Watch Now

Kenworth delivers first — and last — natural gas-electric hybrid trucks

California’s shift to zero-emissions regulation could doom hybrids

Kenworth's delivery of the first two prototype hybrid natural gas-electric T680 trucks may be the last now that California wants zero instead of just lower emissions. (Photo: Kenworth)

Kenworth recently delivered its first two natural gas-electric hybrid trucks to drayage and warehouse supplier Total Transportation Systems Inc. in Southern California. But the state’s   regulatory shift from lower to zero emissions means they likely will be the last.

The prototypes were developed over four years, funded by a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant. They share components that Kenworth, a PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) brand, is using in a fleet of hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks built with Toyota (NYSE: TM). Five of the 10 trucks are being tested in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The hybrid T680 day cab tractors provide emissions-free motoring for 30 miles. Their batteries recharge by a generator powered by a near-zero-emissions natural gas engine that also can run on negative net-zero emissions renewable natural gas (RNG).

“In the last three years, [California has] switched from reducing to eliminating emissions,” Brian Lindgren, Kenworth research and development director, told FreightWaves on Wednesday. “I don’t see us pressing forward with this design at this point.”

Kenworth is taking orders for medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission battery-electric trucks for delivery later this year.

Plenty to learn

But there is plenty to learn from the hybrid trucks, he said.

“There is still lots of value in doing the program,” Lindgren said. Drivers can decide when to run on near-silent electric mode and when to switch to natural gas. As more cities and ports ban emissions, driving on electric power in so-called attainment zones becomes imperative.

“You get in line at the port and go to zero-emissions mode while waiting. Then you drive through the port and onto the highway where you kick in the natural gas engine,” Lindgren said.

That is what startup Hyliion Holdings (NYSE: HYLN) is counting on as it begins customer trials later this year with its natural gas generator-powered electric Hypertruck ERX. Hyliion expects to be able to travel 25 or more miles on electricity created from the generator.

The Kenworth hybrid-electric vehicles use the Cummins Westport L9N Near Zero emission engine fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG). Lithium-ion batteries supplement power from the generator when climbing grades.

The hybrid gets 23% better fuel economy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 18%, according to recent tests comparing it to a conventional natural gas powertrain, Kenworth said.  

“We thought at the time we drove into this project that it would be an interim step,” Lindgren said. “California has transitioned already. And 15 states and the District of Columbia have said they might follow.”

Toyota equips Kenworth Class 8 truck with updated fuel cell

Agility preorders 1,000 Hyliion hybrid electric trucks

Kenworth begins taking orders for Class 8 electric truck

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.