By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BOSTON — A cool paint job or custom wheels are always popular for modifying a car or truck. Now you can go hybrid, at least for a commercial van.
While hybrid kits for the average car are still a work in progress, XL Hybrids Inc., 145 Newton St., has mass-produced an after-market hybrid-electric power train for commercial vans. Currently, the company focuses on the popular Ford E-Series cargo and passenger vans and Chevy Express work vans.
XL Hybrids' regenerative hybrid system captures brake energy to boost power to the gas engine. The extra power adds 10-12 miles per gallon to fuel efficiency, according to company officials. From a business perspective, fewer refueling stops makes drivers more productive. XL Hybrids estimates that fewer fill-ups add about two weeks of work time during the life of a vehicle. Hybrid power also delivers torque, which reduces the need for bigger engines. Maintenance costs are lower, too, as hybrids require fewer brake repairs, according to company officials.
Another cost-saver: Maintenance needs are monitored through a wireless data stream that allows XL Hybrids know of service needs before the driver even does.
The hybrid upgrade costs about $10,000 for a single vehicle, but the price drops significantly for a fleet of vans. An estimated three-year payback on investment is a big selling point, said Justin Ashton, XL Hybrids' co-founder and vice president of business development. “It really makes the value proposition compelling.”
For now, the hybrid upgrades are available for gas engines, which is a huge market in the United States and in developing countries, where gas prices are high.
XL Hybrids has tapped into the new vehicle chain by partnering with the biggest after-market outfitters with ties to the Ford and General Motors supply chain. The upgrades for new vehicles are done through certified mechanics at the after-market outfitters or at XL’s Boston office.
XL Hybrids has, so far, helped dozens of businesses go hybrid, including delivery companies such as FedEx. It recently joined with National Van Builders of Attleboro to retrofit Ford shuttle buses and vans, a project partially funded through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC).
The company is run by MIT graduates who believe their green startup should operate without government support. While grants such as the one from MassCEC are welcome, the business should succeed on its own merits, according to Ashton. “We recognize that subsidies can be risky for a startup company," he said.
Since its founding in 2009, XL Hybrids has grown because of its value to businesses. Hybrid conversions are expected to increase from hundreds this year to thousands in 2014. Jobs, too, are likely to increase; XL Hybrids currently has 17 employees.
The company is also tapping into a market in need of curbing carbon emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the commercial vehicle sector has been one of biggest emitters of carbon emissions since 1990. Hybrids, of course, help reduce those emissions.
Advances in batteries and electric engines are technologies XL Hybrids aims to bring to it products, helping further cut costs for businesses while helping the environment.