We first covered XL Hybrids back in 2011. Back then, we were excited about the company, which promised to offer bolt-on retrofit kits that would turn high-volume vehicles like full-size GM vans and Panther-platform Fords into more fuel efficient gas-electric hybrids. It seemed like a great thing, but we didn’t hear much about the company. After a while, we mostly forgot about it.
A few weeks ago, however, I received an email from Jay Sandler asking if we were still interested in hearing about what XL Hybrids was up to. After more than three years, I told him that I was surprised XL Hybrids was still up to anything at all – and that’s when things started to get pretty interesting.
Jay is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for XL Hybrids – and he’s been busy. The company’s first commercial products launched late summer last year. These were hybrid retrofit kits for Chevy Express 2500 and 3500 vans which were closely followed by kits for Ford’s E series Econoline vans. That E series retrofit surprised me, since that van has been largely out-Darwined by the Mercedes Sprinter and Ford’s own Sprinter series vans.
“That’s true,” said Sandler. “They’re still making E series vans, though, to fill existing orders. On top of that, there are millions of those vans, from E150s to E350s, still in operation in fleets all over the country. Our conversions can help extend the lives of those fleets and reduce their running costs.”
That seemed like sound reasoning to me, but I wondered (aloud) if people would put an expensive retrofit package onto an existing vehicle that they, maybe, didn’t want to put any more money into.
Sandler actually laughed at that. “That’s why we’re still around.” It turns out, XL Hybrids is still around because its retrofit conversion kits sell for about $8000, and can typically pay for themselves in gas savings in about 3 years. “36-39 months,” says Jay, adding “that’s without government or tax incentives figured in. We can actually make a solid business case for our conversions.”
That’s a far cry from competing hybrid truck products like Bob Lutz’ VIA project, which offers $79,000 pickups that would– well, let’s just say that it would take you “longer” to get your money back out of a Via truck without some serious government subsidies.
We had a chance to do some direct question-answer stuff ahead of an industry trade show in California. I typed furiously, but may have missed a few words here- so take these as “paraphrasing” rather than direct quotes from Jay. Enjoy!
Q&A With XL Hybrids’ Jay Sandler
Q. What’s the big take-away, the main point of what XL Hybrids is doing?
A. I’d say the product is easy to operate. There’s no special driver training required, so (the drivers) can just get in and drive. Our hybrids drive just like conventional vans, but it picks up braking energy and turns it into kinetic energy going forward, so it gets a 25% increase in MPG.
Q. How does the product impact OEM warranty?
A. There’s no impact, because there’s no interaction with the ECU/TCU. Our hybrid system reacts to data on the CAN Bus, in that it “listens” and then applies TQ or braking as it sees fit.
Q. How long does it take to install?
A. Most shops can install our product in about 5 hours.
Q. Do you have a CARB number?
A. Yes. Even if we don’t touch the emissions controls, California requires it. We have a vehicle in the CARB lab and expect to be certified shortly.
Q. Do you see VIA Trucks as a competitor? How do you compare, cost-wise?
A. The XL Hybrid system is less than $10,000- closer to $8,000 in volume. The VIA system is closer to $80,000– which is, like, crazy. They can make sense with large gov’t subsidies covering the incremental difference, but the problem is that gov’t subsidies aren’t always forever and they aren’t always consistent. That’s not a sustainable business case, because there doesn’t seem to be any economic sense to an $80,000 conversion if you have to pay for it yourself. XL’s simplicity also removes the VIA’s need for specialized training for techs and dealers nationwide. 5 hour install. If it fails, it’s just a van until it gets repaired.
Q. How long to recoup your investment?
A. 3 years. 36-39 months, in most cases.
Q. What’s the biggest deal, the key idea you want people to “get” about XL Hybrids?
A. Again, I think it’s the fact that we make good economic sense without subsidies. That’s a pretty unique claim in the green space. Most of the few similar options for fleets out in the market today don’t make sense without incentives.
Original content from Gas 2.