Hybrids dominate Work Truck Show

The International/Eaton/Altec utility truck

INDIANAPOLIS – Hybrid diesel/electric trucks have been dominating the proceeedings here at the Work Truck Show and 43rd annual convention of the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA). But there’s broad and passionate agreement amongst developers of the technology that its successful commercialization demands the support of governments and truck buyers alike.

“To be successful we really have to get the acquisition cost down,” said Shawn Brougham, applications engineer at Altec Industries in Missouri, speaking at the convention’s full-day Hybrid Truck & Alternative Fuels Summit. “We really need the support of our customers.”

Altec is the main body builder that worked with International and Eaton to create 24 hybrid ‘bucket’ trucks currently on trial with power utilities across North America. One of them has just gone into service with Hydro Quebec, while others have as much as six months
service behind them. Based on an International 4300 chassis, the trucks have a hybrid diesel/electric powertrain developed by Eaton, and they promise fuel savings of as much as 60 percent. About half of that fuel advantage comes from running PTO operations with the
engine off, using the truck’s ability to generate electricity on the work site to run the bucket lift.

In an urban setting with the same hybrid powertrain in a beverage truck, for example, the savings are still in the order of 30-35 percent, said Jim Williams, the man in charge of International’s extensive hybrid efforts.

Those efforts have been expensive, and Brougham said that U.S. federal funding of the project hasn’t come close to what the three companies have invested. Asked how much one of these utility trucks might actually cost an end user, he found the question diffucult to answer.

“The price isn’t high enough for us to recoup our investment,” he said, “and it’s not low enough to bring in large numbers of buyers.”

And therein lies a serious conundrum. Government grants and incentives of one sort or another are required if hybrid technology is to gain commercial ground in the short term. At the same time, end users have to be willing to support the technology as both buyers and, to some extent, development partners.

“It’s better for the environment if we do this, but we need help,” said Brougham in wrapping up his presentation.

Informal discussions with municipal fleet managers during the convention indicated that end-user support will be difficult to find in some cases. One Michigan city-fleet operator, who asked to remain nameless, told Today’s Trucking that he will “never” get the bureaucrats and politicians who rule his life to be early-adopter “guinea pigs” if at the same time it costs them more money. Another, from Kansas, said the tender process might prove problematic in legal terms – if the hybrid technology he wants to try is only available from one source, there would be obvious difficulty in getting competitive bids.

Nonetheless, the signs are hopeful. The NTEA hybrid ‘summit’ was expected to attract only 50 or so attendees, said Williams, but actually attracted some 200.

As well as the three companies mentioned here, the show has also included hybrid trucks from Peterbilt, Freightliner, Freightliner Custom Chassis, GM, Isuzu, and Mitsubishi. An extensive ride-and-drive demonstration has been running each day.

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