Tests indicate hybrid truck savings

Field tests conducted on a new International Truck and Engine Corp. utility truck featuring an Eaton Corp. hybrid drive system indicate that fuel savings from using an electric motor to supplement diesel power operation could be substantial

Field tests conducted on a new International Truck and Engine Corp. utility truck featuring an Eaton Corp. hybrid drive system indicate that fuel savings from using an electric motor to supplement diesel power operation could be substantial.

The utility bucket truck built under the auspices of California-based WestStart Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project, tested is one of 24 units currently in field tests with Florida Power & Light.

Performance tests against driving and work cycles typical of the utility industry showed a decrease in the amount of fuel used of 40% to 60%, as well as emissions-reduction benefits. Using a benchmark of $2.70 per gallon of diesel, savings from the hybrid system would range from $3,500 to $4,500 annually.

“These early results are very promising,” said Bill Van Amburg, WestStart senior vp. “While we will need to test these trucks on a larger scale and over a longer period of time, we continue to see indications that these vehicles are commercially viable and will deliver real value to customers.”

Beyond the reduction in fuel use, emissions and service intervals, other factors are strengthening the case for diesel-electric hybrid technology, he added. For example, Congress recently passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that provides tax credits for purchases of medium- and heavy-duty hybrid vehicles. The tax benefits range from $1,500 to $12,000, depending on vehicle weight and the increase in fuel economy relative to a comparable non- hybrid vehicle. Based on these factors, the utility truck used in the field test likely would qualify for the maximum tax credit of $12,000.

“When you combine the high cost of diesel with potential maintenance savings and tax incentives, the business case for hybrid electric vehicles becomes more and more favorable,” said Tom Cellitti, International’s vp & gm for medium-duty vehicles. “As the production volume of hybrid trucks increases, the price will decrease, due to scale, making a commercially viable product much more likely in the future.”

The study looked at applications where hybrid trucks can reduce fuel use, specifically in frequent start-and-stop operations, high idle time conditions and fleets that need exportable power, such as retail delivery (food, beverage, etc.), package car, government, ambulance and school buses, said Amburg. Hybrid power systems can also aid in power-take-off (PTO) use in propane, fuel oil, vacuum and paper shredder truck operations.

“These initial findings support our vision of making diesel-electric hybrid trucks a viable option,” said George Survant, director of fleet services, Florida Power and Light Co. and the chairman of WestStart’s HTUF Utility Working Group. “The other benefits we expect, such as extended maintenance intervals and fewer brake changes, further illustrate the promise of this technology.”

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