Transport Theory

Q&A: Justin Ashton, co-founder of XL Hybrids

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XL Hybrids hopes its low-cost hybrid electric powertrain will create a low-carbon alternative for business fleets.

For all the promise of electric vehicles, high production costs have kept hybrids and plug-in EVs prohibitively expensive for many companies and consumers. But XL Hybrids, an automotive technology startup based in Boston, Mass., has designed a low-cost hybrid electric powertrain that its founders hope will make electric vehicles a viable alternative for businesses. SmartPlanet's David Worthington wrote about the company earlier this year.

SmartPlanet spoke with Justin Ashton, a co-founder and vice president of business development at XL Hybrids to find out more about the product.

SP: Can you tell me about XL Hybrids and what it hopes to achieve?

JA: XL Hybrids is an automotive technology startup company that developed a patent-pending, low-cost hybrid electric powertrain for commercial vans and pickup trucks. Our founders, all MIT alumni, started XL Hybrids based on the realization that businesses did not have access to hybrid electric technology at a price point that could spur mass adoption. If they did, we knew we could spur adoption and make a massive impact on reducing emissions and fuel consumption.

SP: How is the technology you use different from the electric power trains we've seen on the market so far?

JA: XL Hybrids’ technology is different in several ways:

1) It is designed as an aftermarket product for business fleets. Fortune 500 companies, such as those that operate service and delivery vehicles, as well as smaller companies, make up our customer base. The technology is only compatible with larger rear-wheel drive vehicles and is not designed for passenger cars.

2) Our hybrid powertrain is installed by certified commercial vehicle equipment installers called “upfitters,” not by vehicle manufacturers. Having aftermarket equipment installed on commercial vehicles is quite common. By using certified installers, we maintain the [original equipment manufacturer] (OEM) vehicle warranty.

3) The technology is designed from the ground up to be the lowest-cost commercial hybrid while providing maximum value in fuel and brake maintenance savings. For the production release in 2013, we’re pricing at $7,990 installed. For many businesses, this means they can save $2,000 to $3,000 per year in vehicle fuel and maintenance costs.

SP: Your technology reported creates up to 21 percent in fuel savings. How do you accomplish that?

JA: Our hybrid technology creates fuel savings through a process known as regenerative braking and assist. This means that the electric motor captures energy during braking or coasting and stores it in the battery pack. When the driver accelerates, the battery releases the energy and helps propel (assist) the vehicle, which offsets the work that the combustion engine needs to perform and reduces fuel consumption. We have tested the hybrid vans at an EPA-certified laboratory and achieved 21 percent savings on a drive cycle similar to EPA City.

SP: On which models can we expect to see this technology?

JA: The technology is available for GM 2500 and 3500 cargo vans. It can be installed on new vans or retrofit on model years 2010 through 2012. We will release a GM passenger van variant in 2013, and we will also add models for pickup trucks like the Chevy Silverado and Ford F-Series. While our technology today is designed for commercial vehicles, as we add pickup truck compatibility, the technology will become available to consumers who drive those models.

SP: Where do see this technology going in the next five years?

JA: The vision for XL Hybrids is to provide a low-cost hybrid technology for commercial vans and pickup trucks that saves money and reduces fuel consumption and can be scaled to tens of thousands of vehicles per year. As the costs of advanced battery technology fall over time, XL Hybrids will develop and release a low-cost aftermarket plug-in hybrid powertrain that can reduce fuel consumption by 33 to 50 percent. The plug-in hybrid option may be available in three to five years. We also plan to export our technology to other large markets in Asia, Europe, and Latin America as we scale.

SP: Why is it important to develop US-based clean tech automotive innovation?

JA: The U.S. transportation market is one of the largest markets in the world, and the U.S. is the largest consumer of petroleum products in the world. We believe U.S.-based technology innovators and manufacturers can be competitive in the global market, and we source all of our major components from U.S. companies. We are creating jobs in the U.S. and value for U.S. companies by reducing their volatile fuel bills.

Photos: XL Hybrids

Channtal Fleischfresser

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Channtal Fleischfresser has worked for The Economist, WNET/Channel 13, Al Jazeera English, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure