Are you a Hybrid risk?
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Volvo’s Hybrid FE, aimed at the urban market, isn’t for everyone. Volvo intends to be selective about who can buy it
Words: Will Shiers
Volvo claims its new 26-tonne Hybrid FE, which went into production earlier this month, will return fuel savings of up to 30% compared with its diesel equivalent, if used in the correct operating environment.
The truck, the heaviest hybrid on the market, is aimed squarely at urban operations. Volvo reckons fuel savings of between 15% and 20% are achievable in urban multi-drop operations, while a refuse truck itted with an electric compactor could show a 30% improvement.
The truck uses parallel hybrid technology, rather like the Toyota Prius. This means that energy from the 7-litre, 340hp diesel engine and 120kW electric motor can be used together or independently of each another. At very low speeds, the truck is powered solely by the electric motor. When the hybrid mode kicks in, the diesel engine and electric motor work side by side to maximise fuel eficiency. And there’s no need to plug it in to the mains because the lithium ion battery recovers energy (via regenerative braking) from the engine.
However, this technology is neither light nor cheap. The Hybrid FE is 700kg heavier and £100,000 dearer than the equivalent dieselpowered 26-tonner. Nor is it available to buy outright; instead Volvo is only offering it on a ive-year contract basis. “This takes all of the risk out of it,” explains press test manager Jeff Bird. As part of this package, Volvo will include the mandatory driver training for free.
But before you call your bank manager, be warned: Volvo is going to be selective about whom it sells the trucks to. Customers will be vetted to ensure the Hybrids aren’t bought purely for PR purposes. “We want to ensure that they are purchased for the right reason, and used in the correct operations,” explains Bird. “This isn’t just a lag-waving exercise.” The FE Hybrid is being launched into 13 European markets, which according to Volvo will between them account for 100 sales over the next two years.
On the road
From the driver’s seat, it looks like a common or garden FE, but with the addition of the I-Shift transmission and a handful of additional dials and displays on the dashboard.
The truck starts off in full electric mode, and the whisper-quiet ride takes some getting used to.
Acceleration is surprisingly brisk, and the diesel engine kicks in as the transmission shifts up to second. If, however, you choose to feather the accelerator, you can prolong the electric drive until third gear.
The key to getting the most from the Hybrid is avoiding any unnecessary use of the footbrake. Instead, you simply ease off the accelerator pedal and rely on the regenerative braking to slow the truck, which charges the battery. There’s a display to show you how much energy is wasted whenever the service brakes are touched, and another to show how much you have channelled into the battery. You can boost the battery charge by pressing the ‘electrical anticipation’ force-charge switch on the dashboard.
When the battery is full, the truck can be run in full electric mode – giving you carbon-free, silent driving for up to 1km. Exceed 50kmph or run out of battery power and the diesel engine automatically comes back to life. The truck can be driven like this eight times an hour. ■