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Major truck fleets band together to speed development of hybrid work trucks

Twenty-one of the biggest mixed fleets in North America are working together to help speed the development of a cost-effective, light-duty work truck that reduces exhaust emissions while improving fuel economy compared to current vehicles.

These fleets make up the Light-duty Hybrid Action Group facilitated by the National Truck Equipment Association. They represent a cross-section of work truck users, including utilities (such as American Electric Power and Florida Power and Light Company), state and county transportation departments (like Arlington County, Va., Government) and private companies (including Heritage Propane and Titan Propane). Combined, they manage more than 200,000 vehicles across Classes 1 to 8.

‘Many of the participating organizations already have some hybrid vehicles in their fleets, including passenger cars and utility line trucks. They are all interested in replacing some of their gasoline or diesel work trucks with hybrid models for a number of reasons, including reducing pollution and improving their fuel-consumption profile,” said Doyle Sumrall, NTEA director of strategic opportunities. ‘The action group has also discussed potential side benefits of incorporating the new technology, including a reduction or elimination of idling, the ability to perform a work activity without the engine running, and a reduction in brake maintenance.”

ServiceMaster, a franchise service company with brands including TruGreen ChemLawn, Terminix and Merry Maids, requested that NTEA facilitate a hybrid action group in spring 2006. The NTEA has monitored hybrid initiatives in the work truck and trailer industry since the concept began to determine how the technology might impact its members. As hybrid and alternative fuel technology has become commercially viable, the association agreed to facilitate the group to further technical knowledge on the subject.

‘The association’s role in the group is to help participants develop an understanding of current technology so they can make informed decisions about deploying it in their fleets. At the same time, we are working to bring manufacturers, upfitters, end-users and other organizations together to speed commercially viable technology to market,” Sumrall said.

One of the organizations instrumental in providing the NTEA with support and insight in facilitating the action group’s initial activities is WestStart-CALSTART’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum. WestStart-CALSTART is a non-profit organization that works with the public and private sectors to develop advanced transportation technologies and fosters companies’ efforts that will help clean the air, lessen dependence on foreign oil, reduce global warming and create jobs. It operates HTUF, a user-driven program focused on assisting the commercialization of heavy-duty hybrid technologies. HTUF works to help truck manufacturers and end-users move to pre-production manufacturing levels and deployment based on common specifications. To provide a baseline for the NTEA Light-duty Hybrid Action Group, HTUF leaders have shared the knowledge and protocols the organization has developed over the last five years.

The Light-duty Hybrid Action Group is initially focusing on hybrid light-duty vans and pick-up trucks that could be incorporated into participants’ individual procurement schedules. They are interested in cost-competitive new vehicles that offer at least the same utility as current models, while providing significant reductions in fuel consumption and operating emissions.

The group hosted its fourth meeting on March 6 at The Work Truck Show 2007 and the 43rd Annual NTEA Convention at the Indiana Convention Center and RCA Dome in Indianapolis. As a result of input from the group, the NTEA scheduled a number of additional hybrid and alternative fuel awareness-building activities that brought together all interested parties at The Work Truck Show 2007.

A ‘Hybrid Truck and Alternative Fuels Summit” kicked things off on March 6. The summit included multiple presentations led by industry experts on important considerations for alternative fuel vehicle deployment and vehicle hybridization. Presenters included Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of WestStart-CALSTART; Nigel N. Clark, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University; and Thomas Grothous and Andy O’Neill, College of Technologies deans at University of Northwestern Ohio. Participating industry professionals, including upfitters, equipment manufacturers and fleets attended the summit to learn what opportunities this emerging technology could provide to their respective organizations.

Work Truck Show 2007 attendees also took part in a Hybrid Ride-and-Drive event on March 7 and 8. The Ride-and-Drive showcased vehicles offering the highest level of technological advancement in hybrid technology or alternative fuel applications.

A ‘Stepping into the Future” Pavilion offered attendees the opportunity to check out the latest hybrid or alternative fuel technology initiatives and products on the show floor.

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