They’re in pretty much every major city in the world, fulfilling a myriad of different duties from school minibuses through to delivery vehicles, maintenance trucks and sometimes even miniature refuse vehicles. Regardless of their make or model, these mid-sized panel vans and cargo trucks from companies like Chevy, GMC, Mercedes-Benz and Isuzu are usually powered by large-capacity low gas-mileage gasoline or diesel engines.
In many situations, those engines spend the majority of their time idling in heavy traffic, or rumbling quietly on the kerb while their driver makes another 60-second delivery.
For fleet owners and operators, the time spent idling at stop lights poses a big problem. In addition to the extra money spent on wasted fuel every day, fleet operators are facing ever-tightening regulations regarding the emissions their vehicles produce. In some cities like London, there are even exclusion zones set up banning all but the latest, lowest-emission diesel engines from the roads.
Which is why a new product launched yesterday for the Ford Transit van at the Annual Ford Fleet Preview at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas could make a big difference to fleet operators around the world.
Called the XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System, the aftermarket conversion is designed by Massachusetts-based XLHybrids. Already offered for various North American market vehicles, including the Chevy Express 2500 and 3500, the GMC Savana and the outgoing Ford E-series of vehicles, the XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System contains everything needed to turn a regular truck into a far more efficient hybrid truck.
Taking a standard vehicle, XLHybrids supplements the vehicle’s existing gasoline engine by adding a 40 kilowatt electric motor on the prop shaft between the gearbox and the rear axle. It then adds a telematics and control unit that not only interfaces with the vehicle’s stock engine management system but also operates as a controller for the electric motor. Meanwhile, a small, 1.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack located somewhere between the vehicle’s chassis legs allows the system to recapture energy from braking and store it for later use.
In operation, the XL3 Hybrid system turns any compatible mid-sized commercial vehicle into a series hybrid with a boost of approximately 20 percent in fuel efficiency.
In the case of its latest product for the Ford Transit, XLHybrids had to work a little harder to convert Ford’s latest commercial vehicle to hybrid operation. Unlike previous kits — which have been for vehicles with body-on-frame designs, the Ford Transit is built on a unibody frame, meaning its chassis is integrated into the body of the vehicle.
Thanks to its experience converting other models however, the company said that it has been able to come up with a suitable solution that can be fitted underneath the Transit’s unibody frame without impinging on cargo space. Completely fitted, the system adds less than 400 pounds on the stock weight of the 2015 Transit, with conversion kits available for both North-American market gasoline variants of the Transit.
Importantly too, the conversion can take just 6-hours to complete, meaning vehicles that are usually used for twelve-hours a day and parked up overnight can be upgraded without any disruption to their normal daily cycle.
Regular readers to Transport Evolved may wonder why we’ve singled out this particular company and its Transit conversion for mention, especially given our predilection towards more advanced fuel trains and safety technologies rather than non-plug-in, hybrid-only systems.
At the moment, the Ford Transit — the latest guise of which debuted this year — is available around the world in a variety of different guises. As one of the most popular global workhorses, this aftermarket plug-in system has the potential to help thousands of fleets to save tens of millions of gallons of fuel while simultaneously dramatically reducing tailpipe emissions. While global drivetrain specifics — and even body styles — are different from market to market, we’re hopeful a company like XLHybrids could help design a system that works with the many different guises of Transit currently produced by Ford.
What’s more, with no hybrid commercial vans currently on the market, there’s a market segment to be claimed — as long as the price is right. That particular stipulation is one we’ve not been able to asses at the time of writing, as XLHybrids does not give any installation costs or unit price in its fleet-oriented marketing material, only predicted savings.
While overall fuel efficiencies will still be far less than the latest passenger vehicles, reducing the carbon footprint of entire fleets by even twenty percent has just as much effect on our environment as private buyers switching to zero-emission transport. And if fleets can start to hybridise on their way to plug-in hybrid and eventually zero emission technologies, our cities become far cleaner, greener, more pleasant places to live.
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