Rising fuel efficiency standards and memories of the days of $4-a-gallon diesel has many fleets considering upgrading to hybrids before the cost of fuel goes up or the inspector visits. The electrical supplies for hybrid technology are also improving constantly and becoming more appealing. But are hybrid vehicles a good fit for your fleet?
What Are Hybrids?
Hybrid vehicles are a mix of electric motors and fossil fuel power. The most common, and popular, example is Toyota's Prius, which has been on the market for a decade. Hybrids use a variety of technologies, from flywheels to momentum conservation, to fill a battery as the vehicle is driven. For low-power tasks, such as driving under a certain speed, taxiing into a parking space, or running various functions of the car, the hybrid draws from the battery. Some hybrids can also be charged by plugging them in, alongside their internal combustion engine.
Current hybrids have fuel savings of 20 to 35 percent, depending on driving conditions. Despite the hype, the reality is that a hybrid generally needs to stay on the road for ten years to see any genuine savings, environmental or otherwise. But while hybrids are kind on fuel, they may not be perfect for all needs.
What Are Hybrids Useful For?
The main issue with hybrid technology, from an industrial perspective, is that it's very much built for consumer needs. Hybrid vehicles are generally used to save gas in city traffic where cars are constantly stopping and speeds are low due to signals and traffic. While the technology is improving and expanding all the time, fleets that need long times on the highway will probably see the least benefit.
Another factor fleets need to consider is torque. Generally hybrids draw their torque from the internal combustion engine, which is of course substantially smaller than the one you find in a standard fleet vehicle. Electric motors don't generally offer enough torque for industrial fleet needs beyond basic driving. If your fleet needs a lot of hauling power, there may simply not be a hybrid worth upgrading to at the moment, depending on your needs. Hybrid semis, for example, have been worked on by engineers for almost a decade, and we might see the first one, the Nikola One, later this year. Even that is powered by compressed natural gas, or CNG, with hybrid technology.
When Should You Go Hybrid?
Still, hybrid technology can have its uses, even if you can't use it to save fuel. If you have a fleet that drives a lot in stop-start traffic, an efficiency study is worth commissioning to see if the fuel savings are worth the upgrade cost. Remember that will be a long-term project, as hybrids save you money in the long term. Unless you have short term fuel efficiency goals to hit, you should consider this as a longer project.
For other fleet needs, for now, keep an eye on automotive electrical technology. Hybrid semis may not be on the market yet, but they're certainly on the way, and green technology is becoming more and more important in every sector. And remember that even conventional fleets can benefit from care and maintenance that reduces parasitic loads and gets more out of fuel consumption. To see where you can help upgrade your fleet, start with our terminals and connectors.