ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: NRCan rolling out national hybrid truck initiative

by Passenger Service: State troopers ride-along with truckers in crash study

OTTAWA — Truckers, both voluntarily and through legislation, have arguably led the way in the environmental initiative department across North America and Europe.

New EPA-mandated diesel emissions, which have almost entirely cut nitrous oxides and particulate matter over the last five years, are a good start. Now Ottawa is hoping some of Canada’s most envio-conscious carriers — not to mention those looking for new ways to burn less fuel — take the next step by adopting commercial hybrid trucks into their fleets.

NRCan’s Office of Energy Efficiency has launched, through the FleetSmart program, what it’s calling the Canadian Hybrid Truck Initiative.
The program — which is a take-off from a regional hybrid program in B.C.’s Lower Mainland — intends to promote adoption of hybrids in trucking, courier, and utility fleets by taking the environmentally, and fuel-friendly vehicles “from pre-commercial phase to commercial production,” says Richard Parfett, senior manager of FleetSmart.

Unicell hybrid technology in a Dodge Sprinter van

“It quickly became clear that Vancouver doing this on its own made no sense at all. We realized that if you’re going to do this it should be done on a national basis,” Parfett told in an exclusive interview.

Parfett says the program’s initial goal is to recruit as many interested carriers as possible into a ” buyers pool” and “start aggregating orders to get the price down to a three-year payback.”

Hybrids dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost fuel economy, especially in stop-and-go applications. They come in various versions, including hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) as well as hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid electric vehicle (FC-HEV).

Most courier companies began spec’ing their fleets with hybrid delivery trucks and step-vans years ago. UPS has made recent hybrid investments, mainly with hydrogen fuel-cell technology on Dodge Sprinter vans in partnership with DaimlerChrysler. FedEx Express is in the process of converting its fleet of 30,000 medium-duty parcel-delivery vans to hybrids within 10 years, choosing an Eaton diesel-electric system in a vehicle built by Freightliner Custom Chassis.

In Canada, Purolator Courier — the curb-side parcel delivery arm of Canada Post — is a leader in adopting hybrid technology. In conjunction with hybrid manufacturer Azure Dynamics in B.C., the carrier is deploying Fuel Cell Hybrid Electric Vehicles (FCHEV), where the fuel cell/battery electric propulsion system is integrated with the standard hybrid electric vehicle.

Volvo unveiled its new HD hybrid concept last week

That’s precisely the reason Parfett is initially advancing the CHTI program through working groups, with the “courier working group” being the furthest along.

Mirroring a similar platform adopted by the Hybrid Users Forum in the U.S., the working groups, which include a utility group as well as refuse, are made up of fleet mangers at both government and private fleets and government officials.

“The rational is Canada is still a relatively small market,” says Parfett. “If we can aggregate our stuff and work in conjunction with the U.S., we can make our orders even bigger and bring the cost down, which right now is substantial.”

Eventually, Parfett says, he would like to see a heavy-truck working group made up of for-hire trucking carriers. He says he’s planning to take his program to provincial trucking associations in order to make that happen.

While it’s too early to talk financial incentives, Parfett wouldn’t rule out the possibility in the future. “My view, anyway, is to go to my federal and provincial counterparts and try to assemble some sort of funding package, so that we would be able to offer some incentives eventually,” he says.

Currently, some trucking companies receive tax incentives for taking part in another FleetSmart initiate: the Freight Sustainability Demonstration Program. The program provides financial assistance to any truck, rail, aviation, marine, or intermodal freight company willing to demonstrate technologies and best practices that can reduce greenhouse gas. Technically, incorporating hybrids in a fleet could qualify a company for FSDP dollars.

The largest heavy-duty truck OEMs have too been flirting with hybrid technology as of late. Last week, Volvo unveiled a hybrid class 8 concept, designated I-SAM, where batteries are recharged by the diesel engine and whenever the brakes are applied.

Last year both Mack Trucks and International Truck and Engine showcased pilot hybrid electric powertrains for Class 8 heavy and medium-duty trucks.

Today’s Trucking also reported in 2005 that ArvinMeritor planned to grow its alternative power business by entering into a hybrid vehicle development agreement with Toronto-based Unicell — a medium-duty body builder of trucks for the northeast U.S. and Canadian markets.

Truckers interested in knowing more about the newest hybrid technology — everything from class 5 to class 8 applications — should attend the 2006 Conference on Heavy Hybrid Trucks in Canada at Exhibition Place, Toronto, on May 17-18, 2006.

Fleet mangers will be able to test drive prototype hybrid trucks and buses, as well as learn about the developmental status of hybrid technology.

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