Rising fuel costs and ever-stricter emissions regulations are going to help boost adoption rates of hybrid commercial trucks over the next five years, according to new analysis conducted by Pike Research.

The organization is predicting that global sales of hybrid trucks will increase to more than 100,000 vehicles annually by 2015, up from just 9,000 units in 2010.

“Payback periods on hybrid drivetrains are improving for medium and heavy-duty truck classes, particularly as oil prices continue to rise,” noted Dave Hurst, a senior analyst with Pike. “And as fleet managers increasingly focus on efficiency and regulatory compliance, combined with a variety of new models being introduced by truck manufacturers, this will lead to substantial growth in this market over the next five years.”

According to Pike’s most recent study, Hybrid Trucks and Buses, there are five types of hybrid systems successfully being implemented on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles today: hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, battery electric, mild electric power take-off (EPTO) hybrids, and hydraulic hybrids.

Among these options, Hurst said hybrid electric trucks will be the largest segment between now and 2015, with local delivery fleets being strong candidates for all-electric battery-powered trucks. By contrast, Pike does not anticipate a sizable opportunity for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the medium and heavy-duty truck markets.

Another key factor to help increase adoption rates of these vehicles is more standardized hybrid systems, such as batteries and motors, coupled with more government incentives to lower sticker prices enough to attract more buyers, Sandeep Kar, global program manager-commercial vehicle research for Frost & Sullivan, told Fleet Owner in a recent interview.

That’s because the return-on-investment (ROI) potential is a key determinant for adoption of new technologies, meaning hybrid technology standardization coupled with incentives would greatly help improve the ROI calculation for these vehicles.

“Batteries and electric motors are the key technologies here,” he said. “For example, we keep hearing about this next wave of ‘lithium ion’ batteries that provide more range and longer life. But different lithium ion formulations are being used by battery makers – and that in turn makes it harder to build economies of scale.”

For example, Alan Mulally, president & CEO of Ford Motor Co., recently noted in an interview with Newsweek magazine that hybrid vehicle battery packs can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 – a cost that significantly impacts the final sticker price of the vehicle.

“Hybrid trucks feature energy storage systems, control and power electronics and rotating machines, which are expensive technologies creating considerable cost barriers to potential adopters,” noted Frost & Sullivan’s Kar. “Furthermore, storage systems such as batteries must be replaced every four to five years based on the vocational application.”

That’s why standardization of key enabling technologies will not only reduce research and development expenses and complexity but also create a foundation for launching aggressive price reduction strategies that are necessary for stoking market growth, he said.