As manufacturers begin to ramp up hybrid truck production, a new market is opening up in the medium-duty classes. Increased pressure on municipalities and smaller fleets to be green could help drive sales of hybrids in markets not usually serviced by the major truck OEMs.

Utility sales continue to lead the way, thanks to the cost savings that hybrid engines provide by reducing idle time, but other buyers are lining up. Local and state governments are ordering more hybrids for their fleets, opening doors to “non-traditional…customers,” Steven Zwinggi, Peterbilt's national medium-duty sales manager, said.

“What's helped us tremendously is the government rebates,” Zwinggi said, “so while it's a more expensive option, governments are making it easier” to purchase a hybrid.

Zwinggi expects sales for medium-duty hybrids will grow as more and more hit the streets. “We just built some validation units and it's just a matter of getting it out to the field. It's a totally new unit.”

With full production of its hybrid trucks ramping up this summer, Zwinggi said interest has been growing, thanks in part to rising diesel prices. “There's a ton of interest out there because of diesel prices…we expect [hybrids] to be a big hit in today's environment,” he said.

Peterbilt is now taking orders for its Model 330 and Model 335 hybrid diesel electric vehicles featuring the Eaton Hybrid Power system. The company said the 330 provides up to a 30% fuel economy improvement while the 335, when configured for utility applications, presents up to a 60% improvement. Delivery of the vehicles is expected later this year.

Zwinggi said utility sales have been leading the way, but companies are also seeking out vehicles for beverage and P&D applications. “Utility is strong simply because of the savings produced by the longer idle times,” Zwinggi said. “We've sold some P&D customers and they've ranged from trash pickup to lumber.”

One big growth area for OEMs is in municipal use. “There has definitely been a trend toward adding hybrids in government fleets over the past three to four years, and that momentum is building,” Christopher Amos, commissioner of equipment services for the City of St. Louis, told Government Product News.

Peterbilt's Class 6 Model 330 is powered by a Paccar PX-6 engine that produces 260 hp. and 620 lbs.-ft. of torque. The Class 7 Model 335 also uses the PX-6 with the PTO utilizing a lithium-ion battery, requiring just 1/16th engine runtime vs. a non-hybrid.

Kenworth offers a pair of hybrid models, the Class 6 T270 and the Class 7 T370. Both are powered by the Paccar PX-6. Right now, the company is focused on selling the hybrids for P&D and utility applications.

International is seeing an increase in interest by governments and municipalities. Its DuraStar Hybrid provides a 30 to 40% savings in P&D applications and even greater savings in utility operations, the company said.

Freightliner's M2e Hybrid has also seen a lot of interest, with Coca-Cola adding 120 to its fleet. The M2e can save up to 1,500 gals. of fuel per vehicle in urban delivery applications, Freightliner said.