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Hybrid electric conversion systems continue to catch on

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There are two indications of the growing use of the hybrid electric powertrain for new and existing Class 2 to 6 commercial vehicles offered by XL Hybrids Inc. One is the recent announcement that the company raised $10.5 million in venture funding. The other is the Boston-based company’s impressive customer list, which now includes FedEx Corp., The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and ThyssenKrupp AG.

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The XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System consists of an electric motor, lithium ion battery and control software that is installed in new vehicles or can be retrofitted into existing vehicles without requiring modifications to the engine or transmission. XL Hybrids systems work with vehicles from Ford, General Motors and Isuzu Motors, and the company plans to use some of its new funding to expand its technology to a wider range of vehicles from those and other OEMs.

Government fleets are also adopting XL Hybrids systems. The city of Boston and Montgomery County, Md. have commissioned additional XL Hybrid conversions to supplement existing units in their fleets. The agencies will be ordering a combined 26 XL Hybrid conversions by the end of the year.

The existing four XL Hybrids vans in Boston’s fleet performed well enough that city officials ordered 16 new vans using a Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources grant. Ten out of the 16 will be conversions to current fleet vehicles while the other six will be ordered new and converted before being delivered to the city.

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“We chose to go with XL Hybrids because its technology can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20%, they complete their installation process in 24 hours, and they can remotely monitor their hybrid systems to detect any issues,” said Jim McGonagle, director of central fleet management for the city of Boston.

In Montgomery County, 10 additional XL Hybrid vans will raise the total number of XL Hybrid units in the fleet to 20 by the end of the year. The county its first 10 hybrid conversions for vans in 2014.

“Since then, the original vans have driven 100,000 miles and increased fuel economy by more than 25%,” said Bill Griffiths, division chief of Fleet Management Services. “That increase in fuel economy reduced fuel consumption by more than 3,800 gallons and saved the county $12,000.”

The XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System is now available for GM 3500/4500 Cutaway/Cab Chassis beginning with model year 2016 vehicles. The GM chassis models join the Ford E350/E450 Cutaway/Cab Chassis, Ford Econoline vans and wagons, and the new Ford Transit passenger van in the company’s product line for shuttle buses and passenger vans, as well as walk-in vans and utility bodies.

The XL3 can be installed on GM Cutaway models with single or double rear wheels and 4.8- and 6.0-liter gas engines as a retrofit or a new upfit. The hybrid system is compatible with all Ford Transit wheelbases and with the manufacturer’s 3.7-liter and EcoBoost gasoline engines.

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The XL3 system, the company noted, has had a quick adoption rate among commercial fleets since there is no need for special plugs, charging or fueling infrastructure, and because the technology has no impact on fleet operations or service, and has no driver training requirements. The XL3 Hybrid Electric Drive System adds less than 400 lbs. to a vehicle, and is designed so the added weight is evenly distributed to allow for better axle loading.

Investor Peter L. O’Brien, formerly a Morgan Stanley investment banking executive who led the XL Hybrids venture funding round, said he backed the company because its systems are “easy to explain to fleet buyers and managers, easy to install and the economics are easy to figure out. Reducing fuel consumption is compelling even when gas prices are low,” he continued. “That is, in part, because companies are scrambling to meet state and federal mandates to control their greenhouse gas emissions.”

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