May 24 2007 03:16 PM

P&D fleets likely to lead the way
Don't be surprised if trucking fleets will just plug in to an electrical outlet to refuel in the not-so-distant future. Jay Sandler, vice president of commercial products for Workhorse Custom Chassis, a truck chassis manufacturer, thinks medium-duty work trucks of all kinds powered mainly by electricity are only five to 10 years away.

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 pick up and delivery chores, as well as for an array of construction, maintenance and service trucks. A recent trade show sponsored by the National Truck Equipment Association included a special display of hybrid trucks. At the same show, a special hybrid truck seminar sponsored by International Truck and Engine Corporation attracted an overflow crowd.
Looking for alternative power
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 in the trucking industry. Major parcel delivery fleets, such as UPS, FedEx, Purolator of Canada and USPS have put a variety of hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles into experimental use. For most fleets, however, hybrid technology remains too expensive despite such advantages as a 30 to 50 percent reduction in fuel costs, less maintenance, less noise and fumes (helpful in residential areas), and the hybrids environmental benefit.
Cost equation starting to change
However, 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. And more requirements and price increases are coming in 2010. Then add unpredictable but mostly higher fuel costs into the equation and you have fleets pressing engine and chassis manufacturers to find better solutions.
Sandler is a 30-year veteran of the trucking industry and his company has been one of those in the forefront of providing such solutions. Workhorse and other manufacturers of trucks and truck components have been working with hybrid technology for some years now, said Sandler. A number of fleets and companies have been very proactive in looking at multiple solutions that will contribute to a cleaner environment.
 Workhorse recently developed two hybrid electric versions of its walk-in truck (step van) chassis for two different parcel delivery companies, Purolator of Canada and UPS.
 Because these are custom builds, neither version is cheap. But with a few more developments, both hold promise, says Sandler.
In the past year we engineered two totally different hybrid solutions and theres more were looking at, said Sandler. From a price standpoint, as orders go up, production costs will come down. But advancements in technology will also be key, particularly in terms of battery storage capacity. And I dont think were far away from that.
Plugging into off-peak power
At present, the hybrid battery pack is the most expensive component we add to make a hybrid electric truck, Sandler explains. With more efficient battery storage a fleet of plug in trucks would work quite well.
Such trucks, according to Sandler, would fuel up by plugging into an electrical outlet of whatever configured voltage. Cost-effectiveness would be enhanced by doing this at night, say between
midnight and 5 a.m., when the power grid has the least amount of demand and power might be purchased more cheaply.
So a fleet would buy this fuel from the power company. Preferably this would also be clean power, as power companies develop nuclear plants, natural gas systems, solar power, geothermal energy, and other green ways of generating electricity. In any case, the power would be from something more efficient than an internal combustion engine.

 That will result in an electric-powered vehicle for most of the day. 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  liter engine that would run the generator, said Sandler. So when the battery charge drops to a certain level, the generator automatically starts up and recharges the batteries. At the end of a typical day, 70 percent of the truck's energy may have come from the overnight plug-in and 30 percent from the onboard generator, putting regular fuel consumption at 50 to 60 miles per gallon or more for stop-and-go driving.
 Because they serve local routes with a lot of stop and go driving, pick up and delivery fleets of all kinds will likely lead the way in this hybrid revolution, said Sandler. Parcel delivery fleets have been the leaders in experimenting with hybrid electric trucks thus far because in the near term that is where hybrid electric technology can provide the greatest cost savings. I expect bakeries, textile rental operations and other local delivery fleets will also be early adopters of this technology.
 A significant impact
 I think this technology will quickly evolve in the next five to 10 years, says Sandler. The gas or diesel powertrain will be very different. These future hybrids will have similar horsepower and torque as today's trucks. They will be quieter and for the most part odorless in terms of combustion fumes. The smaller engines they do have will be cleaner-burning and, as they are reduced to a peripheral part of the new power equation, they will significantly reduce the need for oil sources, foreign or domestic. Theses trucks will be a big leap forward in reducing the emissions everyone is concerned about. It will be the most significant change in automotive power we will see in our lifetime.
 Sandler has seen many changes in his own time in the industry. Prior to Workhorse he held executive positions at Bering Truck Corporation and Meritor Automotive, formerly Rockwell Automotive, where he began his career as an engineer. Fleets need to come to grips with the fact that the electric truck is no longer something to dismiss as science fiction, says Sandler. Just like cars, hybrid electric trucks are here now, and may well be everywhere tomorrow.
 Workhorse Custom Chassis
 Workhorse Custom Chassis is ISO 9001 certified and a leader in the manufacture of chassis for motor homes, walk-in trucks and buses.  It is a wholly owned subsidiary of International Truck and Engine Corporation.  For additional information call
 877-294-6773 or visit
 Navistar International Corporation (Other OTC: NAVZ) is the parent company of International Truck and Engine Corporation. Along with Workhorse brand chassis, the company produces International brand commercial trucks, mid-range diesel engines and IC brand school buses, and is a private label designer and manufacturer of diesel engines for the pickup truck, van and SUV markets. Navistar is also a provider of truck and diesel engine parts. A wholly owned subsidiary offers financing services. Additional information is available at: