Eaton Starts Production of Truck Hybrid System

By Frederick Kiel, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 20 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Truck drivetrain manufacturer Eaton Corp. said its electric-diesel hybrid system for medium-duty trucks is now in commercial production and that it would produce heavy-duty hybrids in a few years.

“Eaton is working furiously to develop a hybrid Class 8 powertrain for over-the-road trucks,” James Sweetnam, president of Eaton’s Truck Group, told reporters Aug. 9 at the company’s headquarters here.

Sweetnam was not specific about a date, but an Eaton engineer separately told Transport Topics, “We are currently planning to have the Class 8 over-the-road hybrid in commercial production by 2010.”

Eaton said four truck manufacturers — International Truck and Engine Corp., Kenworth Truck Co., Peterbilt Motors and Freightliner LLC — will use the company’s hybrids in Class 6 and Class 7 trucks in 2008 models.

The system is based on Eat-on’s Fuller automated transmission, which each truck manufacturer will use with its own engines, Sweetnam said. It will not be available with a standard transmission.

He said Eaton worked closely with the truck makers to develop the hybrid system to “function seamlessly” with the chassis of each original equipment manufacturer.

The system recovers energy from braking and stores it in batteries that power electric motors. Eaton said it could produce up to 60% in fuel savings in medium-duty applications.

Eaton’s system includes an automated clutch, electric motor/generator, motor controller/inverter and automated manual transmission in one unit, combined with batteries for energy storage and a computer control structure, which Eaton calls a “supervisory hybrid control module.”

“When electric torque is blended with engine torque, the stored energy is used to improve fuel economy and vehicle performance for a given speed or used to operate the vehicle with electric power only,” Eaton said in a statement.

“The system can also be designed to provide energy for use during engine-off worksite operations, further reducing noise, emissions and fuel costs,” the statement said.

“The system saves fuel not only because energy stored from braking powers the electric motor, but also when the truck is idling. Only the electric motor is on, which saves the 1,800 gallons of fuel each diesel-powered truck uses yearly when idling” at traffic signals or loading docks, Sweetnam said.

However, the medium-duty system is not meant to power the cab when the trucker is not driving.

“Our medium-duty hybrid diesel-electric system does not address truck-stop idling,” Scott Davis, operations manager for Hybrid Power Systems, told TT. “Anti-idling will be a functional part of our Class 8, heavy-duty diesel electric hybrid system and that system is currently under development.”

Sweetnam was reluctant to speculate on the retail price of an Eaton hybrid-electric vehicle but said a 40% premium was likely in the initial years.

He said current federal incentives would cut as much as $12,000 from the cost of a hybrid, but more incentives were needed until the industry “got over the hump” and could reach the economy of scale.

“Eventually, hybrids should sell at only a 10% premium over conventional powertrains and then more than pay for themselves quickly in fuel savings,” Sweetnam said.

Stephen Johnson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, test-drove the hybrids here. “It’s critical for those of us in Washington to visit the heartland and see the innovations that American companies are developing,” Johnson said. “Eaton’s hybrid technology will not only deliver goods and services, but environmental benefits as well.”

Kevin Beaty, manager of Eaton’s hybrid power systems, said Eaton expects “significant government-related purchases of hybrid-powered trucks for its fleet operations” as part of reaching an economy of scale.

Trucks with Eaton’s hybrid system get under way using only the electric motor. Once the truck reaches between 20 mph and 30 mph, the diesel engine automatically starts operation to boost the truck to full power. It can reach top speeds of 55 mph to 70 mph, the Eaton statement said.

The Eaton system has been developed mainly for stop-and-go use in local operations. Beaty said Eaton plans to produce several hundred more electric hybrids in 2007, go into regular production in 2008.


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