HYBRIDS COMING OF AGE

Rolf Lockwood

October 22, 2008 Vol. 4, No. 22

My brain’s buzzing, folks, after attending yet another information-intensive event last week. There’s just so much to write about these days and so little space to do it in. Very frustrating.

I’ve concluded, in fact, that I may never finish reporting on last month’s IAA Commercial Vehicles Show in Germany, so I’m going to dribble interesting items into this space as I continue reporting on the domestic scene. But having spent a couple of days at the Hybrid Truck Users Forum in South Bend, Indiana last week, the truth is that I’ll be trying to cover that one properly for months too.

People sometimes ask me how I find things to write about, and I usually laugh at that one. Honestly, there’s never been a shortage in my 30 years of doing this. And nowadays… well, the supply is endless. Which leads me to wonder how you guys can keep up. Gathering and sifting information is what I do, all day and every day, but you lot have real work to do. Your challenge is considerable.

ANYWAY, LAST WEEK IT WAS THE 8TH ANNUAL HTUF national meeting, and a wildly successful one at that. A whopping 550 people attended. At its first get-together in 2002, there were a total of seven trucks to look at, and not all could be driven. This year there were 35 working trucks for ride-and-drive day at the Bosch proving grounds just outside South Bend, with another dozen or more in static displays, and several manufacturers are now in series production. The hybrid truck is a real player now, and it seems momentum is gained every day.

“We’re so close to the tipping point, to commercial success, but we’re not there yet,” said John Boesel, president and CEO of CALSTART, in his opening address to the meeting last week.

The HTUF event is organized by CALSTART, which is a California-based non-profit organization (www.calstart.org) that works to develop and implement clean, efficient transportation options, working with manufacturers and end users alike. HTUF is an offshoot, a user-focused coalition, North American in scope, that aims to speed the commercialization of hybrid trucks. It’s gone beyond that now to include high-efficiency medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in general.

Boesel said the hybrid industry will be well established, and we’re not far off this mark, when 2000 to 3000 trucks a year are built. The current vision has a target of a 30% hybrid share of the work-truck market and 5% of the heavy-duty market by 2020, he said.

Not incidentally, HTUF is partnered with the U.S. Army and its National Automotive Center in on-going development work. Not long ago, the Army had a technological lead in the hybrid world but the commercial industry has since bypassed it in what sometimes seems like a frenzy of activity in bringing trucks to new niche markets and applications. Beverage trucks and tractor-trailer units, along with pickup-and-delivery vehicles, are attracting special attention these days, though utility trucks may still offer the biggest bang for the buck in terms of fuel- and emissions-saving potential.

There are in fact six working groups within HTUF, each addressing the specifics of a key application: utility, parcel delivery, refuse, bus, class 8, plug-in, and incentives.

All of those and more were represented on the Bosch test track last week. The unique and purpose-built Unicell Quicksider battery-electric parcel delivery van with powertrain by ArvinMeritor was on hand to represent Canada in its Purolator colors, and it was attracting a ton of interest.

Among the trucks I hadn’t seen in the flesh before was the plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) utility truck from Wisconsin body-builder Dueco (www.dueco.com). Its system, shown at HTUF on an International truck, is actually independent of the chassis maker entirely and can be fitted to any truck – given a lead time of 8 to 10 months.

The Dueco system is geared toward the stationary work of a bucket truck, and its 35-kw battery pack can handle a typical lineman’s full day, or 2 to 4 hours of continuous electric operation. Using an Allison transmission, a Bosch motor, and Odyne controls and electronics, Dueco is an integrator and has built several such utility trucks to date. It anticipates building 25 hybrid trucks this year. The trucks are still in the R&D stage, but there has been much interest in the product, especially in western Canada. The company is represented in Canada by Wajax Industries in the east and Vancouver’s Commercial Equipment in the west.

The truck’s hybrid system is recharged both while its engine is operating and when it’s plugged in at night. It’s a parallel system – the diesel or gas engine runs in
combination with the electric motor which is powered by the big battery pack. The truck accelerates with power from both the gas/diesel and electric motors and runs the hydraulics off the batteries and electric motors.

EATON IS THE GRANDADDY OF DIESEL/ELECTRIC HYBRIDS, of course, and dominated the test track, its hybrid powertrains evident in 24 of the 35 ride-and-drive vehicles. One of those was a Freightliner Business Class M2E straight truck from Clark Freightways in Burnaby, B.C. That was a long trip.

Rolf Lockwood

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

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