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Hybrid trucks gaining ground globally

Nov. 18, 2009
A new study forecasts a big global spike in hybrid purchases by fleets over the next five to six years, with medium- and heavy-duty trucks along with buses comprising the biggest growth categories

A new study forecasts a big global spike in hybrid purchases by fleets over the next five to six years, with medium- and heavy-duty trucks along with buses comprising the biggest growth categories.

According to Boulder, CO-based consulting firm Pike Research, cumulative sales of hybrid vehicles in the fleet sector should total nearly four million worldwide between 2009 and 2015, with hybrid fleet sales increasing from 300,000 units in 2009 to more than 830,000 units by 2015.

“The biggest growth categories for fleet hybrids are medium/heavy duty trucks and buses,” said Clint Wheelock, Pike’s managing director. “Manufacturers are beginning to turn their attention beyond light duty vehicles to the efficiency opportunities for hybrid drive in heavy trucks.”

He projected that in North America nearly 10% of buses sold in 2015 will be hybrids. North America will be the leading region in terms of hybrid fleet penetration, with hybrids reaching 8% of all fleet sales in the next five years. Government, university, and utility company fleets will be the biggest purchasers. Asia Pacific will be the leader in terms of unit volumes by that time, reaching 420,000 fleet hybrids sold per year, though the hybrid penetration will be somewhat lower than North America’s.

Pike’s projections parallel other forecasts for commercial hybrid vehicle growth. California-based Clean Transportation Technologies and Solutions or “CalStart,” for example, predicts that between 40,000 and 60,000 medium- and heavy-duty hybrid trucks are expected to be on the road in North America by 2015.

“The whole vocational truck space is a very rich one for hybrid vehicle technology, but now we’re even starting to see hybrids in what we call ‘light’ Class 8 applications, such as local and regional beverage and food distribution,” Bill Van Amburg, CalStart’s senior vp, told FleetOwner.

Amburg noted that fleets are not just obtaining these vehicles to burnish their “green” image with the public. “If that were the case, then we’d only see vehicle sales to fleets in the ones and twos,” he said. “Instead, what we’re seeing is sales in the 10 to 20 unit range. That demonstrates to us that fleets see real business benefits with hybrid truck technology.”

In the Pike study, titled “Hybrid Electric Vehicles for Fleet Markets,” Wheelock said the major benefits for fleets is the combination of lower emissions and a 10% to 40% gain in fuel efficiency.

Right now, noted CalStart’s Amburg, efforts are under way among fleets to find ways to offset the still-high incremental cost of acquiring hybrid trucks. “Fleets see the business benefits and see how to get there. That’s one reason why hybrid truck sales have been doubling every year,” he said. “The key is to get the initial help to overcome the incremental costs of the technology.”

He pointed to California as an example. The Golden State is launching January 1st a $20-mllion plan to provide fleets with $10,000 to $45,000 per hybrid vehicle, depending on its gross vehicle weight (GVW), to spur further adoption of hybrid technology in heavier vehicle classes.

“The demand is there – it just needs a kick start to get it going,” said Amburg.

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