For UPS green is the new brown

Jessica Seftel

By now we’ve seen thousands of hybrid Prius’s on the road, but there’s a lesser known vehicle out there: hydraulic hybrids, or HHVs. This new technology delivers a significant reduction in fuel use and air pollution, and delivery company UPS Inc. has made its first commercial investment.

At a press conference Monday, officials with the Atlanta-based company said they will put out 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, allows for a 45 to 50 percent improvement in fuel economy, according to UPS.

United Parcel Service (UPS) 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 (EPA) estimates an HHV would cost about $7,000 more per vehicle.

“We think it’s a good investment,” said UPS Chief Operating Officer David Abney. “There is no question that hydraulic hybrids, although little known to the public, are ready for use on the streets.”

“We are not stating that hydraulic hybrids are the ultimate solution for our energy crisis, but this certainly is as promising as anything we’ve seen to date.”

Abney said the company would not anticipate mass production on their own,” but if the government supported it, and if the technology met UPS’ goals, the vehicles could be used a lot more.

Delivery trucks pile up hours and miles driving city to city. They are most likely to benefit from a drive train, a group of components in a vehicle that transfer 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 make up the $7,000 cost of equipping each of its trucks with the new hydraulic system by saving money on fuel and reducing brake wear. This process however, depends on UPS deploying thousands of the vehicles, according to Alexander Cutler, Eaton’s chief executive. Currently, it has about 2,000 alternative fuel vehicles.

These hybrids will not only save gas, but the environment. Now more than ever it is important to consider the environmental benefit of supporting a project such as UPS’s low impact, fuel-efficient hydraulics.  It is no longer enough to look at the immediate economic implications, but to look at the long-term impact the choices we make have on future generations.`

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