Hybrid Technology May Not Provide Expected Fleet ROI

As the cost of oil and related fuel products (such as diesel fuel, particularly in the United States) continues to rise, owners and drivers are looking for new technology to get more miles per gallon. Hybrid technology has the ability to deliver efficiency, but ABI Research asserts that fleet managers and operators need to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of hybrids.

ABI Research, a market research firm focused on the impact of emerging technologies on global consumer and business markets, released this information on June 13.

With daily media coverage and marketing messages from vehicle manufacturers, it is easy to assume hybrids are the solution. The facts, however, suggest something else: that the return on investment can vary dramatically depending on factors such as the type of hybrid, cost of fuel, and the typical usage cycle.

"The main fuel economy benefit from hybrid technology comes from the capture and reuse of kinetic energy," says David Alexander, ABI Research principal analyst. "Two central forms of storage under development and available at present are hydraulic and electrical. Both require significant investment in additional systems, so realistic evaluations and estimations must be made as regards fuel savings in order to calculate the benefits."

Full hybrid powertrain systems for commercial vehicles are not normally designed to be retrofitted to existing vehicles, though there are some that can be installed as a complete replacement for an existing engine and transmission. Conversely, depending on the technology, the cost of parts and installation can be close to purchasing a new vehicle – so this approach generally is only used to produce low numbers of vehicles for evaluation. New options becoming available include mild hybrid idle-stop systems that can be retrofitted to particular vehicles.

"Fleet managers should beware of the hype and stick to cautious testing to ensure that fuel economy improvements occur for their typical drive cycles," continues Alexander. "Drivers with the most to gain will be operating on a frequent stop-start cycle, and, depending on the existing powertrain, may benefit from a mild hybrid retrofit. Otherwise, the better option may be simply to factor-in the purchase of some hybrid vehicles for specific applications as the fleet ages over time."

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