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Congress OKs bill providing $2 million more for Mack Trucks

July 24, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Congress approved a bill late Thursday that would provide Mack Trucks $2 million more to continue its efforts to develop a hybrid diesel-electric powertrain for military and commercial use, according to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's office.

The Defense Appropriations Conference Report for fiscal year 2004-05, which contains the $2 million, still has to be approved by President Bush, Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright said Friday.

White House spokesman Allen Abney said it probably would be at least a week before the bill came before Bush for his signature. The bill had not arrived in the office yet, so Abney said he did not know Friday whether there were any items in the defense appropriations bill that could present a hurdle to Bush signing it.

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Guy Rini, director of advanced propulsion systems at Mack Trucks north of Hagerstown, eagerly was anticipating the president's signing of the bill because the funding won't be secure until then.

"We've got a war going on in Iraq and this is defense contracts," Rini said.

Rini said he was thankful for the support of Bartlett and U.S. Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, particularly Mikulski.

Mikulski did more than carry her weight to support the importance of hybrid technology for national security, Rini said. The hybrid powertrain being developed at Mack is important to national security because it will reduce the country's dependency on foreign oil, Rini said.

The hybrid project also will comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's 2007 and 2010 emissions standards, according to Rini and Bartlett's office.

In early 2004, the heavy-duty truck manufacturer announced that it won a $4 million government contract over two years to design a hybrid-electric vehicle for refueling Air Force planes.

The $2 million in additional funds would help continue that effort, Rini said.

Rini expects the first of two military demonstration vehicles to be ready in February.

Mack is proposing building four demonstration vehicles - two military and two trash vehicles, but is waiting for Air Force officials to agree to what kind of vehicles they want, Rini said. The first demonstration vehicle might be a refueler truck, he said.

The hybrid program began in 2002, Rini said.

Mack's hybrid truck would work similarly to how a hybrid car such as the Toyota Prius works, except it would use diesel fuel instead of gas, Rini said.

The hybrid truck would recharge its batteries off the engine and acceleration would use the electric motor and diesel engine, he said.

While the first demonstration vehicle is expected in February, Rini said that doesn't mean the others will follow quickly. Development always is in the three- to 10-year range, depending on how much money is invested and how quickly, Rini said.

Volvo, Mack's parent company, and the federal government are funding the project, he said.

Mack officials are researching the hybrid powertrain for military and commercial use, but have not formulated a commercial plan yet, Rini said.

"So it's going to bring jobs to Hagerstown, but only when we commercialize," Rini said. "If it doesn't create jobs, it will ultimately keep jobs in Hagerstown."

Mack Trucks spokesman John Walsh said the powertrain facility had 1,415 employees as of July 15.

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