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Wanted: a Prius for the delivery industry

At ‘AltWheels’ expo, inventors bring the hybrid mind-set to gas-guzzling shipping trucks.

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An all electric plug-in truck from Smith Electric Vehicles.

Gregory M. Lamb

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A Staples delivery van. A utility company bucket truck. An electrically assisted cargo tricycle. These aren’t the kinds of vehicles that leap to mind when we hear the phrase “hybrid vehicle.”

But that’s changing. A huge chunk of greenhouse-gas and other harmful emissions spew out of the tailpipes of commercial vehicles. And with fuel costs rising, interest in ways to cut or eliminate the use of petroleum fuels is at an all-time high.

“What’s been happening in passenger vehicles is now coming to [commercial fleet operators], the guys who most need this because the biggest gas users are the biggest vehicles,” says Alison Sander, founder of AltWheels Fleet Day, the largest gathering of alternative-power commercial vehicles on the East Coast.

The autumn event in Framingham, Mass., showed off 45 alternative-powered vehicles to hundreds of corporate fleet managers and government officials from 28 states. The vehicles, which range in size from an electric scooter to a large Class 6 (25,000 lb. gross weight) truck, used a variety of alternative-power schemes, including hybrid electric, plug-in all-electric, hydrogen fuel cells, compressed natural gas, biodiesel, and 85 percent ethanol.

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