The 2012 Alternative Clean Transportation expo was held last week in Southern California, and it had record-breaking crowds. Fleets, sellers and buyers, tank makers, technology companies and alternative-fuel entrepreneurs mixed and mingled for the three-day event, all in the name of cleaner fuel alternatives in vehicles that do work.
Simply walking by the six or seven rows of trade-show carpeting at the Long Beach Convention Center, a casual observer might conclude that the future of commercial truck powertrains are in plug-in hybrid and natural-gas propulsion. And they wouldn't be wrong.
However, the big buzz at the expo was the interest in compressed-natural-gas conversions and factory-offered engines for lighter- and heavier-duty trucks. With the abundance of natural gas in this country, many see it as the strongest transition candidate to reduce our reliance on Mideast oil.
Here are some of the highlights from the show:
Two of the most exciting displays were companies showing off their advanced plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) technology on a half-ton pickup truck platform. Rumors all over the convention halls suggested that GM's next-gen half-tons were already set with PHEV technology, ready to leap ahead all the other manufacturers. For now, the only GM vehicle highlighted here was the bi-fuel Chevy Silverado HD extended-cab long bed on display.
The PHEV system shown by Quantum was an all-wheel-drive Ford F-150 that uses both forms of four-wheel-drive controls: floor stick and dash-mounted electronic dial. We assume one of them is for a different purpose. Also, we were told Quantum just signed an agreement with Remy International, which will supply the compact and powerful HVH250 electric motor (similar to the one used by Via Motors) for Quantum's fleet-ordered PHEV trucks. The new plug-in hybrid driveline does take a toll on payload (at only 900 pounds) and towing (maximum of 5,800 pounds).
Another interesting display was at Hino, which showed off an inside look at the new Class 4 and 5 COE (cab over engine) work-truck hybrid powertrain. The strategy is similar to the Toyota Prius: It runs on full electric power up to a certain speed, when the computer controller determines when the engine — in this case, a stout four-cylinder turbo-diesel — can most efficiently start. The system uses nickel-metal hydride batteries, and it looks like this could easily be adapted for half-ton or three-quarter-ton platforms. Whether that means the system goes into a Toyota Tundra or an F-150 first (remember the Ford-Toyota partnership?), the Hino representatives wouldn't say. This particular system was started over 20 years ago, and it looks like it will get a few more refinements before we see anything from it in the next few years. Lastly, because of government incentives — namely, a $15,000 credit — the Hino hybrid costs less than the base model turbo-diesel.
Westport — a long-time global company in natural-gas conversions and bi-fuel applications and a top-tier supplier for Ford — also made news at the show by promoting an East Coast tour it will be doing with its latest F-250 bi-fuel heavy-duty truck all this week. Stops include Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. The tour is designed to get more people to understand that the $9,750 upfit can pay off itself, in most cases, in less than three years. The key to more CNG acceptance will be strengthening the filling-station infrastructure. On a related note, we'll be getting an exclusive first look at one of the Ford Fleet and Commercial bi-fuel CNG Super Dutys — a 6.2-liter V-8 F-250 that has a range of 650 miles on a single tank(s) of fuel. We'll have more to report after we live with the vehicle for a while.
GM and Ram Truck had their own bi-fuel trucks at the show, and they seemed busy describing the systems to prospective fleet buyers and explaining the advantages to all interested passers-by. This Ram model is the only system built inside a factory-owned production plant.
One display that caught our attention was at Power Solutions, which had a cool-looking big-block gas engine with an Eaton hybrid powertrain attached. Upon closer inspection, it was a natural-gas-converted GM 8.8-liter big-block V-8 (literally a punched-out 8.1-liter) conservatively rated at 400 horsepower and 500 pounds-feet of torque. The company does a strong business offering a replacement for the thousands of GM HD work trucks out there with the old 8.1-liter V-8 powertrain. The versatile motor — which can be set up to burn CNG, LNG, propane, gas, bifuel, just about anything — costs around $15,000.
The first ACT expo held last year was an extension of the Low Carbon Fuel Conference Series, and it was only about half the size of this year's event in total number of show participants and attendees. The expo is scheduled to happen again next year, moving to Washington, D.C., in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Clean Cities Coalition Act. Dates will be June 24 to 27. For more info about the ACT expo, click here.