Medium-Duty Fleets Look for Alternative Drivetrain 'Holy Grail'
Medium-Duty Fleets Look for Alternative Drivetrain 'Holy Grail'

Looking for the right alternative-power drivetrain and application can be a frustrating project for fleet managers of medium-duty trucks; however, a presentation on a hybrid and electric technology for trucks offered a peek at the “right” application for a quicker return on investment (ROI).

Odyne Systems, ALTe Technologies, and Navigant Research discussed changes and updates in the area of alternative drivetrains.

Evolution of Alternative Drivetrains

An alternative-power drivetrain involves a variety of power sources in combination with or separate from internal combustion to provide power to a vehicle.

“The good thing about government incentives was that fleet managers tested this technology and discovered that it’s really about the right fit or application for each drivetrain technology,” said Lisa Jerram, senior research analyst at Navigant Research.

Jerram noted that 2008-2012 saw a surge in deployments of hybrid-electric and battery-electric trucks and vans in the U.S.; much of it supported by government funding. “The deployments were medium-duty delivery vans and trucks, service vehicles, utility trucks, and other various applications,” she said. “Some learned that these just weren’t the right fit. Hybrids and electrics still carry a significant price premium and need to be in the right duty cycle and driving conditions to optimize their benefits.”

As the alternative powertrain market matures for compressed natural gas (CNG), for example, it’s still early for the pure electric and plug-in hybrids, medium-duty vehicle market.

“Our customers don’t want any science projects. Customers want payback in seven to eight years,” noted Darren Post, president and CEO for ALTe.

According to Jerram, hybrids need to be in heavy usage applications, but not in high speed, long distance applications because they don’t maximize the hybrid system’s efficiency gains. She noted less costly hybrids, such as XL Hybrid’s van line, that are starting to come to market.

“Utility bucket trucks are another promising application area. We are starting to see plug-in hybrids enter this market now. The reason is that the trucks feature an electric power take off (ePTO) to power hydraulics needed while at a work site,” Jerram explained. “This reduces engine idling and is a major fuel saver. The combined fuel savings from the driving and the idle reduction can provide a payback in just a few years. They also offer a benefit of reduced noise onsite, which is good for the workers and for the neighborhood where they are working.”

Hybrids and electrics will continue to face competition from natural gas and propane autogas.

“Hybrids and electrics offer fuel reduction, emissions, and noise benefits, but users have to find the right fit with the right technology option,” she noted.

Finding the Best Fit

Odyne Systems’ Director of Sales Matt Jarmuz noted that Odyne’s plug-in hybrid utility drivetrain combines with Allison Transmission’s 3000 and 4000 Heavy Duty Series transmissions to target work trucks with power take-off capability.

Jarmuz added that utility bucket trucks are a good fit for this technology due to hydraulic power needs while on-site.

According to Odyne, the hybrid battery system via an inverter can provide up to 6kW of pure sine exportable power or greater to power large electrical loads, equipment and tools. With the introduction of this system, the company’s export power system has been tested to 18kW and can be designed for applications up to 36 kW.

The Waukesha, Wis.-headquartered Odyne Systems is a manufacturer of plug-in hybrid powertrains for utility and commercial vehicles and trucks. The company was picked to participate in the $45.4 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program to develop and deploy plug-in hybrid systems. Included in this pilot program are smart charging demonstrations and data collection.

“For the utility space, I feel all bucket truck applications will be powered by an electric drive within five years,” Jarmuz said. “As the incremental cost of the technology is reduced in other industries, this will also have an attractive ROI for delivery and pumper trucks.”

The utility trucks and their battery packs will charge via smart charging later at the end of the work day, during off-peak energy times.

With the U.S. DOE program, Odyne will deliver 120 vehicles with the plug-in hybrid drivetrain, and 22 trucks were delivered in mid-June to PECO, a Philadelphia utility that’s a subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon Corp. Overall, Odyne Systems has delivered 40 hybrid trucks to end users so far in this pilot project.

According to Paul Rasmussen, director of new business development and external affairs for ALTe, commercial vehicle customers are beginning to adopt powertrain electrification to maximize fuel savings. Located in Auburn Hills, Mich., the five-year-old company is a developer, producer, and installer of purpose-built hybrid-electric powertrain systems for commercial trucks.

Additionally, all 50 U.S. states have implemented idle-reduction strategies to reduce GHG emissions, with many states enforcing rules for private commercial vehicles from 10,000 to 26,000 pounds GVW.

“Battery and hybrid-electric vehicles enable idle reduction, especially when other vehicle operations are required during non-idling periods,” Rasmussen said.

According to ALTe, the company’s drive system features a dedicated electric transmission, designed to provide the most efficiency when mated to the company’s electric motors.