Eaton Corp. says it intends to become a major supplier of hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) technology for commercial truck applications. The systems supplement diesel power with electric power created and stored by motor/generators placed in the drivetrain, potentially lowering emissions while improving fuel efficiency and vehicle performance.

Drawing on its current automated clutch and automated mechanical transmission (AMT) technologies, Eaton is now developing a prototype Class 4 step van with HEV for FedEx. One of three HEVs that will be tested by FedEx, the Eaton truck will be delivered in September, according to Tim Morscheck, vp-technology for Eaton's Truck Components group.

Morscheck said the prototype will place a motor/generator between an automated clutch and AMT, allowing the vehicle to generate electricity for storage in batteries when under diesel power and switching to electric power for startup or other operating conditions requiring zero emissions.

Eaton's eventual goal is to develop hybrid electric drive units as packages that bolt onto an engine much like a standard transmission and clutch. Eaton believes HEV Class 4-5 P&D vans could become commercially viable by 2004, with HEV medium-duty trucks entering the market by 2007. Morsheck said heavy-duty vehicles using hybrid electric drivetrains could be marketable by 2010.