MARKHAM, Ont. – With each passing year, it’s becoming more economically viable to introduce low-emission hybrids or no-emission electric vehicles into an urban truck fleet.
A Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar session on ‘Green Alternatives for your Fleet,’ examined recent developments in diesel-electric hybrids and all-electric delivery vehicles. Josh Lepage, senior sales specialist, big bore engines with Navistar, said the advancements in mild parallel hybrid technology – the technology developed by Eaton and offered by all medium-duty truck OEMs – are significant.
For instance, when the technology was first being developed, lead acid batteries were the only battery technology available and the system would require three to four tonnes of batteries, making it impractical to operate in real-world duty cycles. Today, thanks to the advent of new technology, just two lithium-ion batteries can generate the same power without all the weight, Lepage pointed out.
Today’s medium-duty diesel-electric hybrid requires just 175 lbs of batteries and the entire hybrid system adds just 450 lbs to the vehicle, Lepage pointed out. Because the electric motor assists with propulsion, operators can spec’ a smaller diesel engine to recover some of that weight. Still, hybrids are slow to catch on because their purchase price has yet to come in line with that of diesel-only trucks – especially in Canada.
“There’s not a whole lot of funding up here for hybrid technology yet,” Lepage lamented. “But the government here in Canada is starting to push for fuel-efficient, green technologies.”
Hybrid trucks are performing well in the field and proving their worth, especially in applications where auxiliary equipment can be operated in electric mode, eliminating the need to idle while working at a job site. All four medium-duty truck OEMs offering hybrid vehicles have already sold more than 1,000 units, Lepage noted.
Operators and maintenance personnel need to be cognizant that the orange-coloured high-voltage wires should not be cut – or touched in the event of an accident. In fact, Lepage suggested fleets using hybrid vehicles bring local first responders like police, ambulance and fire crews in for some training to ensure they know to stay clear of the high-voltage wires in the event of an accident.
“These orange cables are off limits,” Lepage warned. “If you cut one of those and there’s amperage going through there, that’s the last thing you’ll see on this earth.”
When performing maintenance, truck techs can either: shut down the vehicle, which maintains power in the system but relegates it to the PEC; disconnect the low-voltage 12-volt batteries; or flip the service switch to shut down power altogether. Note that it takes five minutes for all the power to vacate the system when you flip the power off. Before getting to work, Lepage suggested flipping the switch, driving the truck into the shop and chocking its wheels before working on it.
“By the time you get all that done, you’ve exhausted your five minutes of time and the vehicle is safe to get underneath and perform regular maintenance on,” he said.
Drivers and owners should also know that hybrids must be towed a certain way. Lepage recommends disconnecting the driveline or removing the driveshaft before towing and then towing the vehicle from the rear. Otherwise, the electric motor will generate power while being towed that it won’t have an outlet for and the power buildup could cause problems.
All-electric delivery vehicles were also discussed at CFMS, specifically Navistar’s eStar Class 3 with a GVW of 12,100 lbs. The eStar generates no emissions whatsoever and several are in use today by Canada Post. The vehicles provide 4,500 lbs of payload and have a 100-mile range between charges. They take six to eight hours to recharge using a J-1772 Level II charger – the same system used by the Volt and Leaf electric passenger cars.
“We’re very excited about the market here in Canada,” said Mark McGrew, east region sales director with Navistar’s eStar electric truck group. “We feel there’s a large amount of applications that can use this vehicle here.”
The eStar is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that sits between the frame rails and has a life expectancy of 10 years. (The batteries, McGrew noted, account for about 60% of the cost of the vehicle). The eStar’s 70 kW motor provides 102 hp and 212 lb.-ft. of torque and is governed at 50 mph.
“You can go on the freeway, but I would suggest you hang out in the right-hand lane because you’re going to have a lot of people passing you,” McGrew advised.
The eStar has been tested at ambient temperatures ranging from -20 C to 32 C. Canada Post operates one vehicle in Toronto and three in Vancouver, and as further testing is done at colder temperatures, the trucks will likely find a home in Ottawa and Montreal as well, said Canada Post’s director of fleet management Steve Clark.
The eStar is a basic truck with a standard heater, roll-up rear door and curbside door as well as some creature comforts such as power windows and doors. Air-conditioning will be offered beginning this summer. Other options include a CD player, rearview camera and spare tire.
Canada Post’s Clark said prospective customers should work with their supplier to determine the total cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle to ensure it’s viable for their application. He also said users should ensure they purchase a proven charging station that’s approved by the truck manufacturer. As clean as hybrids and electric vehicles are, the elephant in the room is what will become of all the batteries required by these systems once they’ve reached the end of their initial lifespan? “We’re looking at secondary markets,” Lepage said, hinting Navistar is in talks with power utilities that may be interested in using the batteries as power storage cells in their second life.