By Mike Kastner
NTEA Senior Director of Government Activities
In June, the House Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the state of plug-in hybrid technologies being developed for medium- to heavy-duty commercial vehicle applications. The full committee later favorably reported on H.R. 6323 that would make available government funding for companies developing plug-in hybrid work trucks.
Recently, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met to discuss the current state of vehicles powered by the electric grid, including work trucks. According to Committee Chairman Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), “Whether your reasons stem from a desire for environmental, fiscal or national security, the case for seriously reducing our reliance on foreign oil is exceptionally strong.”
At the hearing, senators heard testimony on the state of the nation’s electric grid and the progress being made with electric and hybrid motor vehicles. Specifically, the Senate learned about vehicles in which electricity provides either all, or part, of the motive power by which they are propelled. As one witness stressed, electric drive vehicles are not just cars; they can be trucks, forklifts, scooters, buses, neighborhood electric vehicles and even trains. They can get power from the grid, or have a recharging system on-board. While there is enormous diversity in the technology, all the vehicles share a common benefit — they displace oil with electricity.
One of the hurdles facing the industry is the state of battery technology (specifically, the performance and supply of new battery technology). Currently, most hybrid vehicles use fairly old battery technology that limits their performance. The next generation of electric vehicles is likely to use lithium-ion batteries that hold more energy than their conventional counterparts but are unproven in large-scale deployment.
NTEA Distributor member DUECO, Inc. (Waukesha, WI) presented testimony on its plug-in hybrid utility truck. In a collaborative development program between DUECO and Odyne Corporation, DUECO introduced a commercial plug-in hybrid medium-duty utility truck was introduced in 2007. Odyne Corporation is a developer of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) powertrains for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that weigh more than 16,000 lbs.
Joe Dalum, vice president of DUECO, told the senators that plug-in hybrid technology for medium- and heavy-duty trucks is in the very early stages of testing and deployment, and that low production volume and high cost are threatening wide-scale adoption. Dalum said a large increase in resources directed toward research, development, engineering and production will be required in order to rapidly accelerate the use of plug-in hybrid trucks in the next five years.
Multiple witnesses remarked that government assistance is needed to provide additional research funding, create consumer incentives to purchase vehicles with alternative drive technologies and to encourage the use of such vehicles by federal, state and local governments.
After the hearing, senators viewed a variety of electric-powered motor vehicles on display outside the Capitol. One of the vehicles was a medium-duty truck with an aerial bucket powered by a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
A close partnership between manufacturers, utilities and the government is needed to increase the wide-scale deployment of alternative technologies such as hybrid and plug-in hybrid medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The NTEA will continue to monitor current and future alternative technology initiatives and inform members on ways they can get involved.