economy relies on the fast and efficient movement of products,” he noted in a speech at the ceremony.

“The critical piece to this is rolling out new technology without compromising the freight sector’s ability to minimize inventory and keep delivery times short,” Nigro added. “In the end, efforts like the MHTI are designed to promote prosperity for all.”

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