Plug-in Hybrid F-150 Pick-up Truck Getting Put to the Test

How would someone who uses their truck for work, every day, respond to a plug-in pickup? If Ford built a full-size pickup using design notes cribbed from Chevy’s Jesus car Volt, would the savings on fuel justify the added initial costs? That’s what the fleet managers at PG&E (and the drivetrain specialists at ALTe) hope to find out, as they put a converted Ford F-150 pickup through a gauntlet of stop-and-go driving, hauling, commuting, and more next year.

ALTe is hoping they can convince cost-conscious fleet managers, like those at PG&E, to consider up-fitting, rather than replacing, their current line-up of gas-guzzling trucks and vans with a system similar to the one shown below, which uses a Ford Focus-derived 2.0L four-cylinder engine as an “on-again, off-again” generator coupled to a generator which feeds power to the trucks’ substantial battery pack (itself some 25% larger than the Volt’s). The entire system looks very tidy and “production-ready”.

ALTe claims trucks modified with their powertrains can travel up to 30 miles on electric power alone, with the engine kicking in to spin the trucks’ generators for up to 270 additional miles (at which point, the driver would have to stop tore-charge the batteries or put more fuel in the truck’s diminutive 8 gallon fuel tank). ALTe accurately points out that these mpg figures (better than 30 mpg) are more than double the city-driving fuel economy ratings of the standard trucks, making conversion (in their minds) a no-brainer for large fleet-holding companies …

… you just know there’s a “but” coming, don’t you?

At Gas 2.0, we all seem to share this idea that the greenest car is the one that’s already been built. In keeping with that line of thinking, a company like ALTe, which seeks to retrofit existing vehicles in a way that makes them both more fuel efficient and easier to own and operate over the long-term, is one you’d expect us to applaud. We do, of course, but I think that – in this case – more information is needed.

Consider that many truck buyers (especially fleet buyers) actually use their trucks as, well, trucks! They tow with their trucks, how will ALTe’s electric motors hold up to that? They go off-road with their trucks, how will ALT’s system handle a rough stretch of ground or rocks? They’re used in airports and construction yards and military coups and generally nasty places the world over, how will traditionally delicate electronics handle the kind of corrosive stuff that conventional trucks are generally so good for splashing about in?

Serious questions, and we haven’t even covered the most important one: how will all that hauling, towing, and “trucking” impact the ALTe trucks’ biggest selling point: the price of fuel?

What do you think, readers? Will the electric motor’s “instant on” torque be up to the challenge, or will their batteries fall flat? What’s the over/under for real-world mpg? Why doesn’t Ford just bring over the mother(truc)king diesel Ranger already, so we can all stop harping about it and get back to work?

Let us know. Comments. Etc.

Source | Photos:  ALTe, via Green Car Reports.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.