Mack wins contract for research project

January 07, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

If Mack Trucks is successful, noisy trash trucks one day may be replaced by whisper-quiet ones powered with the help of electricity.

Mack is one of a few companies in the world researching the truck applications of hybrid-electric technology already being used in passenger cars, company officials said Tuesday.

The Hagerstown company has won a $4 million government contract over two years to design a hybrid-electric vehicle for refueling Air Force planes.


Mack hopes to apply that research to other hybrid-electric trucks. One promising market is trash trucks, said Denis Leblond, senior vice president of Mack's Powertrain Division. "Our goal is to make a product that can be used in the marketplace," Leblond said.

Company officials explained the research project Tuesday to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who visited the plant and took an hour-long tour. Bartlett and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., helped get the budget item approved, Mack spokeswoman Patti Friend said.

Bartlett commended Mack for being at the forefront of technology intended to lessen the country's dependence on oil from Arab countries.

"If they stopped selling us oil, our economy would collapse overnight. They have the ultimate weapon in any war," Bartlett said.

In addition, the world's oil supply is limited. Current reserves would last 40 years at the current rate of consumption, Bartlett said.

Bartlett drives a 2001 Toyota Prius, one of the first hybrid-electric vehicles made.

Hybrid-electric technology has been slower to develop in trucks than in passenger vehicles because of trucks' heavy-duty nature and lower production volumes.

Hybrid-electric technology could improve the fuel economy of trucks by as much as 50 percent, project manager Guy Rini said.

The project is one indication of how research and development is becoming increasingly important at a company once known primarily for its blue-collar manufacturing side.

Volvo, Mack's parent company, announced last year that the Hagerstown plant would be responsible for designing and manufacturing all Volvo and Mack engines for that market.

Mack is spending $147.5 million to add the new Volvo line at its 1.5 million-square-foot plant.

It also is building a $35.7 million state-of-the-art engine laboratory. There, the company will test the engines it's developing to meet strict new emissions standards that go into effect in 2007.

The law requires diesel trucks to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 50 percent and particulate emissions by 90 percent.

Mack employs 1,027 people in Hagerstown. Of those, 749 are in manufacturing and 204 are in purchasing and engineering. The other 74 are in administration, Leblond said.

Bartlett toured the 1.5 million-square-foot plant in a golf cart.

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