With oil prices low, it’s no surprise that diesel and gasoline still rule the trucking roost. The fact is, they have for a long time. Still, today’s operators want to know that they have a hedge in the face of oil’s volatility. Additionally, making changes to help the environment is never bad.
Now, pushed by government regulations and consumer interest, hybrid and electric drivetrains may see themselves headed for huge growth. Have you heard that Tesla is working on a Class 8 electric truck? The world is changing and the future is now.
The Future is Electric
While low or pretty stable fuel prices have definitely shrunk the ROI question for many fleets, there is still a huge business case to be made for the use of hybrid and electric vehicles. Yet, there’s a certain direction this is going in.
In the beginning, businesses were interested in hybrid propulsion systems, but now fleets are looking towards specific electrical applications designed to decrease engine idling. Still, despite high upfront costs for electrical systems, government grants and voucher programs make purchasing them a little bit more palatable.
New models of advanced electric work truck systems offer the prospect of better fuel economy coupled with reduced exhaust emissions. The big buyers of these trucks are usually cities and other municipalities, areas where high profile carbon mitigation is part of a progressive regulatory practice.
How They Operate
While on the road, these vehicles operate much like hybrids. They can use either engine power or electricity to power the truck. When they brake, regenerative discs send power back to batteries that are used for a launch assist.
When on the job site, the vehicles operate almost entirely on electric power. They use electricity to do everything from operating on-board computer systems to buckets and drills. If additional power generation is required, the engine can be restarted.
These vehicles can even be used in the case of an emergency, as they can generate export power into a local grid area. Usually, stored electric power will last for a worker’s full shift on the vehicle.
Other systems utilize bolt-on electric-drive systems. These devices can be integrated into existing vehicles, a first for the industry. One such company, XL Hybrids, is modifying Ford E-series trucks and transit vans to turn them into hybrids.
The electric power systems attach to the rear of the engine and work to capture brake energy and store it in special batteries. This power is then sent back to the generator and is used when required to start the truck or complete other tasks. When the vehicles are traded or sold, these bolt-on systems can be easily removed.
Not Without Problems
Still, this transition has not been without bumps. New York City’s Department of Sanitation has been using electric trucks for many years, and in their application they aren’t getting as much out of the trucks as they had hoped.
The main problem lies in that their trucks are operating within short distances, curbside, doing pickups and drop offs and never reaching big speed. As a result, they don’t generate much kinetic energy to really provide that return on braking.
Even so, the industry is growing. Everyone from Daimler to Tesla to Nikola One are all working on advanced new designs that will move the work truck forward. With the industry growing, government agencies, non-profits and the corporate sector are getting behind these changes.
Does your fleet need better fuel savings or are you just operating with sustainability in mind? If so, you may want to take a second look at hybrid or electric-drive technologies.