Ford Hytrans


FORD, along with partners Ricardo, Valeo and Gates, has produced a diesel/electric hybrid Transit van that it claims can offer up to a 21% fuel saving in urban stop/start driving.

The HyTrans project, which has been running for the past year, is believed to be the first commercial vehicle in Europe to use electric belt-driven integrated starter generator (ISG) technology.

With backing from the Department for Transport’s New Vehicle Technology Fund, Ford and its partners set out to produce a van that would use less fuel through the merging of existing and new technology. This is not some multi-million pound concept vehicle, but a standard T280 front wheel drive Transit with a regular 2.0-litre diesel engine under the bonnet.

However, attached to that engine is a Valeo 4kW 42v belt-driven starter alternator (StARS).

There is also a 1.5kW 14/42v DC/DC converter, an advanced 36v lead acid battery and a Valeo battery management system.

The starter/alternator is attached to the engine using a Gates front end ancillary drive, while the start/stop and regenerative braking functions are controlled by a Ricardo control system in the production vehicle’s engine management unit.

How does it work? Well – and this is important to remember – the system is designed for vans that are continually stopping and starting, through multi-drop deliveries or intensive urban use.

The van starts normally, with a turn of the key activating the standard starter motor. And the system doesn’t come into play until the vehicle’s catalyst has reached its operating temperature.

But once warmed up, as soon as the van comes to a halt and the driver selects neutral and releases the clutch, the engine stops.

The second the driver pushes the clutch down, before even getting a chance to move the gear lever, the electric starter/alternator restarts the engine.

There is no churning of the engine like a conventional starter motor. The high torque ISG has the engine up and running in a fraction of the time, around 400 milliseconds versus the standard motor’s 0.8 secs.

And as soon as the engine is running, the starter/alternator is being turned by the engine to recharge the battery. Come to a halt again 100 metres down the road, knock the van into neutral and the engine dies away again. Touch the clutch and off you go.

It really is that simple.

Behind the wheel

WE tried the system at Ford’s research and development centre in Essex and came away impressed. Engine starting was completely fuss-free, with no noise or time wasted. You do have to remember to put the vehicle in neutral and lift the clutch every time you stop, however.

There are other systems around like this, mainly on cars and using the normal 12v electrics. But Ricardo’s project director Neville Jackson says that, at present, the torque needed to turn over a large diesel engine requires the higher voltage battery and electrics. In addition the standard starter motor is required for especially cold engine starts, when torque rises even higher.

The team has put the vehicle to the test around two actual driving cycles, taken from existing Transit fleet users. In a door-to-door delivery cycle the HyTrans Transit used a remarkable 21.3% less fuel. In a neighbourhood-to-neighbourhood cycle, that result dropped to about 6.3%.

Putting the HyTrans through the New European Drive Cycle resulted in a fuel saving of just 3.7%.

So the message is clear – this is a product that is designed specifically for multi-stop urban use. However, if your business has that sort of driving operation, 23% is a great fuel saving.

The viability of putting the HyTrans into production will be assessed in a year’s time.

So far the project has cost around £1.3 million, with £640,000 coming from the DfT and the remainder from the four partners. But with between 15-20% of Transit vans operating in some sort of stop/start urban delivery operation, the potential benefits could easily repay that investment.

Ford GB’s commercial vehicle director Gary Whittam pointed out: ‘This isn’t a solution to all of the van businesses’ problems.’

In operation, the HyTrans has been designed to work just like any other Transit. There are no special service requirements or battery charging necessary. The added bonus of using a standard diesel-engined Transit is that there would be little effect on residual values.

With something like an LPG conversion, there is always the fact that at the end of the day you are left with a petrol-engined Transit, which on the used market is virtually worthless.

If, as the second or third owner of a HyTrans, you don’t want to keep using the system, simply unbolt it and put a standard battery back in.

Of course the team is hoping that people will want to stick with the technology and all of the components have been designed and priced to run for as long as the base vehicle.

So what of price? Ford was being understandably coy, as the van is still at least a year away from a production decision. But the firm said that it would have to have a payback of less than two years to be viable.

The HyTrans Transit is now destined for a year of evaluation and testing by real fleets and prospective customers. The team also has to sort out all of the other functions. For instance, what happens if the vehicle is stopped for a long time in traffic and the driver wants to use the heating or air-conditioning system?

But these are small problems and, with the Holy Grail of a 23% fuel saving to drive them forward, ones that will be overcome.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.