A recent report by Indiana University's (IU) School of Public and Environmental Affairs raised some eyebrows about the economic viability of medium-sized diesel-electric hybrid trucks.

I went to one of the makers of diesel-electric hybrid trucks, Hino, to get its point of view on the study. I am strong supporter of alternative-fuel vehicles, and believe that, while up-front cost is a key component in vehicle selection, it shouldn’t be the only determining factor.  Overall vehicle lifecycle costs, corporate sustainability, and innovation should also be considered and measured.

According to the IU study’s authors, John Graham and Kerry Krutilla, “With volatile fuel prices and uncertain technology and environmental trends, the fuel savings and environmental benefits from driving these hybrids may not be sufficient to recover their higher investment costs,”

Glenn Ellis, VP, marketing & dealer operations for Hino Trucks, disputed Graham and Krutilla. “We believe that we have addressed several of the study’s concerns about the viability of diesel-electric hybrids with the launch of Hino’s 6th-generation diesel-electric hybrid system,” he said.

Ellis further provided the following details, arguing in favor of diesel-electric hybrid trucks:

  • Longevity and durability with Hybrid Technology.  According to Ellis, Hino is the pioneer in hybrid technology and introduced the technology in an urban bus in 1991. “This was six-years prior to the Toyota Prius introduction, which is based on Hino hybrid experience,” Ellis said. “We are now introducing our 6th generation hybrid technology that shares about 60 percent of the same componentry as Toyota’s hybrid system. We have more than 12,000 commercial hybrid trucks and buses in operation worldwide."
  • Initial Acquisition Cost. The study states that hybrid systems are currently estimated at $33,085 which is roughly a 65- to 70-percent premium over a comparable diesel model. “Our Class 5 diesel-electric hybrid will be roughly a 25-percent premium at $12,000,” Ellis countered. ”This premium can be recouped in less than 5 years without the use of Government subsides.” 
  • Replacement Battery Cost . Hino typically sees that a medium-duty truck owner keeps his or her truck for five to seven years.  “Based on our 20-plus years of hybrid experience, we believe the life of our 6th generation battery to be seven years,” Ellis said. “Our replacement cost is roughly half of what is stated in the report, and because of the ownership cycle of our customers, the first owner should not see a battery replacement cycle.” 
  • Lifecycle Cost.  According to Ellis, a Hino hybrid owner could achieve an $8,000 operational savings over a traditional diesel (including the $12,000 premium) over a period of seven years.
  • The Right Application. While hybrid technology may not be the “cure-all” solution to reduce fuel consumption and operating costs in all applications, Hino believes its introduction of a Class 5 cab-over diesel-electric hybrid fits a need in the urban environment.  “With the urban population of the U.S. expected to surpass 275 million people by 2020, there is a growing need for smaller, more maneuverable trucks in the metropolitan cities,” Ellis said.  “We believe this is the perfect application for hybrids.”
  • Environmental Impact. Hino does agree with the study: hybrid technology provides tremendous environmental benefit.  “A typical hybrid truck can reduce CO2 output by as much as 25 percent,” according to Ellis. “Again, this is why we feel our cab-over diesel-electric hybrid is the perfect fit for many of the large cities who are serious about improving their air quality.” 

The IU report has been published as an article, "Are Green Vehicles Worth the Extra Cost? The Case of Diesel-Electric Hybrid Technology for Urban Delivery Vehicles," in a just-released symposium edition on science policy in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

What do you think? Do you believe the IU report has some validity in today’s fleet market? Or, do you feel that diesel-electric hybrids are a viable alternative to regular, diesel-powered units? Let me know and share your comments below or e-mail me directly.

By Lauren Fletcher 

Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor

Lauren Fletcher has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006 and is the executive editor of Work Truck magazine. With a particular focus on educational, tips and trends pieces in the vocational truck industry, check out her Truck Chat video series or Chatty Chassis blog for more!