Line production of International Truck & Engine's DuraStar Hybrid has been under way since November, making it the first OEM to build hybrid-drive commercial trucks for retail sale. International had originally planned to initiate production of the medium-duty diesel-electric vehicle during the first quarter of 2008.

“The prototype phase is done; International is now building hybrid trucks,” states Jim Williams, director of sales & distribution for new products. “As part of our development process, we teamed with the Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) — a consortium of utilities, Eaton Corp., the federal government and the Weststart/Calstart organization — to assist us with the cost of bringing this new technology to market.”

According to International, the DuraStar Hybrid improves fuel economy by 30% to 40% in city P&D applications, and by more than 60% in utility-type applications where the engine is completely shut off so crews can operate equipment such as aerial booms solely on electric power from the vehicle's battery reserve. The OEM noted that in such applications, the diesel engine restarts roughly every two hours to recharge the battery pack.

Last year, International delivered 24 developmental hybrid units to 14 major utility companies to gauge the potential fuel savings. “We tested International's hybrid truck for almost a year and it has provided substantial savings in diesel fuel,” says George Servant, director of fleet operations for Florida Power & Light. “The truck's boom can operate on battery power instead of the engine, which results in less fuel consumed, less emissions released into the air and reduced noise in the neighborhoods where we work.”

HTUF estimates that nearly 1,000 gallons of fuel can be saved annually by using hybrid utility trucks.

The key challenge, notes Williams, is the high initial cost to bring the hybrid technology to market. As International ramps up production and sales, hybrid truck prices should decrease, similar to the price reductions witnessed in computer technology and home electronics equipment over the years. Williams added that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 can provide tax credits of up to $12,000 per hybrid truck as well.

The production announcement follows word that Navistar has received the 2007 Blue Sky Award from WestStart-Calstart for its contributions to the commercial development of diesel-hybrid technology.

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