Outside the Santa Maria, Calif., solar-powered truss plant operated by 2003 PROSALES Dealer of the Year Hayward, a work truck is parked in front of a power outlet, slowly juicing up on the plant's solar power, getting ready to cruise to jobsites, builder meetings, or nearby Hayward yards at up to 60 mph. Cost-efficient, exhaust-free, and nearly silent compared to traditional combustion engine trucks, the electric truck is a perfect marketing tool for the sustainability-minded pro dealer.
While purely electric vehicles like Hayward's have yet to find their way into mainstream use, gasoline electric hybrids—where an AC motor assists with ignition, acceleration, power steering, and brakes and no “plugging in” is required—are beginning to get some attention by consumers and delivery-minded businesses alike for their higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions. In fact, compact car hybrids have already been on the road for several years and are growing in popularity as consumers grow used to the idea—and the savings.
Now, Detroit, Mich.–based General Motors hopes builders will be enthusiastic over its new hybrids: the 2005 GMC Sierra and its twin Chevy Silverado, according to “Future Ride,” an article by Charles Wardell on the vehicles in the August 2004 issue of BUILDER, a sister publication of PROSALES. Although the ticket price includes a $2,500 premium, users can expect a 10 to 15 percent fuel savings and can up jobsite productivity by plugging cell phones, tools, and more into ground fault–protected AC outlets in the crew cab and truck bed.
After his own test-drive, Wardell gave the Sierra keys to builder Steve Hughes of Barr and Barr Construction in Framingham, Mass. “I had six carpenters working off of it,” Hughes says. “They were running a chop box, a circular saw, reciprocating saw, and a hammer-drill.” According to Hughes, the idling engine was quiet during AC outlet use, and overall the Sierra would be “good to have as one of our company trucks.”
Remote power sources on pick-ups are great for builders, but what about the daily rigors of pro dealer delivery logistics, on-the-road wear-and-tear, and high mileage? Fleet-conscious suppliers who are curious will want to keep an eye on FedEx Express, which will place 20 hybrid trucks into service by the end of 2004 to verify their ability in commercial applications. “The hybrid electric truck demonstrates that technology is available now to begin to achieve environmental goals and meet our operational requirements,” said FedEx president David J. Bronczek when the plan was announced in May of last year. “The environmental and business gains of this project signal a revolution in truck technology and set a new standard for the industry.” If tests go well, FedEx Express plans to replace its fleet of 30,000 medium-duty trucks with hybrids over the next 10 years.
On the heavy-duty side, Lehigh Valley, Pa.–based Mack Trucks won a $1.2 million contract in January 2004 to develop heavy-duty diesel hybrids for use by the U.S. Air Force for refueling operations. Mack plans an eventual commercial rollout of the hybrid vehicles, anticipating better fuel economy, longer engine and brake system service intervals, and reduced emissions.
For fleet-dependent pro suppliers, hybrid engines are worth a look. In addition to continued high fuel costs, EPA emissions standards will get even tougher in 2007 when the agency begins enforcing more stringent rules against particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions. For those out there with a penchant for first-mover advantage, the upfront premium on hybrid engines is a small price to pay for immediate fuel efficiency and cleaner air for all.