Make Hybrid Vehicles Part of Your Green Solution

Make Hybrid Vehicles Part of Your Green Solution

By Mike Beyers

Hybrid vehicles are taking the world by storm. First, it was cars. Then, it expanded to SUVs. But now, hybrid technology is making its way to trucks for commercial use.

This is a technology that is available today and it will immediately provide the benefits of good fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Fleet vehicles account for 25% of vehicular emissions in urban areas, yet they represent less than 12% of total miles driven, and spend approximately 50% of their yearly operating costs on fuel and oil.

In North America, these vehicles are subject to regulatory standards set out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Corporate Average Fleet Emissions (CAFE).

Business leaders increasingly understand that good environmental management is also good business. There’s a lot of corporations and smaller companies that are very cognisant of emissions and are looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gasses and help with the global warming situation.

By proactively and ethically managing their impact on society and the environment, they can enhance their reputations and ultimately, their financial viability. With significant reductions in emissions, increased fuel efficiency and significantly lower operating and maintenance costs, we offer a unique value proposition to these customers.

This article is based on the presentation Hybrid-Electric Vehicles: Part of the Solution, that Mike Beyers gave at the 2007 Commercial Contracting Roundtable, held in Baltimore, Oct. 24-25, 2007. The Commercial Contracting Roundtable, which also incorporates the Design/Build Seminar, is co-sponsored by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Contracting Business magazine.

The 2007 Commercial Contracting Roundtable featured 15 business management and technical sessions specifically tailored for commercial HVAC and Design/Build contractors, For more information about the 2008 Commercial Contracting Roundtable, contact Richard Ware at ACCA, 703/824-8843, or visit www.contractingroundtable.com.

What is the Problem?
Hybrid technology offers solutions to many problems. We’ve all heard it before. But, do we really know what all those problems are? Among those many benefits of hybrid technology, here are some of the problems it can help answer:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Energy dependence
  • Rising fuel costs
  • Fuel Dependence.

What is a Hybrid Vehicle?
The simple answer is: Any vehicle that combines two or more sources of power that provide propulsion power.

Hybrid’s have a long history. Some of the first cars built were hybrid. In 1898, Ferdinand Porsche built a hybrid vehicle that could travel up to 40 miles on battery power alone.

In the first few years of the 20th century, thousands of electric and hybrid cars were produced.

How do Hybrids Work?
A hybrid-electric vehicle is a cross between an all electric vehicle and today’s typical gasoline powered vehicle. The gasoline internal combustion engine is the primary power source.

The combustion engine on a hybrid vehicle is assisted by an electric motor, powered by an on-board battery pack.

Integration of the two power systems is handled by sophisticated control software. The electric motor provides power from stop to approximately 15-25 mph. At that point, the gas engine takes over, with assist from electric motors as required.

For example, when you’re in stop-and-go traffic, the combustion engine is going to shut off every time the vehicle comes to a stop. Then, the electric motor will launch the vehicle from a stop. Therefore, you’re not using all that gas under difficult engine loads.

The battery pack for the electric motors recharges itself during the course of vehicle operation by capturing energy from braking and deceleration. Therefore, plug-in charging is not required.

Hybrid Technology Benefits
Hybrids can deliver fuel economy improvements of 30-40% or more. With hybrid technology, a smaller internal combustion gas engine may be used and still maintain the performance characteristics of a larger engine.

Some other benefits include:

  • Not consuming fuel when vehicle is stopped
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Longer brake life (as electric motors slow the car, reducing brake wear)
  • Oil changes are required less often.

Of course, driving patterns will determine fuel economy savings. City routes with lots of stop and go driving will provide largest savings, since the engine turns off at every stop.

The electric motor does much of the work as vehicle accelerates from standing stop

Hybrid Application for Your Business?
If you’re environmentally conscience, and that’s important to you as a contractor, now is a better time to start rather than waiting a couple of years. You’re taking a vehicle off the road that gets less fuel economy than a hybrid, so there’s a savings there.

When people talk about hybrids, eventually the topic comes up of the additional costs associated with the components. That’s the nature of the hybrid system.

It’s a more expensive alternative up front, however, it’s important when you look at the operation of the vehicle over time, particularly in the commercial world, where vehicles are kept in service five, 10, or more years.

With gas prices continuing to rise, there’s a financial payback to having a hybrid vehicle.

In addition, there is a federal tax credit available for certain hybrid models. Websites such as www.environmentaldefense.org list all the available incentives.

Beyond the federal tax credit, there are some state and local incentives available that can help buy down the incremental cost of the hybrid technology.

Energy dependence is a problem for the country as a whole, and the more we can do to decrease our dependence on foreign oil is a good thing. The key consideration for a contractor is, are there vehicles available right now that meet their business need. For those guys that need a step-in or a cut-away with a box on the back, the answer is yes.

By 2010, there will be nearly 65 hybrid models to choose from various manufacturers.

Forecasted sales in 2010 nearly 775,000 units, or 4.6% of all vehicle sales.

Hybrid Market Growth
Hybrids have gained wide public acceptance. Sales went up 49% in 2007. Increased OEM participation and product offerings will continue to drive growth.

Favorable legislative environment will increase scope and magnitude of available buy-down funds.

Technological advances will accelerate growth and market adoption rates as well.

And, newer plug-in hybrids offer additional fuel-economy savings. In addition, energy storage systems improvements (lithium ion, ultracapacitors) will help drive growth.

Lastly, a big contributor of the hybrid market growth will be the ever-increasing corporate mandates to be viewed as environmentally responsible

This technology has already gained interest of large commercial truck accounts.

The technology is going to gain acceptance as we go forward. If this year’s Detroit Auto Show is any indication, most manufacturers were showing a hybrid vehicle that is going to be available within the next couple of years.

Is it time for your company to hybridize?

The answer is, “Yes!”

Mike Byers is the director of fleet sales at Azure Dynamics, a developer of electric and hybrid-electric components and powertrains for the commercial truck market. E-mail him at [email protected]

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