According to a report released yesterday by Pike Research, sales of medium to heavy-duty hybrid trucks are poised to reach volumes of more than 100,000 per year by 2017. The study predicts a 47 percent year-over-year increase for the heavy alternative powertrain sector, which currently accounts up less than 1 percent of total medium and heavy-duty sales.
“The truck market has experienced seismic changes in the last few years,” said Pike senior analyst Dave Hurst. “As fuel prices have increased, truck manufacturers have responded by expanding their offerings of alternative drivetrains to help reduce emissions and fuel usage by trucks.”
Still, the report says hybrid and plug-in electric trucks aren’t yet viable for fleet operators from a lifetime cost perspective, and will have to rely on government subsidies until production costs fall further. Pike predicts that those incentives will be strongest in Asia, where it says the market will grow to 41,657 alternative drivetrain trucks sold in 2017, dwarfing its North American projection of less than 26,000 sales for that year.
The study comes less than a month after the Obama administration announced the first ever fuel economy standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. The new rules will produce annual gas savings of 10-15 percent, and emissions cuts in the range of 12-17 percent, between the 2014 and 2018 model years. According to the White House, fleet operators and other truck owners will save a total of $50 billion in fuel costs over the life of the program.
Truck manufacturers won’t necessarily have to implement next-generation hybrid or electric drivetrains to meet the new mandate though, which is mostly achievable with what the administration calls “off-the-shelf technologies” like lower-friction lubricants, reduced vehicle weight and low rolling-resistance tires. Still, Congress has been working to establish new incentives for hybrid and plug-in trucks, which could make the technologies more viable to fleet operators. Higher fuel prices could also provide a powerful incentive.
Even modest improvements in the efficiency of large, commercially-purposed trucks can pay big dividends in both fuel use and emissions. Where passenger cars use an average of 547 gallons of fuel per year, the average heavy-duty truck burns through nearly 13,000 gallons over the same period. In all, medium and heavy-duty trucks account for 21 percent of total annual transportation-derived greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.