- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

OSHKOSH, Wis.

At the top of a 10-foot-high mound of dirt, Gary Schmiedel takes in the silence. The military truck he is driving barely hums just before it careens down a steep incline into a muddy pool.

The vehicle — a Heavy Expanded Mobility Technical Truck or HEMTT — normally would be so loud that the occupants wouldn’t be able to talk to one another, said Mr. Schmiedel, vice president of product engineering for Oshkosh Truck Corp. But this version is about as loud as a standard sedan, with a smooth ride, splashy computer screens and a comfortable interior.

This isn’t your father’s military truck, a loud, bumpy gas guzzler. This is a hybrid made at the request of the Defense Department.

Oshkosh Truck, the military’s exclusive provider of the Army’s heavy cargo-hauling HEMTT vehicles, is finishing up prototypes of its electric hybrid. It increases gas mileage by about 20 percent from the standard 3 to 4 miles per gallon and generates enough electricity to power a city block or hospital. The company, based in this city about 100 miles north of Milwaukee, just signed a contract to produce a prototype of a similar vehicle for the Marines.

It is not clear how the hybrid technology will affect prices for the military vehicles, whose diesel version costs from $200,000 to $400,000, said Mr. Schmiedel, vice president of advanced product engineering for Oshkosh Truck. Even modest reductions in gas mileage help, he said, pointing out that 70 percent of what military vehicles carry is fuel.

The hybrid technology can be far-reaching, Mr. Schmiedel said. Commercial vehicles such as garbage trucks and emergency vehicles could benefit from using less fuel, he said. The Department of Energy has said it hopes to double the fuel economy of garbage trucks by 2010.

The ability to generate power could be another selling point, Mr. Schmiedel said. The technology has a storage system capturing energy that otherwise would be wasted in the braking process. The generator can produce up to 300 kilowatts of power — enough to run 50 homes for an indefinite amount of time, he said. In response to Hurricane Katrina, Oshkosh took a hybrid truck to New Orleans and used it to pump out a hospital basement.

“First and foremost it’s a truck. If it has the flexibility to act as a generator in a pinch, that’s a heck of a disaster recovery attribute,” Mr. Schmiedel said.

The military is working with several companies to get power systems into its hybrid vehicles, said Paul Mehney, communications officer with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, Mich. Hybrid generators would eliminate the need to haul in a separate diesel generator, he said.

“It comes in real handy in the field. You can power an operation center out of that. You can power water purification systems off that,” Mr. Mehney said.

The push to develop heavy hybrids will be huge in the coming years as companies tweak products for different markets, said Robert McCarthy, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co.

Although manufacturers such as Honda and Nissan have said they are considering slowing down production of hybrid vehicles because of sluggish sales, development of the technology for military and commercial use doesn’t seem to be waning, Mr. Schmiedel said. FedEx has announced it would add 75 diesel-electric hybrids to its fleet of 18 in use in Sacramento, Calif., New York City, Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C.; and trash hauler Waste Management Inc. has worked with three companies, including Oshkosh Truck, to develop hybrid technology and alternative fuels for its fleet of 22,000 vehicles.

Mr. Schmiedel and others at Oshkosh have been working since 1999 on the technology, called ProPulse. The company has made two trucks. It plans to make a few more and turn them over early next year for government testing, a process that could take a year, he said.

In the newest version — called the HEMTT A3 — a diesel engine powers a generator that sends power to electric-drive axles. Energy is stored when trucks coast or decelerate. The motor turns into a generator and provides power back into the vehicle, which can be used for the next acceleration or later to power outside sources.

In tweaking the ProPulse technology, Mr. Schmiedel said, engineers created dozens of other perks, such as shrinking vehicle weight and placing engines in a way that makes maintenance easier. A specialized technician used to spend up to 24 hours swapping an engine, but now any mechanic can do it in 20 minutes.

“What we think will drive hybridization is when there is some benefit over and above saving fuel,” Mr. Schmiedel said.

Oshkosh Truck, which reported nearly $3 billion in sales last year, has made nearly 20,000 HEMTTS, with an estimated 2,500 in use in Iraq. One-third of the company’s sales come from the military.

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