HYBRID POWER, EUROPEAN STYLE

Rolf Lockwood

September 27, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 20

Amidst the noisy hubbub of the largest truck show on earth, it can be hard to find a common theme. This year’s 61st version of the IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Hannover, Germany, was no exception, but the future of hybrid power was my own point of focus. I discovered that it’s not such a big deal in Europe as it is here, despite fuel prices that make ours seem puny, but that’s not to say the hybrid idea was ignored.

Leading that charge was Japan’s Mitsubishi Fuso, now firmly part of the DaimlerChrysler empire and with its quality issues well behind it. The company showed its ready-for-market Canter Eco-Hybrid truck to the Europeans for the first time, though it wasn’t the little truck’s first public appearance. That came earlier this year at two U.S. shows as the company tried to gauge North American interest in the diesel/electric-powered truck. It’s almost certain that we’ll see it here, possibly even in the Sterling 360, a badge-engineered version of the class 3/4 Canter.

“We at Fuso really believe in hybrid power,” company president and CEO Harald Boelstler told me. “Our aim is that this technology must make a business case in the medium and long term.”

Significantly, Mitsubishi Fuso has been designated DaimlerChrysler’s worldwide ‘Centre of Competence’ for hybrid medium-duty truck development. That means it will lead the engineering process for the company at large, using the company’s global resources.

The Canter hybrid will be for sale on the Japanese market this fall and, probably, some time in the next couple of years in the U.S. and Canada.

As for Europe, the consensus seems to be that without government incentives – and there are presently none on the horizon – the hybrid idea has a long way to go before being commonly accepted. The extra capital investment is no more attractive to a German truck operator than to a Canadian even if, in the case of the Canter, he can chop particulate and nitrous oxide emissions by more than 40% each over current Euro 4 standards while gaining 30% better fuel economy.

In fact, Andreas Renschler, head of the DaimlerChrysler Commercial Vehicles group, wonders aloud if biodiesel might be a better option for Europe unless there are government subsidies or public/private partnerships of the sort that have supported alternative-power transit buses in many North American cities.

“I see that biodiesel is a real possibility in the next 10 or 15 years,” he told me in a private interview. Some European Mercedes-Benz customers are using 20-30% biodiesel blends of rapeseed oil now, he said. Others are taking up the M-B natural gas option, he added, though usage is not
high.

Oddly, a rumor was making the rounds at the show that our dear Prime Minister, feeling guilty about abandoning Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitments, is about to launch some sort of subsidy to support adoption of hybrid technology. I’ll try to confirm that, though you mustn’t hold your breath.

At the ArvinMeritor stand, in a chat with chairman Chip McClure and the new president of Commercial Vehicle Systems, Carsten Reinhardt, I learned that the company has delivered a chassis with hybrid powertrain to Ontario body-builder Unicell. The project was announced late last year
and it seems to be making headway, with the ball now in Unicell’s court. I’ll report on it as soon as I can.

“Hybrids will be exotic for a while,” said Reinhardt, ex-president of Detroit Diesel, “but they’ll be commonplace within maybe six years.”

And over at the Volvo display there was a hybrid engine for heavy vehicles. A so-called parallel system, it combines an electric motor with a D7 diesel engine. Like all the others, it features regenerative braking and would be suitable for stop-and-go city operation. Volvo says tests show potential fuel savings of up to 35%, and the D7 can run on renewable biofuel, making it entirely carbon dioxide-neutral. Volvo says it will be possible to launch hybrid trucks on the market “within a few years.”

One last note from IAA, namely that Paccar’s European subsidiary DAF Trucks scored a significant victory there. Its flagship vehicle, the XF105, was named the ‘International Truck of the Year 2007’ as voted by a jury of European truck journalists. Introduced last year and manufactured since January, the XF105 is equipped with the all new 12.9-liter Paccar engine, developed and produced by DAF. North Americans may see this engine in Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks in the near future. The inline six is equipped with an SCR exhaust gas aftertreatment system in European form, meeting both the new Euro 4 and coming-in-2009 Euro 5 emission standards.

This newsletter is published every two weeks. It’s a heads-up notice about what’s going on with trucking technology as well as what you can see at www.todaystrucking.com where you’ll find in-detail coverage of nearly everything that’s new. Plus interesting products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months. Subscribe today!

If you have comments of whatever sort, please contact me at rlockwood@newcom.ca.

Rolf Lockwood

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

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