The United States Postal Service launched what it calls the first conversion of a mail delivery van into a hybrid-electric vehicle.
The new equipment, provided by electric hybrid powertrain developer Azure Dynamics Inc., will be monitored in regular deliveries of mail to Boston-area homes and businesses to assess its emissions and fuel economy benefits.
Azure expects fuel economy to improve between 30% and 50%. According to USPS the retrofitted vehicle originally was powered by a 6.5-liter diesel engine. Now it is powered by a diesel-electric hybrid powertrain capable of running the vehicle via the smaller diesel engine or a regenerative battery.
Compared to package delivery giants United Parcel Service and FedEx, the Post Office is a relatively new player in the hybrid arena.
“Currently we have about 10 hybrids Ford Escapes purchased in late November,” Han Dinh, USPS director of vehicle engineering, told FleetOwner. “We have only one converted [hybrid] vehicle,” he added, that being the one that was christened this week.
“We only have five to six months of experience with hybrid electrics and we need more data in terms of fuel, maintenance and operation costs before we go to the next step to procure the that type of technology,” Dinh said.
According to Steven Glaser, vp-corporate affairs for Azure, USPS began testing a version of its hybrid in Boston last summer, which used an electrical powertrain to move the vehicle, while a smaller diesel engine “regenerates the battery” when necessary. In New York City USPS currently operates 32 trucks with all-electric powertrains developed by Azure, Glaser added.
USPS says it operates the largest alternative-fuel fleet in the U.S., with 30,000 vehicles powered by compressed-natural gas, propane, ethanol, biodiesel or electriciy.
Meanwhile, FedEx and UPS are in the beginning phases of rolling out hybrids along with their regular fleets. In February, UPS announced it placed an order for 50 hybrid electric vehicles in two sizes from International Truck and Engine and Freightliner LLC. UPS introduced a hybrid into daily operations with a research program it launched in 1998.
FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp., last year said it had 18 hybrid trucks equipped with a hybrid electric powertrain designed by Eaton Corp.; it plans to add 75 hybrids trucks to its fleet this year.