There's good reason for the growth of this segment: hybrid technology in medium- and heavy-duty trucks can improve fuel economy by as much as 50 percent, not to mention the benefits from emissions reductions, according to a new study by the Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness at Duke University.
These benefits are well understood by fleets that have started putting hybrids into service.
"This technology works," said John Formisano, vice president of Global Vehicles for FedEx Express. The FedEx van on display, one of 200 hybrids the company has on the road, was a working truck. "We had to fight our courier to pull it away from him so we could put it on display, and tomorrow that truck goes back to work."
The problem - and the reason that the trucks were in Washington - is that at modest production levels the technology is still too expensive and fleet buyers need incentives from federal and state governments.
"Fleet orders for hybrid trucks are currently in the 500-1,000 range, yet economic models show that in order to reduce the price premium to an acceptable level each U.S. supplier needs sales of 3,000 to 5,000 per year," the Duke study says.
Specifically, what hybrid builders and buyers need is continuation of federal tax credits, which currently range from $3,000 to $12,000 for Class 4 through Class 8 vehicles.
Also, many potential hybrid users are state agencies or utilities that do not pay taxes, and they need upfront incentives, the Duke study says. The Hybrid Truck Users Forum, an industry interest group, is pushing for a government rebate system for hybrids that demonstrate fuel efficiency gains.
For more details, see the July issue of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.