LOUSIVILLE, KY. With the trucking business expected to remain volatile for the rest of this year and into 2009, Peterbilt Motors Co. is working to bring a wide range of improved efficiencies and technologies to its products in the near future. Bill Jackson, Peterbilt’s general manager, believes these efforts will help customers reduce the cost of their operations.

“We expect a falloff in [truck freight] tonnage to continue in 2008 and into 2009,” Jackson said during a press conference here at the Mid-America Trucking Show. “So our goal is to work hard to continually improve the quality and performance of all our trucks, to give customers returns such as better fuel economy.”

According to Landon Sproull, Peterbilt’s chief engineer, the company invested over $100 million in product improvements in 2007 alone and plans to continue that effort this year in a number of areas. He pointed to a new proprietary front air leaf suspension option for its Class 8 tractors that improves ride performance by 20%, is compatible with air disc brakes, and improves tire life.

Sproull said that later this summer Peterbilt plans to offer a new dash for its medium-duty trucks, complete with a new navigation system to make those vehicles more productive for fleets.

The OEM is also giving hybrid technology a lot of attention in three distinct areas, he said: a hydraulic hybrid designed to offer either performance or fuel economy benefits to refuse-truck operators; Class 6 and 7 medium-duty diesel-electric hybrids; and testing of its second-generation Class 8 OTR diesel-electric hybrid in conjunction with Wal-Mart’s fleet.

“Our medium-duty Model 330 and 335 hybrids go into widespread production this summer, with our hydraulic hybrid refuse truck planned for builds starting in the fourth quarter of this year,” Sproull noted.

He added that using available tax credits combined with fuel and other operating savings over the life of these hybrids can balance out the nearly 30 to 40% higher sticker price when compared to diesel-only models.

For example, Sproull pointed out that its Model 330 hybrid qualifies for a $6,000 tax credit, while the Class 7 hybrid can get a $12,000 credit. Fuel economy savings in the hybrid Model 330 can go as high as 30% in P&D operations, reaching 60% in the hybrid Model 335 in utility- bucket truck service. He noted that Peterbilt’s hydraulic refuse truck hybrid can provide a 25% improvement in fuel economy and a 200% improvement in brake life.

On the Class 8 hybrid side, operational cost savings are becoming clearer through ongoing testing, he said, with fuel economy improvements of 8 to 8.5%. A reduction in idle time due to using power from the hybrid system’s battery pack offers another 8% gain.

Finally, Peterbilt is gearing up with Wal-Mart to test four Model 386 tractors powered by LNG in Napa Valley, CA, this year.