XL Hybrids adds small bus installations

The company addresses a market that stands to gain the most from hybrid-electric propulsion

XL Hybrids’ parallel hybrid system fits into the vehicle without significant modifications to the engine or transmission.
XL Hybrids’ parallel hybrid system fits into the vehicle without significant modifications to the engine or transmission.

XL Hybrids, Boston, MA, develops aftermarket hybrid-electric powertrain technology specifically for commercial van and small bus fleets. Through a ship-through installation, an XL Hybrid conversion transforms Class 1-3 shuttle vehicles into fuel-efficient hybrid-electric vehicles. President and founder Tod Hynes, along with co-founders Clay Siegert and Justin Ashton, launched the company with the view that such technology has been lacking for the commercial fleet operators who use the most fuel.

The company leaders say their vision is to develop and deliver a cost-effective aftermarket hybrid-electric system that saves money, reduces fuel consumption, lowers emissions and exceeds sustainablility goals.

They began by speaking to fleet managers, mechanics and bus dealerships, as well as corporate executives, finance and leasing experts to map out the requirements for developing a hybrid technology that fleets will actually buy at scale. It turns out these groups had also been searching for a cost-effective solution.

“We recognized that the commercial and transit market stood to gain the most from hybrid-electric propulsion,” Hynes says. “The market is ready for a hybrid system that generates a three-year payback without relying on government subsidies, and this technology does just that.”

An electric motor, an advanced lithium-ion battery pack and sophisticated control software comprise the parallel hybrid system, which fits into the vehicle without modifications to the engine or transmission. The company says an installation takes about six hours. While XL Hybrids sells the product directly to fleet operators, the OEM warranties remain intact.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) marked XL Hybrids as one of five companies to receive funding under the InnovateMass program to test and showcase their early-stage clean energy technologies. This opportunity required a successful demonstration and validation that would prove it viable for investment and ready for mass production.

“These new ideas and technologies are getting their first real-world testing right here in Massachusetts,” says MassCEC Chief Executive Officer Alicia Barton. “They are making the Commonwealth a staging ground for innovation once again.”

Barton noted that the center invested in the XL Hybrids project because of its potential for growth and job creation.

National Van Builders, Attleboro, MA, and Kiessling Transit, Norfolk, MA, are partnering with XL Hybrids in this project to retrofit existing shuttle buses and convert them into energy-efficient hybrid vehicles. National Van Builders will do the install on the vehicles Kiessling Transit will use in its fleet. Senior Vice President Glen Perlman says his company has created a subsidiary called National Fleet Hybrids to do the work.

Funding for the project is through a $150,000 grant from the MassCEC with $230,336 in matching private funds.

XL Hybrids Vice President Justin Ashton sees the capability to make existing vehicles more efficient in less time than the typical automotive product development cycle as a game-changer.

XL Hybrids says its powertrain is now available as a ship-through option on MY14 Express and E-Series vans. The company recently announced installation partnerships with Leggett and Platt CVP and the Knapheide Manufacturing Company, both of which are Ford QVM and General Motors SVM-certified installation partners. The hybrid powertrain can also be installed as a retrofit on MY10-13 Express vans and MY09-13 E-Series vans.

While XL Hybrids first released its product for North American light-duty GM Express and Ford E-Series vans, the company recently announced a hybrid powertrain option for cutaway shuttle buses. The company says its current engineering efforts are expanding compatibility to more vehicle models.

Siegert says the major cost-driver of electrified vehicle technology is the battery packs, and EVs require very large battery packs.

“Battery prices have not fallen as fast as many analysts originally thought,” he says. “However, our assumption four years ago was that batteries would remain expensive for a decade and that hybrid-electric vehicles were already cost-effective. This was because they typically require about one-thirtieth to one-fiftieth the battery energy as commercial electric vehicles.”

Siegert thinks electric vehicles will eventually have a place in the commercial vehicle market as battery prices fall, with manufacturing scale coming from demand in the consumer segment.