UNION CITY, IN – Jay Sandler, vice president of commercial products for Workhorse Custom Chassis, a truck chassis manufacturer, thinks medium-duty work trucks of all kinds powered mainly by electricity are only five to 10 years away.

With environmental concerns coupled to rising fuel and engine costs, the search for alternative fuels and other sources of power has never been more heated in the trucking industry. Major parcel delivery fleets, such as UPS, FedEx, Purolator of Canada, and the USPS have put a variety of hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles into experimental use. For most fleets, however, hybrid technology remains too expensive despite such advantages as a 30- to 50-percent reduction in fuel costs, decreased maintenance, noise, and fumes, and the hybrid’s environmental benefit.

However, events are starting to make hybrids more attractive. “2007 emission requirements have upped the cost of diesel engines $4,000-$10,000 more than 2006 models,” said Sandler, a 30-year veteran of the trucking industry. “And more requirements and price increases are coming in 2010.”

Workhorse and other truck and truck component manufacturers have been working with hybrid technology for years now. Workhorse recently developed two hybrid-electric versions of its walk-in truck (step van) chassis for two different parcel delivery companies, Purolator of Canada and UPS.

“In the past year we engineered two totally different hybrid solutions and there’s more we’re looking at,” Sandler said. “From a price standpoint, as orders go up, production costs will come down. But advancements in technology will also be key, particularly in terms of battery storage capacity. And I don’t think we’re far away from that.”

He also added that currently, the hybrid battery pack is the most expensive component Workhorse adds to make a hybrid electric truck. “With more efficient battery storage, a fleet of ‘plug in trucks’ would work quite well.”

Such trucks, according to Sandler, would “fuel up” by plugging into an electrical outlet. Cost-effectiveness would be enhanced by doing this at night when the power grid has the least amount of demand and power might be purchased more cheaply.

“I think this technology will quickly evolve in the next five to 10 years,” Sandler said. “The gas or diesel powertrain will be very different. These future hybrids will have similar horsepower and torque as today’s trucks. They will be quieter and for the most part odorless in terms of combustion fumes. The smaller engines they do have will be cleaner-burning and, as they are reduced to a peripheral part of the new power equation, they will significantly reduce the need for oil sources, foreign or domestic. Theses trucks will be a big leap forward in reducing the emissions everyone is concerned about. It will be the most significant change in automotive power we will see in our lifetime.”

Originally posted on Work Truck Online