UNION CITY, Ind. — Don’t be surprised if trucking fleets will just plug in to an electrical outlet to refuel in the not-so-distant future. A longtime truck industry veteran says he believes textile rental companies will be among the early adopters of the hybrid electric technology that’s evolving from cars to service trucks.
Medium-duty work trucks of all kinds powered mainly by electricity are only five to 10 years away, says Jay Sandler, vice president of commercial products for Workhorse Custom Chassis.
While hybrid electric cars have been in the news for some time, only recently have hybrid truck options come to the fore for heavy-duty pickup and delivery chores, as well as for an array of construction, maintenance and service trucks.
With environmental concerns coupled to rising fuel and engine costs, the search for alternative fuels and other sources of power has never been more heated. Major parcel delivery fleets have put a variety of hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles into experimental use, but hybrid technology remains too expensive for most fleets despite advantages that include a 30-50% reduction in fuel costs, less maintenance, less noise and fumes, and the hybrid’s environmental benefits.
Events are starting to make hybrids more palatable.
“2007 emission requirements have upped the cost of diesel engines to $4,000 to $10,000 more than 2006 models,” says Sandler, who’s worked 30 years in the truck industry. “And more requirements and price increases are coming in 2010.”
The hybrid battery pack is the most expensive component that his company adds to make a hybrid electric truck, Sandler says. “With more efficient battery storage, a fleet of ‘plug-in trucks’ would work quite well.”
Such trucks would “fuel up” by plugging into an electrical outlet of whatever configured voltage. Doing this at night, say between midnight and 5 a.m., would enhance cost-effectiveness because the power grid would have the least amount of demand and power might be purchased more cheaply.
A small gas or diesel engine would provide supplemental energy, if needed. For a walk-in truck, this would probably be a 2- or 2 1⁄2-liter engine that would run the generator, Sandler says. So when the battery charge drops to a certain level, the generator automatically starts and recharges the batteries. At the end of a typical day, 70% of the truck’s energy may have come from the overnight plug-in and 30% from the onboard generator, putting regular fuel consumption at 50 to 60 mpg or more for stop-and-go driving.
Because they serve local routes, pickup and delivery fleets of all kinds will likely lead the way in this hybrid revolution, Sandler says.