Hybrid Commercial Truck Sales To Surge by 2017

By Danny King September 8, 2011

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Annual global sales of commercial electric-drive trucks will jump more than tenfold over the next six years as more companies invest in advanced powertrains to address what's likely to be a jump in diesel-fuel prices, Pike Research reported this week. Almost 101,000 medium- and heavy-duty hybrid trucks will be sold worldwide in 2017, up from less than 10,000 this year, according to Pike. North America will account for about a quarter of the hybrid commercial truck sales in 2017, while Asia Pacific will make up more than 40 percent, according to the green-technology research firm.

More businesses are investing in hybrid technology for their trucks as the global economy slowly recovers and diesel fuel prices continue to rise. Industry analysts have predicted rapid growth for electric-drive trucks because of the potentially substantial fuel-cost savings relative to conventional diesel trucks, which usually get well below 10 miles per gallon. Additionally, while many U.S. tax breaks for hybrid cars expired last year, analysts say the federal government is likely to continue to give tax breaks to companies that buy electric-drive trucks in order to help U.S. businesses cut both greenhouse-gas emissions and dependency on foreign oil. Since 2000, UPS has added more than 370 hybrid vehicles to its fleet, including 129 this year. FedEx has about 330 hybrid vehicles in its fleet.

Pike Research predicted last December that annual hybrid truck sales would eclipse the 100,000 mark in 2015 -- two years earlier than this week's forecast -- although the earlier study included hybrid buses. Daimler AG's Freightliner division and Eaton are among companies that have expanded hybrid powertrain production. Such powertrains can boost fuel economy relative to conventional diesel trucks by as much as 50 percent. Pike Research Senior Analyst Dave Hurst told AutoObserver that, while the numbers aren't surprising, the fact that lithium-ion batteries are the dominant type of batteries used in hybrid trucks is unexpected, because those batteries are more expensive than nickel metal hydride batteries. "Most hybrid truck manufacturers and system integrators such as Eaton have been using the more expensive lithium ion for years to capitalize on its better energy density," said Hurst. "In the U.S., use of nickel hydride for hybrid trucks is expected to peak in 2015 and then start to slowly decline."

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