Eaton Corp., a diversified industrial manufacturer, has begun development of a hybrid electric power system for the heavy-duty (Class 8) commercial vehicle market. The heavy-duty system will deliver both on-road efficiency and idle reduction for significant fuel savings and emissions reductions.

It will be similar in design and will share many of the same components as Eaton's highly successful medium-duty hybrid electric system built for Class 4-7 vehicles, but will be adapted for Class 8 vehicles with on-highway applications.

Fleets using Eaton's heavy-duty hybrid system will experience reduced fuel consumption both while driving and when parked. Recent independent test results have shown a 5% to 7% savings versus a conventional Class 8 vehicle while driving, and a savings of one gallon per hour when parked. Those savings equate to about $9,500 a truck per year in normal operation, resulting in cost savings for a typical truckload carrier with 1,000 power units to $9.5 million per year.

The idle reduction mode in Eaton's heavy-duty hybrid system will enable fleets to save fuel, reduce emissions and comply with rapidly expanding local anti-idling laws. The system's batteries power the heating, air conditioning, and vehicle electrical systems while the engine is off. When the idle reduction mode is active, engine operation is limited to battery charging, an automatically controlled process that will take approximately five minutes per hour. In the proposed system design, a proprietary feature minimizes engine vibration during start-up and shut-down during the recharge periods, allowing the driver to rest without interruption.

"We see an exciting future for hybrid electric vehicles in the heavy-duty market place," said Kevin Beaty, manager, Eaton Hybrid Power Systems. "We've demonstrated our leadership in hybrid power over the last five years for our medium-duty customers, and we're confident that we can carry that forward with a strong value proposition to our heavy-duty customers."

Beaty indicated that Eaton's heavy hybrid power system was currently in the testing and development phases, and that they are working with truck and engine makers and select fleets to field prototypes for field evaluation. Eaton's heavy-duty hybrid power system is expected to be available well before 2010, and could help meet the latest EPA emissions regulations scheduled to be enforced at that time.

In another development, Eaton announced it has made a "tentative decision" to close its Eaton Hydraulics Hutchinson plant, which employs around 450 people.

"If the plant does close, it will take 12 to 18 months to do that," said Kelly Jasko, manager of external communications with the Cleveland-based company. "It would be a gradual closing."

A final decision on the closing was expected in 30 days. The plant, which was involved in a multimillion-dollar upgrade in 1999, makes parts for hydraulic pumps and motors. Its employees account for almost 1% of the Reno County's labor force.

The delay in the decision is due to negotiations with the union that represents plant employees. But Jasko said the major considerations for the potential closing centered on factors outside union control, such as floor space and access to customers.

"It's mostly due to the size of the facility and the lack of manufacturing complexity," Jasko said. "It makes it a logical choice to fold into other hydraulic plants."

Eaton has operated the plant in Hutchinson since 1989, when it was purchased from Cessna Power Fluid. At that time, it employed more than 1,100, but work force numbers steadily declined.