Next month, the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a Ford Expedition that sips, not guzzles, gas. It’ll have a new type of technology that should give a huge boost to the fuel economy of big commercial trucks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert filed this report:
Next month, the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a Ford Expedition that sips, not guzzles,
gas. It’ll have a new type of technology that should give a huge boost to the fuel economy of big
commercial trucks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert filed this report:
(sound of garbage truck)
Every morning garbage trucks spew annoying smog and guzzle fuel. Commercial vehicles, like this
garbage truck, and delivery trucks, get only about 8 miles to the gallon. That compares to 20 miles per
gallon for an average car. But that’s about to change, if the EPA has its way.
The EPA worked with private industry to develop a new way to help launch the engine, called a hydraulic
hybrid. This new technology could double the fuel economy of big, commercial vehicles and cut
emissions in half. It could also make the trucks a lot quieter. Christopher Grundler runs the EPA division
that helped design the new hydraulic hybrid.
“We’re pretty bullish about this technology, because it’s cheap and it delivers other attributes that
American consumers want, meaning performance and the ability to tow vehicles and so on. It’s
particularly well suited for larger vehicles, so that’s why we’re excited about it.”
This hydraulic power source is expected to hike big truck costs by only a couple thousand dollars. That’s
not much, considering the cost of those trucks these days can run 40 to 45 thousand dollars.
(sound of hydraulic hybrid)
Hydraulic hybrids are different from the electric hybrids now on the road in Toyota and Honda vehicles.
Electric hybrids use a small gasoline engine along with an electric generator and use batteries to story
energy. But the hydraulic system is different. It uses a tank that stores energy as a compressed nitrogen
gas. When you want to accelerate, the high pressure gas runs a motor and the energy is used to drive the
wheels. The system uses the energy that’s generated by braking and helps keep the hydraulic system
pressurized. So for vehicles that stop and go a lot, this system is especially efficient. The holding tank can
store so much energy that there’s swift pick-up. EPA’s test vehicle starts effortlessly and lurches forward
like a race car.
Next month, at the Society of Automotive Engineers conference in Detroit, the EPA will be displaying this
technology in an Expedition, Ford’s second largest SUV.
The agency is working with Eaton Corporation. Eaton is a large worldwide industrial supplier that makes
hydraulic parts. Steve Nash is a manager with Eaton and he says hydraulic trucks could be a big market
for the company.
“We know that the greatest benefit of a regenerative braking product like a hybrid hydraulic or electric is
that you need to be doing a lot of start and stop type driving and with certain vocations, such as refuse
vehicles, such as city transit busses, such as shuttle busses and pick-up and delivery vehicles, it’s a perfect
application because they do a lot of start and stop-type driving.”
Eaton first worked with Ford Motor Company to develop the technology. Ford later dropped the project,
but Nash says Eaton forged ahead.
“We saw the opportunities as being so attractive that we decided to continue on our own and that’s where
we are today.”
Eaton’s now working with Workhouse Custom Chasses. That’s a truck manufacturer in Indiana. They
plan to bring out roughly 150 hydraulic delivery trucks within the next year. And that’s just a start.
Christopher Grundler says that commercial trucks burn a huge amount of fuel, so cutting fuel costs in half
makes them a perfect target market.
“Those customers care a lot more about fuel economy than the average American driver. It’s a significant
business cost to them so there is a market for fuel economy in these segments, much more so than in the
car and light truck segments.”
An industry observer says that might be true. Bill Viznik is an automotive journalist who covers
technology for Wards Communications. But he says the systems are really heavy. So they have limited
use and don’t make sense for smaller, personal vehicles.
“SUVs already are large, bulky and heavy and certainly don’t need a lot of extra weight added to them, so
I think at this point to look at adding a system like this to a conventional SUV, like a Ford Explorer,
something like that, you reach a point of quickly diminishing return. If you add a lot of weight to the
vehicle then it makes everything ratchet up from there.”
Viznik says hydraulics can actually make fuel economy worse for small vehicles. But the Environmental
Protection Agency is more optimistic. Christopher Grundler thinks hydraulic SUVs are possible.
“It depends on the SUV. I think for smaller SUVs, it does provide a packaging challenge for the hydraulic
technology, but I think for larger SUVs, the medium to large SUVs, this technology is well-suited as well
as the larger urban delivery trucks.”
EPA plans to announce partnerships with private companies later this year to begin testing the hydraulic
hybrid engines in delivery trucks like those Fed Ex uses. The final determination will depend on how well
they fare on the street.
For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.