U.S. Army advances on hybrids;
U.S. Army advances on hybrids; big potential market spurs Big 3 research
By ROBERT SHEREFKIN
DETROIT - The Big 3 have an ally in their effort to develop fuel-saving but inexpensive hybrid vehicles: the U.S. Army.
If U.S. automakers develop hybrid-powered trucks that meet the Army's needs for fuel efficiency and severe-duty capabilities, the military could order up to 100,000 vehicles, says Paul Skalny, director of the Army's 21st Century Truck program.
The Big 3 and the Army both see advantages from the effort. Automakers get support from the Army in developing the costly hybrid-powertrain technology, and can be assured that there is a large market for the vehicles. The Army sees cost savings in being able to buy combat-capable vehicles off the shelf.
DaimlerChrysler has moved quickly into the breech. It has targeted the civilian market with the Dodge Ram HEV for 2004, a diesel-electric truck it hopes the military also will want. GM, Ford Motor Co. and AM General Corp. also are developing vehicles.
The payoff is the right to help the Army replace its 100,000-vehicle fleet of aging light tactical vehicles. Sales to other federal agencies are possible, Skalny says. Many of the Army's HumVees, built by AM General, will be older than their drivers by 2010.
In December, Congress added $14 million to the fiscal 2002 defense budget to help the Army's National Automotive Center in Warren, Mich., accelerate development of hybrid-electric technology with automakers. The center manages the Army's 21st Century Truck program, near General Motors' sprawling Technical Center in Warren, Mich.
The U.S. auto industry stands to gain as the U.S. military undergoes a transformation by the Bush administration to create weapons systems that are lighter and easier to deploy.
For its part, the Army wants to marry new automotive technologies, such as hybrid power and new vehicle suspensions. Hybrids promise better fuel economy and can provide the battlefield with the electric power the Army needs.
DaimlerChrysler understands the profits from military sales. It sells a range of military vehicles, from small desert patrol vehicles to those with 90 tons of carrying capacity to governments worldwide. In December, the company displayed its military version of the Dodge Ram 2500, the Dodge Ram COMBATT, at the Washington auto show.
The Commercially Based Tactical Truck, or COMBATT, program takes military technology and installs it on commercial light trucks.
The DaimlerChrysler program is further ahead, a source says, because it has made a business case for a severe-duty diesel-electric civilian-model Ram that is aimed at the mining, logging and construction industries. Off-the-shelf vehicles from the auto industry often are cheaper than unique military vehicles.
DaimlerChrysler expects that a hybrid system would add $3,000 to $5,000 to the cost of a Ram, spokesman Stuart Schorr says. Volume and price plans for its civilian DaimlerChrysler model were not disclosed.
The COMBATT program, in its fifth year, divides the development cost among the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command and the automakers, under the auspices of the National Automotive Center.
Candidates for the COMBATT contract will undergo another round of testing next year. Congress and the Department of Defense could pick one or more winners by early 2004.
An order of even 100,000 vehicles over five years is small by automaker standards. But Mark Drouillard, who heads Ford's COMBATT program, sees a growing market for severe-duty off-road pickups for military markets.
Ford's choice for the COMBATT hybrid competition is based on an F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab truck powered by a 7.3-liter diesel that uses a hydraulic recovery system to supplement the engine. The Hydraulic Launch Assist system, made by Eaton Corp. and displayed on the F-350 Mighty Tonka concept vehicle, recovers energy normally lost during deceleration, stores it as hydraulic pressure and reuses it during acceleration.
Ford's hybrid F-350 will be several years in development, so the automaker is seeking civilian and military markets for its traditional diesel-powered F-350. But Ford now sells about 1,000 specially equipped diesel-powered F-350s per year to the Israeli defense forces.
GM is developing hybrid versions of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups for the COMBATT program.
Not everyone is convinced that hybrid-power technology is ready for military application. Hybrids usually use battery packs to store energy, but battery technology has yet to reduce the size and weight necessary to allow hybrid trucks to maintain their payload capacity, says Kirk Luckscheiter, the former program manager for Veridian Corp., the Washington research and development firm that built COMBATT demonstration vehicles from 1998 to 2000.
The government, he says, must spend more than the $14 million allocated by Congress last year if it wants to accelerate hybrid technology.
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