For over a decade, hybrid passenger cars have used electric motors to provide at least some of the power required to move a car down the road.  In general, these hybrid systems are built designed together and cannot work without each other – the computers that manage the overall vehicle don’t allow stand-alone operation of one system offline and the other working properly.

As of this writing, no major manufacturer sells a true hybrid pickup truck or work van, but one company, XL, which has developed, in partnership with Ford, a hybrid system that is capable of adding nearly 25% better fuel economy to, of all things, an F250 Super Duty.  The normally thirsty 6.2 liter V8, with the XL system installed, went from an average of 11 miles per gallon to over 15 miles per gallon in testing. 

Now, that in and of itself is nice, but what makes this so interesting is how XL is doing this:  they’ve essentially attached a generator/motor to the truck’s drive shaft.  In other words, the hybrid system they developed is essentially stand-alone. 

The XLH hybrid electric drive system is a smart way to bring hybrid power to a non-hybrid platform.  As stated earlier, it’s an electric traction motor that’s been grafted onto the rear driveshaft along with a 1.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and inverter, and an engine control unit to oversee it all.

The primary interface between the unit and the vehicle is through the ECU and the XLH system monitors what the vehicle is doing and then adds in torque from the electric motor to allow the gas engine to work less.  During deceleration, the battery pack charges (AND adds substantially to braking power due to the resistance the driveshaft is meeting to recharge the battery pack).

XL states that this system adds up to 220 ft/lbs of torque and will operate continuously until; the vehicle reaches 75 mph – after that point, the truck will run exclusively on the gas engine. 

Very little computer interface.

Very little in the way of “extra” weight.

…And the entire unit is still covered under the factory warranty – for 75,000 miles or 3 years.

This has really captured our attention at Expertec for two reasons:  we’ve been using driveshaft and PTO power for decades to run alternate equipment like pumps and compressors and, since this set up is a bolt-on system, we can see a time in the near future where these types of units are available for multiple vehicles and drivetrains.  More importantly, hybrid power can be used on existing vehicle platforms and retrofitted to other models by upfitters who are customizing fleet and commercial vehicles. 

That isn’t here yet, but the technology we’ve seen from XL tells us that it isn’t far away.

Of course, it goes without saying that this sort of technology is expensive right now and only available from Ford on new vehicles, but the fact that a company has taken the time to sort out the details of upgrading a rear-wheel drive design – almost exclusively for the realm of cargo vans and work trucks – to create a hybrid power solution is a huge step forward for any company that uses commercial vehicles in a work environment. 

While you can’t just order a bolt-on hybrid system for your truck today, it’s exciting to think that within the next few years, that possibility will exist.  We’ve always liked the idea of utilizing existing power sources – engine or PTO-driven – within a vehicle to help our customers do the jobs they need and this leap in the technology is certainly an exciting new idea that we’ll be watching in the coming years.  Even more critical is the timing – as the fixed costs of purchasing a vehicle continue to climb, it’s important that consumers have the ability to save on the operating costs of those vehicles.