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Hybrids: Steep learning curve ahead

Hybrid-electric trucks are here and more are coming, yet the education of fleet owners on the ins and outs of these high-tech wonders is just beginning

INDIANAPOLIS. Hybrid-electric trucks are here and more are coming, yet the education of fleet owners on the ins and outs of these high-tech wonders is just beginning.

Formally organized fleet user groups, light-, medium- and heavy-duty OEMs, and specialized system and component suppliers alike are committed to bringing a variety of hybrid electric-drive vehicle types to trucking. But to make the most of this environmentally friendly and fuel-saving technology, fleets have a steep learning curve to negotiate—and stay on as technological developments keep rolling out.

That’s the message behind the “Hybrid Truck & Alternative Fuels Summit” being held here today as part of The Work Truck Show and 43rd annual convention of the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA).

The first speaker, Chris Amos, commissioner of equipment services for the City of St. Louis, detailed how much fleets must learn, consider and analyze before making a hybrid decision as he gave a presentation produced by the Princeton, NJ-based National Assn. of Fleet Administrators (NAFTA).

Amos delved into how to identify the different types of hybrid-electric vehicles as a first step toward selecting the proper type for a given fleet application. He also identified major pros and cons of hybrids compared to conventional vehicles and explained how to compare the two using lifecycle cost analysis modeling.

He pointed out that fleets must realize how much advanced technology is involved in hybrids—running from battery packs and generators to regenerative braking systems to electric motor drive/assist systems to automatic start/shutoff capabilities.

On top of all that, Amos said future developments to keep an eye on include Clean Diesel and CNG, which likely will replace gasoline in some models. He also said use of biofuel and E85 (85% ethanol) “can accentuate the [fuel-saving] advantage of hybrids. In addition, he related that “two-mode hybrid” drivetrains—which integrate the transmission for greater efficiency—are in the works.

But despite their great promise, hybrids are not a slam-dunk decision for fleets. Amos discussed the pros and cons of today’s hybrid technology vs. traditional truck power.

Hybrid pros:

  • Non-monetary incentives, such as use of HOV lanes and designated parking
  • Fuel savings (although not as high as indicated by EPA)
  • Lessened environmental impact (reduced CO2)
  • High resale value (but hard to predict at this juncture)
  • Temporary tax incentives

Hybrid cons:

  • Higher incremental cost of $3,000 to $5,000 per vehicle (light duty)
  • Only available now as part of “high option” packages (light duty)
  • Limited availability
  • Insurance costs higher
  • Maintenance & repair costs uncertain
  • Some potential safety issues (due to high-voltage batteries)

Amos added that, as with all commercial vehicles, hybrids must be subjected to a thorough lifecycle analysis before a given fleet can be assured the choice it is making makes financial sense for its specific trucking operation.

For more information on the summit, go to

To comment on this article, write to David Cullen at [email protected]

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