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October 30, 2012

Altwheels for Fleets


It was my second time attending the seventh annual AltWheels Fleet Day geared toward New England companies with vehicle fleets. Says AltWheels Founder and Chairman Alison Sander, "The conference highlighted both corporate and municipal fleets that have saved up to $30 million and 14 percent of their fuel costs by identifying and incorporating smarter and more efficient practices."

XL Hybrids, based in Boston, MA, was one of the companies that presented at the conference. The company installs hybrid systems into vans and other medium-duty vehicles for companies looking to save on fuel costs and emissions for their fleets. Depending on the needs of the client fleet, XL Hybrids retrofits vehicles as old as 2007 and also "upfits" brand new vehicles. Either way, says Vice President of Business Development Justin Ashton, the company makes sure to leave the warranty in place. In a recent pilot program that XL Hybrids ran with two Fortune 500 companies -- a utility and a beverage company -- they found a 17-22 percent reduction in fuel consumption.

"If a company finances or leases the vehicle," says Ashton, "net monthly savings start immediately because the fuel savings outweigh the small increase in monthly payment for a hybrid."

For those that don't finance, the payback period ranges from two to five years depending on annual vehicle mileage and local fuel prices. For XL Hybrid fleet customers operating a hybrid van over a 10-year, 200,000-mile life, they can save up to 3,500 gallons of gasoline and up to $17,000 in fuel and maintenance costs over the lifetime of each vehicle. Furthermore, XL Hybrids hybrid powertrain allows fleets to downsize from a larger diesel or gasoline powertrain to a small gasoline hybrid powertrain with similar torque and fuel economy, but with lower up-front and operating costs. Gasoline engines also have much lower particulate, SOx and NOx emissions than diesels.

XL Hybrids is looking to expand its reach by establishing contracts with companies with large fleets and partnering with established OEM-certified aftermarket equipment installation companies to install XL Hybrids' technology in vehicles in multiple locations nationwide.

XL Hybrids is a three-year-old start-up (younger than my pre-school daughter, but they use bigger words, probably because their founders and engineers went to MIT). Jon Coleman is the fleet sustainability and technology manager for Ford, a 109-year-old company. He said he was pleased to hear about companies like XL Hybrids because he said that Ford doesn't currently sell any hybrid medium duty vehicles, and XL Hybrids is filling a niche that the major OEMs are currently leaving open. Coleman did say, however, that Ford is getting more and more orders for hybrid light duty fleet vehicles. Ford currently offers a few models in that category, including the CMax and the Fusion.

I was also pleased to meet up at the conference with Gino Porter, the Northeast Regional Fleet Manager for Frito-Lay North America, who had let me drive one of his all-electric delivery trucks at last year's Altwheels. Porter told me that Frito-Lay had more than doubled the number of electric delivery trucks in its fleet in the last year to 290 vehicles. He said that, including infrastructure costs, the payback period for these vehicles is 26 months, given the low fueling costs. This chips company has obviously crunched the numbers to its advantage.

Photo: XL Hybrids' President and Founder Tod Hynes.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative


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