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September 24, 2008 Vol. 4, No. 20

Predictably, the 62nd incarnation of the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show here in Hannover, Germany seems to be dominated by issues of fuel and environment. After the first of two press days before the show officially opens to the masses, I see nothing but green. Metaphorically, I mean.

Since I haven’t yet had the chance to see the whole show – as if that’s possible in a couple of days – let alone speak with all the folks
I’d like to meet, let’s call this a preliminary IAA report. I’ll do a fuller version in a couple of weeks time.

But so far, every truck maker and first-tier component supplier has had something serious to say, and in most cases a new product to back it up, about hybrid powertrains.

At the same time, it seems that the hybrid truck commercialization process is not as far advanced in Europe as it is in North America or Japan. The difference may be, in part, that there’s no Hybrid Truck Users Forum over here to push the idea – and especially to push governments at all levels to offer incentives by way of tax credits or some such instrument. In the U.S. HTUF is a force, with an impact that spills over the border into Canada to some limited extent. Without it, and thus without the tax credits that American hybrid truck buyers enjoy, this almost burgeoning market would be forever a niche. More on that notion in a minute.

Hybrids aren’t the only news angle here at IAA, of course, but efficiency and fuel economy and environmental demands certainly dominate.

The Daimler stand is dominated by green in a big way, for example – 11 vehicles, three of them seen for the first time, powered by some alternative means or other. They range from the very accessible technology of a diesel engine fueled by natural gas all the way up to a fairly exotic hydrogen fuel cell, with diesel/electric hybrids in between.

Ironically, that ‘exotic’ fuel cell vehicle is the oldest of the bunch, a Citaro city bus that I first saw – and rode in – at least six years ago. There are actually 36 fuel-cell-powered Citaro F-Cell buses on the road worldwide and they’ve already been driven more than two million kilometers – without producing any emissions at all. But don’t hold your breath as to fuel cells coming to the real market any time soon. This has been a long-term demonstration, and at the very least durability has been proved. But the fuel cell is still a long way from being commercially viable as a source of motive power. In a reefer or an APU? Maybe soon, but even that’s a few years away.

Mercedes-Benz has three hybrid world premieres at the show, including the Axor BlueTec hybrid tractor, the first European hybrid prototype aimed at long-distance transport. I stress that this is a prototype. It sports an OM 926 7.2 liter diesel producing 326 hp paired with a 60-hp electric motor and the Mercedes PowerShift 12-speed automatic transmission. The company says this will use between 4 and 10% less fuel than a truck with a conventional drive system. Some folks think that’s optimistic, but it obviously depends on the application and the duty cycle.

Then there’s the low-cab-forward Mercedes-Benz Econic
for local transport applications, including refuse, in two hybrid variants: the BlueTec hybrid with standard 6.4-liter diesel engine and the Econic NGT hybrid, a concept with a 6.9-liter supercharged engine running on natural gas. The latter fuel is popular here in Germany and likely to get more so becuse it enjoys a much reduced tax rate until 2018, which means it costs about half as much as diesel even after you allow for lower power density.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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