While the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are darlings of the environmental movement, perhaps greenies should show a little love to some common looking delivery trucks.
Driven by simple economics and political correctness, businesses like FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service (USPS) are developing fuel-saving technologies to deliver packages to your doorstep. The tech helps trim operational costs while providing opportunities for positive marketing spin.
Simple math helps explain why these companies are experimenting with new technology. Looking at the numbers; Saving 10-percent on fuel for a vehicle that gets only 8 mpg over a yearly driving cycle of 40,000 miles is almost eight times more valuable than increasing the fuel economy of a vehicle getting 30 mpg that is driven only 20,000 miles per year.
This economic reality explains the interest in several non-traditional powertrains being used by three competing package delivery services.
FedEx Delivers Using Less
Currently, FedEx is running a fleet of 264 hybrid delivery vans, the largest such fleet in the country. Their vans aren't shiny new aerodynamic hovercrafts powered by a Mr. Fusion. They are well used 2000 and 2001 conventional Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation vans with 300,000 to 500,000 miles on the odometer.
The worn out diesel engines in these bread boxes were swapped out for brand new 6.7-liter Cummins ISB diesels. Producing 200 horsepower and approximately 520 lb.ft. of torque, these six-cylinder diesel engines are coupled to an Eaton hybrid-electric motor/generator transmission that is a clever piece of engineering. A 44 kW (peak) electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and the computer-controlled, automated 6-speed manual transmission. The motor receives is power from a 340-volt DC battery pack, and has enough power to launch the truck from a stop and assist with acceleration. At higher speeds, the diesel engine takes over, but all of this is transparent to the driver, who just gets in, keys the ignition, and goes.
Eaton's hybrid controller selects the most efficient mode of operation-diesel, electric, or a blend-depending upon current operating conditions, the battery pack's state of charge, and driver demand. The high-torque characteristics of the diesel engine and electric motor suit the heavy loads of Class 4 Freightliner perfectly, and deliver acceleration that is on-par with standard diesel units.
The retrofit hybrid trucks are projected to improve fuel economy by 44 percent, decrease particulate matter by 96 percent and reduce smog-causing (NOx) emissions by 75 percent compared to the standard FedEx Express delivery truck.
An added benefit of the conversion program is that it extends the life of the vehicles, helping to eliminate waste production and creating a reduce-and-reuse program. The FedEx hybrid-electric fleet has logged more than four million miles of revenue service since first being introduced in 2004. In total, the retrofitted vans have reduced fuel use by 150,000 gallons. Carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 1,521 metric tons, which is equivalent to removing 279 cars from the road annually.
The newest 92 retrofitted hybrid vans that hit the road earlier this year are in service in California, primarily in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The retrofit hybrids display the FedEx EarthSmart logo. FedEx has announced that it is considering similar technology for its larger Class 6 vans.