HYBRIDS OVER-RUN DEARBORN

<em>October 6, 2010 Vol. 6, No. 20</em>

I don’t bring my groceries home in one of those odd fabric’ish reusable bags that many folks are hauling around these days. A Toronto bylaw has all but banned plastic bags, though they’re there if you ask — and pay a nickel apiece for them like I do. With impeccable logic, I figure I’d be buying bags to line the garbage can under the sink anyway, so what’s the diff? Call me ungreen. No, just call me pragmatic. But I get lots of disparaging looks.

Ah, but I have maybe a dozen of those reusable bags lying around my home office, each of them collected at some trade show or conference and each of them full to bursting with CD’s and literature from a given event. I’ll never digest quite a lot of that information, frankly, but there’s grist for my little mill that stretches well into tomorrow. She Who Must Be Obeyed calls me a packrat. Yeah, well…

Two of those bags are current, the most recent from the 10th annual Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) held last week in Dearborn, Mich. The other, rather larger bag is from the previous week in Germany where I hobbled around the giant IAA show on a bum leg soaking up the Eurotech scene. As happened when these events last collided in 2008, I’ll have to dribble the info out over a few newsletters. There’s just so much to write.

But this newsletter is going to be almost all about HTUF, and in fact my notebook — not the bag — supplies much of what I need to tell you. That’s because a panel session of hybrid-truck users and another of hybrid suppliers offered a boatload of interesting facts and comments. In this world, just about everything revolves around the key challenge: getting the hybrid option commercialized ASAP. The recession slowed things down a lot, and continues to do so, but development rages on and it’s only a matter of time before it’s commonplace to see trucks powered by something other than an ordinary diesel engine.

Dave Bryant, manager of vocational sales at Freightliner Trucks, said something along these lines that I’ve been thinking for a while — namely, that we have to see fleets other than the big ones like FedEx and Coca Cola and Purolator pick up the hybrid bat and head to home plate.

"We’re beyond science projects at this point," he told the record crowd of 750 or so conference attendees, speaking of diesel hybrid and all-electric vehicles in general. "These are real commercial trucks… It’s time for the smaller fleets to step up."

Couldn’t agree more, but it is happening, even here in Canada where incentives are few and far between. I think of the City of Hamilton, Ont. where fleet manager Chris Hill put a pair of Peterbilt diesel/hydraulic garbage packers into service earlier this year. The City of Toronto has one too and others besides. And Tony Bizjak down in Virginia has the Fairfax County fleet deep into the game as he works with OEMs to answer his needs by hybrid means. Not many people have a bigger imagination when it comes to exploring the possible.

On the commercial side, it’s a little tougher because the dollars and cents are obviously paramount and survival is literally in the balance when it comes time to spec trucks. But a solid business case can increasingly be made for hybrids in some applications, and you don’t have to be Coca Cola to make it work.

THAT SAID, WE SHOULD THANK THE COKE FOLKS, along with the other big boys, for suffering the trial-and-error period in hybrid development. A common theme at HTUF amongst these early users was that the road hasn’t been smooth. There was total agreement on another idea, that the success of a hybrid truck in fleet service depends on choosing the right vehicle for the application.

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


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