Hybrid Work Truck on the Way

Eaton Corp. and International Truck and Engine Corp. are planning to build more than 20 pre-production diesel-electric hybrid medium-duty trucks earmarked for the utility industry.

Electric utility Florida Power & Light (FPL) is buying the first group of these vehicles to pilot test their durability and reliability. Their experience is crucial in determining the commercial prospects for this vehicle package in the near future, said Tom Cellitti, vp & gm for International’s Medium Vehicle Center.

“If this pilot program is successful, we propose to start full line production of these hybrid trucks by 2006,” he said today in a conference call with reporters from the Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) going on in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The HTUF is a joint program between California-based technology consortium WestStart-Calstart and the U.S. Army's National Automotive Center (NAC) to speed up the commercialization of hybrid drivelines that could be used in both military and commercial vehicles.

George Survant, director of fleet services for FPL and chair of the HTUF utility working group, told Fleet Owner that while the predicted fuel economy improvement of 40% to 60%, for these diesel-electric hybrids has been the main focus of this project, other benefits are becoming readily apparent.

“We really believed that, early on, the fuel economy improvement would be the main target,” he said. “But the sweet thing about hybrids is that they burn less fuel, generate fewer emissions as a result of burning less fuel, and allow for much quieter operation of the aerial boom [via the truck’s electric power system] in residential neighborhoods. Most emission-reduction solutions add costs to the vehicle – but [hybrids] do the opposite.”

Bill Van Amberg, vp of WestStart-Calstart, noted that the potential for fleets to save a tremendous amount of fuel while still getting the same performance and almost equal life cycle cost to a purely diesel-powered truck of the same variety should help get the diesel-electric hybrid platform into full production.

“When you develop prototype trucks, it’s very difficult to provide field support for them and parts and service support are what makes them commercially viable,” added Jim Williams, director of sales for International. “These pre-production models, however, are going to get support from our national dealer network, so there’s going to be much more field support available to them.”

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