Image: Hydraulic hybrid truck and schematic.
John Bazemore  /  AP
With a hydraulic hybrid UPS truck behind him, John Kargul, director of technology transfer for the EPA, explains how the technology works at a press conference Monday in Atlanta.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/28/2008 1:50:46 PM ET 2008-10-28T17:50:46

By now we've all heard of hybrid vehicles, but there's a lesser known variation: hydraulic hybrids, or HHVs. The technology delivers significant reductions in fuel use and pollution, and delivery giant UPS Inc. has made the first commercial purchase.

At a press conference Monday, officials with the Atlanta-based company said they will deploy two new HHVs in Minneapolis during the first quarter of next year. It will then deploy another five vehicles later in 2009 and in early 2010.

The new system replaces a truck's transmission with hydraulics and that, combined with a low-emission diesel engine, yields a 45 to 50 percent improvement in fuel economy, according to UPS.

UPS, also known as United Parcel Service, has about 90,000 delivery trucks. The average traditional diesel truck costs about $40,000 to $50,000, according to a company spokesman. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates an HHV would cost about $7,000 more per vehicle.

"We think it's a good investment," UPS Chief Operating Officer David Abney said of the HHVs.

"There is no question that hydraulic hybrids, although little known to the public, are ready for prime time use on the streets of America," he added. "We are not declaring hydraulic hybrids a panacea for our energy woes, but this technology certainly is as promising as anything we've seen to date."

Abney said the company would not anticipate "mass production on our own," but if the government and other companies kicked in, and if the technology met UPS' goals, the vehicles could be rolled out more widely.

Key is saving energy in braking
Delivery trucks pile up the hours and miles with city driving. They are among the most likely to benefit from a drivetrain that transfers the energy lost in braking into a series of fluid and air pumps that in turn power acceleration.

The technology was pioneered by the EPA and the pilot trucks are being built by Cleveland-based Eaton Corp.

The EPA estimates it would take UPS less than three years to recover the $7,000 cost of outfitting each of its trucks with the new hydraulic system by saving money on fuel and reducing brake wear.

That projection, however, depends on UPS deploying thousands of the vehicles, according to Alexander Cutler, Eaton's chief executive.

UPS in recent years has been looking at other technologies to improve fuel efficiency. Currently, it has about 2,000 alternative fuel vehicles.

UPS partnered with the EPA, Eaton, Navistar's International Truck and Engine Corp. and the Army in February 2005 to develop a green fleet of low-emissions vehicles.

Eaton started working with EPA in 2001 to develop the hydraulics. It has already provided a similar system for the Army, which has been watching the UPS tests to see if it can use the technology to increase by half the fuel economy in its Humvees.

According to Chris Grundler of the EPA, the agency also has partnered with the state of California to test the hydraulic hybrid technology in shuttle busses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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