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Hybrids heating up

After years of pilot projects and testing, hybrid technology is gaining traction in trucking. And it isn’t just the suppliers and OEMs that are abuzz with the advanced technology

After years of pilot projects and testing, hybrid technology is gaining traction in trucking. And it isn’t just the suppliers and OEMs that are abuzz with the advanced technology—it’s the fleets too.

Verizon will soon begin a pilot project using 13 service vans powered by gasoline-electric hybrid engines. The eco-friendly vans could improve mileage by up to 50% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70-90%. Verizon said it is the first major company to retrofit service vans with hybrid technology. Torrance, CA-based Enova Systems retrofitted the vans.

“As an operator of one of the largest private motor vehicle fleets in the U.S. we hope to send a message to automotive manufacturers that they should be manufacturing hybrid vehicles in all classes,” said Kathryn Brown, senior vice president of public policy development and corporate responsibility for Verizon. “There is a market here, especially for companies like Verizon that seek to minimize the environmental impact of their operations.”

The vans use both a gasoline-powered combustion engine and a battery-powered electric motor. An onboard computer determines whether the van will activate its gas engine, the electric motor, or both. When the combustion engine is running, it charges the batteries for the electric motor.

The School District of Manatee County in Bradenton, FL, also recently announced it will receive two plug-in hybrid-electric school buses. These buses are a part of the 19 hybrid buses awarded nonprofit Advanced Energy, with the hybrid drivetrain also developed by Enova.

These recent fleet acquisitions are part of a broader initiative by suppliers and OEMs to turn hybrids into a commercially viable option for the transportation industry. And businesses, eager to tout environmentally sound operations, appear to be more than willing to help hybrids gain traction.

For example, Eaton demonstrated its commitment to advancing hybrid technology within the trucking industry by hosting a seven-vehicle ride-and-drive event at the National Truck Equipment Assn.’s Work Truck Show last week in Indianapolis.

“Just as the trucking industry’s interest in hybrid trucks continues to expand, so does our progress in providing a cost-effective and reliable hybrid solution,” said Mark Lloyd, marketing manager for Eaton’s Hybrid Power Systems.

At the event, Eaton announced that its hybrid systems will be commercially available from many major OEMs later this year, including International, Peterbilt, Kenworth and Freightliner.

Eaton has developed a parallel diesel-electric hybrid system that works with its Eaton Fuller UltraShift automated transmission. The transmission incorporates an electric motor/generator between the output of an automated clutch and input of the transmission. The system stores energy from braking in batteries.

International, which will roll out trucks with Eaton hybrid drives, said it is starting an “aggressive” timeline to bring hybrid trucks to market. The OEM is preparing to build its next round of hybrid trucks with its new 2007-compliant MaxxForce engines.

“International is eager to bring purposeful innovations like the hybrid truck to market to help customers improve their fuel efficiency and reduce emissions,” said Jim Williams, International’s director of sakes & distribution- new products. “However, we want to confirm that we have a completely proven design and that these hybrid trucks pass rigorous customer durability testing and validation before we begin full-scale production.”

Workhorse Custom Chassis, a wholly owned subsidiary of International, will launch its first hybrid truck platform on its W62 walk-in van model. The W62 will represent the culmination of efforts to seamlessly integrate parallel hybrid components with existing chassis hardware for the International V-6 VT-275 diesel engine, according to Jay Sandler, Workhorse vp of commercial products.

Workhorse completed the design work and established a new manufacturing process for the hybrid in November.

To comment on this article, write to Terrence Nguyen at [email protected].

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