Sustainable America Blog

XL Hybrids: Making Fleets More Fuel Efficient

Sustainable America's XL Hybrid cargo van gets 20% better gas mileage than a regular cargo van.

Our XL Hybrid cargo van gets 20% better gas mileage than a regular cargo van.

Imagine that you run a company with a fleet of delivery vehicles that make lots of short trips all day long through crowded city streets. Along with the costs of labor to pay for all those drivers, fuel costs are one of the biggest expenses you face. If you could shave 20 percent off your fuel bill, you would probably say, “Where do I sign?”

We’ve found a company that can do just that: XL Hybrids.

XL Hybrids founders, who met through MIT’s energy community, decided to explore solutions that would make delivery vehicles more efficient. What they came up with is a way to retrofit existing vehicles with a hybrid system without making significant changes to the original engine or transmission. The package includes an electric motor, an advanced lithium ion battery pack, and control software. It saves fuel through regenerative braking, which charges the battery when the driver breaks. The system pays for itself in a few short years, according to the company, which means fleet owners don’t have replace their whole fleet to get significant fuel cost savings.

XL Hybrid cargo van, backIn a recent article in Fast Company that named Boston-based XL Hybrids one of the most innovative companies of 2014, founder and president Tod Hynes said, “We didn’t necessarily plan on hybrid.” They explored other options, including all electric, but felt that for this application, hybrid technology was the most economical and scalable option. Importantly, XL Hybrids has worked with GM and Ford and uses components that do not void the manufacturer warranty. They have partnered with some big corporations, like FedEx and Coca-Cola, but there are many more fleets out there that could benefit from their systems.

Sustainable America is getting a hands-on chance to use this new technology this spring and summer. We’ve partnered with XL Hybrids to use a hybrid version of a Chevy Express cargo van to tow our Grind2Energy™ system for demonstrations at public events around the country. Our van gets 20% more fuel efficiency than a traditional version of the van, and that proved true on our drive to Wisconsin to pick up the Grind2Energy unit. We got a whopping 20 mpg, but once we picked up the heavy trailer that housed the Grind2Energy system, even with the hybrid system chugging along perfectly, our gas mileage predictably suffered. In a regular van, though, it would’ve dropped even more.

Sustainable America's XL Hybrids Van with Grind2Energy TrailerThere are plenty of rental trucks driving our highways pulling trailers or extra cars that would be far better served with a hybrid system improving their gas mileage. As we’ve noted before, increasing the fuel efficiency of our least efficient vehicles is much more important in terms of impacting overall fuel consumption. Systems like XL Hybrids can help get us there, which is why we like them so much.

Sustainable America has a mission to reduce our nation’s oil consumption by 50 percent over the next two decades, and our own research suggests that the best way to do this in the near term is through advanced biofuels that do not depend on food crops; through natural gas – especially gas that can be recovered from food waste; through electric vehicles; and through systems that make fuel consumption more efficient. XL Hybrids is an obvious candidate in this fourth category. If we can convert every delivery vehicle in the country to be 20 percent more efficient, or to use alternative fuels other than oil, our country will be better for it. We will save money, we will be more self-sufficient, and we will make important improvements to our environment, air quality and health. That’s a cause we can all get behind.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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