We're wrapping up the winter-and-spring "show season," where conventions have shown the latest products and offered educational programs for all segments of the industry.
It seems at every single show, more so than ever before, trucks powered by alternative fuels and hybrid systems are getting more attention than ever.

It started in January, at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week, where I organized and moderated a panel on new hybrid vehicle technologies and possible opportunities they might offer to aftermarket service providers and independent distributors. It wasn't the largest session by any means, but the people who were there said they learned a lot.

Alternative fuels and hybrid technologies so far have been particularly well-suited for medium-duty trucks, and that was obvious at the National Truck Equipment Association meeting. Bill Wade of Wade & Partners was there, and this aftermarket consultant came back convinced that the aftermarket needs to get its head and arms wrapped around the new technology.

If you had been at NTEA, he says, "You could have ridden in a hydrogen fuel cell powered Class 8 Kenworth, one of the weirdest feelings ever. Quiet, smokeless, quick accelerating, high-torque. An alien Kwhopper had landed among us. With it were numerous alternate power brethren... CNG, LNG, hydrogen, plug-in battery, hydraulic regen, bio-anything."

At the Mid-America Trucking Show in March, Kenworth introduced a T440 tractor powered by a natural gas engine, Navistar showed off its new all-electric delivery truck, and I found a company that's developed an aftermarket conversion kit for a dual-fuel natural gas/diesel solution.

In just the few weeks leading up to this issue going to press, I had three announcements hit my inbox of major operations adding alternative fuel and hybrid trucks:

UPS added 200 more hybrid electric step van delivery trucks to its fleet. This followed a year-long evaluation, done in conjunction with the Department of Energy, showing about a 29 percent improvement in fuel economy, or an average of about 13 mpg.

FedEx announced it will launch the first all-electric parcel delivery trucks in the United States when it rolls out four vehicles in June.

Ryder System is putting more than 200 heavy-duty, natural-gas-powered trucks into its Southern California operations.

As Bill Wade says, "These machines will end up in every corner of our customer base ... this is neither a fad nor something cooked up by tree huggers. There will be real, non-subsidy-based reasons for this wave of new power to arrive with a vengeance."

The question is, are you going to be ready for this wave of new technology? The folks at Eaton told us that they are going to be looking for some aftermarket partners that can handle conversions of refuse trucks to their Hydraulic Launch Assist hybrid system, perhaps as soon as later this year.

Wade says it makes a lot of sense to train up on some of the underlying technologies that will be used in these new vehicles, such as electrical/electronics, hydraulics, lightweight materials, and lubricants and chemicals.

Diesel's not going away anytime soon, but if you don't start educating yourself and your team on these new technologies, you could be missing the (hybrid, electric, alternative fueled) boat.

You can e-mail Deborah Lockridge at [email protected] Find her online on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/deborahlockridge.

From the April/May 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Aftermarket Journal.