January 2009, Work Truck - Feature
Hybrid Large Trucks: the Road to Viability
Director, Fleet Services
Florida Power & Light
Fleet Size: 3,500
Hybrid Trucks in Service: 20
Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) hybrids are primarily 27,000-lb. GVWR service trucks made by Azure Dynamics and Ford chassis with Eaton hybrid and Odyne plug-in hybrid units sitting on an International chassis. The fleet also has P-Series vans (UPS style).
FPL was the first to put medium-duty hybrid trucks in service nearly two years ago. Survant, who heads HTUF’s Hybrid Utility Truck Working Group, says his fleet’s hybrid program has saved about 40 percent in fuel costs the first six months of 2008.
Survant noted other benefits of the hybrid trucks include quiet operation and cleanliness. The fleet’s equipment operates around residential districts, hospital zones, and other noise-sensitive areas.
Hybrid trucks are well suited for power take-off (PTO) applications. On a utility truck, the boom is the primary PTO operation. Other PTO-driven tools include winches, hydraulic pumps, lift gates and loading applications. During PTO applications, the truck’s main power plant shuts off and the boom operates solely on stored battery energy.
FPL received purchase help for its first three hybrid trucks from the Department of Defense through a partnership operating in conjunction with HTUF and WestStart-CALSTART. The fleet replaces about one-tenth of its equipment annually.
Depending on how the hybrid truck is equipped, there’s a $30,000–$40,000 premium over its diesel counterpart, and it can be as much as $60,000 depending on customization, Survant said.
"When we did the business case for these trucks several years ago, fuel was about $2.50 a gallon," Survant said. "We felt it would take about eight years to pay off the upcharge for the hybrid trucks, but subsequent prices have reduced that to less than four years," he said.
Hybrids require less maintenance than conventional diesel. The electric motor not only powers the PTO applications, it also powers the truck while idling in traffic, so the engine doesn’t work as hard or as often, extending the life of the truck’s components.
Regenerative braking takes wear off the brake system, extending brake life.
Since maintenance cost is lowered, Survant targets reselling one of his trucks in this class in about 10 or 11 years, though the batteries may need to be replaced every six or seven years. He says extending the trucks’ lifecycles to 12 or 14 years will save more money.
The electrification of truck features, including air conditioning, power steering, and power brakes, will be another big step in making these trucks more commercially viable, Survant said. "It’s not too difficult to envision the future where you have really efficient batteries and a very small powerplant burning very little petroleum."