Hybrid Trucks Take Off

September 7, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — “There’s only one way to reduce greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide and that’s to stop burning fuel. And the only way we know to stop burning fuel is to shut the engine off,” said Steve Monacellie, truck sales manager for International Truck and Engine Co., a subsidiary of Navistar.

Navistar and Eaton Corp. have recently announced the first hybrid commercial trucks.

“A lot of fuel in a utility repair truck is burned without the truck moving. It’s burned in order to keep the bucket and the boom moving and to use any tools that the technician might need to use,” said Don Alles, communications manager for Eaton Corp.’s truck division.

“With a hybrid system, that truck can be sitting there without the engine running most of the time, using the power from the batteries instead — saving fuel and, of course, reducing or eliminating emissions.”

Western Michigan International Trucks LLC has a goal to help educate the trucking market and will be hosting a Sept. 16 event featuring the new truck. The company is an exclusive dealer of the International brand of trucks dealership with five dealerships across West Michigan with the newly included Kalamazoo location, formerly Great Lakes International.

“It’s about getting the technology out there and education,” said Denise Michilak, marketing manager for Western Michigan International Trucks. “If you think about what keep the roads going its all on trucks.”

Eaton Corp. and Navistar have partnered on projects for almost 100 years and came together again to work on a hybrid truck for an effort called HTUF (Hydro Truck Users Forum).

“They built the trucks and we supplied the power systems,” said Alles.

The two companies built 24 trucks and put the first on the road in October 2004 as a test. They have since logged more than two million miles of testing.

“We are the first to have an assembly line built and the first ones to get it out in the market, and that’s big,” said Monacelli. “The first one to get it out there usually does it the best.”

The DuraStar Hybrid is a medium-duty diesel hybrid that offers more than 60 percent fuel savings when the engine is shut off for electric power, and 30 to 40 percent fuel savings in in-city pick-up and delivery situations. For long-distance driving, the fuel savings is reduced, as the hybrid components are mostly used during start and stop types of driving.

“The place where a hybrid power system creates the most value for a customer is where that truck is going through significant start and stop activity,” said Alles. “Just like a (Toyota) Prius gets better mileage in the city than it does on the highway, because the electric part of the hybrid system is working more in those start and stop situations — the same situation for a commercial vehicle.”

The initial cost of bringing the technology to the market is high, and battery life is expected to last between five and seven years, but the Navistar subsidiary reported federal grants are available that can save up to $12,000 on the purchase price. Alles said the two companies are also working to find ways to apply the hybrid technology to other applications where it makes sense.

“There’s the potential for hybrid power to be applied, obviously beginning with passenger cars where we first began to see them, on up to light commercial trucks, medium commercial trucks, and potentially heavy commercial trucks,” said Alles.

Monacelli detailed Alles comments: “We’re constantly expanding the market, so to speak. We’re in the medium-duty class 6 and 7 truck range right now, and within about 60 days we’ll be into the lighter applications in a class 8 or a tractor-type application.”

Monacelli said the company is pursuing all forms of hybrid and fuel-efficient technology, with a strong push coming form one of its largest clients: Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart is on a mission to improve fuel economy to keep costs down for their customers, and they’re the ones working with us as far as a lot of different technologies and a lot of testing,” said Monacelli. “They’ve done a little bit of testing in hybrid technology, but they’re also doing a lot of aerodynamic testing for us and with us, and different trailer technologies.”

Monacelli said he hopes to take the knowledge gained from the Wal-Mart projects and apply them in different areas.

Between Navistar and Eaton, hybrid trucks also are being built for UPS and FedEx. The partnership between Eaton Corp. and Navistar is not exclusive, and both are working on projects with other companies.

“We do collaborate quite well together,” said Monacelli. “I can tell you that it’s not an exclusive relationship. Eaton does also work with some of the other truck manufacturers, but we were the first to work with them, and I think we have the best relationship with them and an ongoing collaboration.”

The collaboration on the DuraStar Hybrid, Monacelli said, has worked out well.

“We’ve certainly made a lot of improvements,” he said. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re not breaking down; they’re doing quite well.”

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