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Hybrids Are Happenin’

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. - Hybrid commercial vehicles are no longer a futuristic concept, but a "mature, robust" technology, Andy Douglas Kenworth's national sales manager for specialty markets told ...

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. –Hybrid commercial vehicles are no longer a futuristic concept, but a “mature, robust” technology, Andy Douglas Kenworth’s national sales manager for specialty markets told delegates at the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s annual convention.

“The hybrid world is moving at light speed,” he said, noting about 8,000 hybrid commercial vehicles were ordered in North America this year, with that market expected to balloon to 27,000 units over the next few years.

“There’s not a customer I talk to today that doesn’t want to talk about green technologies,” Douglas said. “I think there’s an opportunity for your companies to leverage your brands and go out and say ‘Hey, I’m doing my part -our company is an environmental leader’.”

Kenworth’s medium-duty hybrids use Eaton’s parallel electric-drive system, which uses an electric motor to power the truck at low speeds and assist with acceleration. It recaptures energy under braking and stores it in a battery pack for use when accelerating. Since the energy required to power the electric motor is captured while braking, Douglas said stop-and- go applications are best-suited for hybrid commercial vehicles.

That’s a natural fit for Purolator Courier, which operates delivery trucks that often make 10-13 stops per hour in downtown cores.

“That’s where the hybrid really makes the most sense,” said Serge Viola, national fleet manager with Purolator.

“If you’re running up and down the 401 all day, I don’t think the hybrid is going to be a tremendous benefit to you,” Douglas admitted. However, in urban pick-up and delivery applications, customers are realizing fuel savings in the 30% range while trucks equipped with a PTO that can be powered by the electric motor are seeing fuel savings closer to 50%, Douglas said.

While medium-duty hybrid commercial vehicles are entering the mainstream, there’s still a long way to go on the Class 8 side, Douglas admitted.

“We won’t see a Class 8 hybrid in the near term,” he said. “Yes, there are pre-production trucks out there, but they’re not ready for prime time. We’ve got more work to do on that.”

The big stumbling block is the cost and capacity limitations of the batteries, he added.

“We need a breakthrough in battery technology,” said Douglas, “both in terms of capacity as well as size, weight and maybe most importantly in terms of price.”

It costs US$7,000-$8,000 to replace the battery pack today -and that’s on a medium-duty hybrid. Today’s batteries have about a six year life span and once depleted, they are returned to Eaton for recycling. Bridging the gap between the medium-duty hybrids available today and the Class 8 hybrids that will become feasible only as battery technology evolves, is a single axle tractor Kenworth recently introduced for “Big 7, Baby 8” applications. Testing has shown a 41% fuel economy improvement with GVWs of up to 55,000 lbs, Douglas said. That was exciting news to Paul Lay of Coca-Cola Enterprises, which operates the biggest medium-duty truck fleet in North America.

“We’re really excited about the tractor,” he told delegates, adding the company plans to order 150 of the units this year.

For heavier duty applications, Douglas said fleets may want to explore alternative fuels such as natural gas. Canada has an abundant supply of natural gas, and it’s roughly $1 per gallon cheaper than its diesel equivalent, Douglas pointed out.

However, natural gas fueling stations are few and far between, so it’s really only practical for trucks that return home every night for fueling.

“Fuel is an issue,” Douglas admitted. “The overall fueling infrastructure is not that mature.”

Natural gas also produces less energy than diesel. A truck that can travel 650 miles on 100 gallons of diesel will only make it 380 miles using liquefied natural gas (LNG) and 170 miles using compressed natural gas (CNG), which is more widely used in Canada. Natural gas-powered Kenworth trucks come with either the ISX-G engine (big power, no performance loss, higher GVWs and EPA07-compliance) using LNG fuel only, or the ISL-G (which can be run on either LNG or CNG and is EPA2010-compliant without the need for selective catalytic reduction or diesel particulate filters, but only at lower power ratings).

Back to hybrids, Purolator has been a pioneer of sorts when it comes to environmentally-friendly vehicles. Viola said the company bought its first hybrid delivery trucks with the aim of reducing its fuel costs by 50%.

While it hasn’t yet achieved that target with its diesel-electric delivery trucks, it has realized fuel savings in the 32-40% range.

The company is also targeting a 20% maintenance savings, Viola said. If you’re looking to add hybrids to your fleet, Coca-Cola’s Lay said it’s important to train drivers on how to drive them. A lead-footed driver will minimize any fuel savings, he pointed out.

“Make sure drivers really understand how to optimize that engine’s performance,” he suggested.

Despite improving fuel economy in stop-and-go routes from 3-6 mpg to 6-7 mpg, Lay said a payback is not achieved until the vehicle has reached its entire 15-year life-cycle at Coca-Cola Enterprises. Still, the company takes great pride in being an environmental leader and continues to purchase hybrid vehicles.

Each of the panelists agreed the biggest roadblock to bringing hybrid commercial vehicles to the next level is the price -they cost 30-40% more than conventional trucks. In the US, there’s a wide range of government funding programs available and here in Canada they’re finally beginning to catch on.

“I think you’re going to see government step up in a very big way to support this,” said Douglas.

Purolator’s Viola said his company recently received a refund under the province of Ontario’s Green Commercial Vehicle Program, which covered 32% of the up-charge for its hybrids. More such programs are key to furthering the technology, he said.

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