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 |  Feb 22 2011, 1:44 PM

A what you may ask? Well, a hybrid pickup, a dual powertrain vehicle that uses a gasoline engine, but instead of an electric motor and batteries, relies on a reservoir, accumulator and hydraulic pump as its secondary source for motivation.

Hydraulic hybrids are not new, but until now they’ve largely been used on concept vehicles and delivery or garbage trucks; vehicles that spend a lot of time in urban driving cycles and under frequent stop/start conditions.

A hydraulic hybrid system works by having fluid stored under pressure in the accumulator, which is converted into energy and transmitted to the vehicle’s rear wheels via what Perry Li, co-deputy director of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (a real mouthful, that) calls a “power split hydraulic hybrid architecture.”

The CCEFP has teamed up with Ford Motor Company to work on the concept, using a F-150 as the subject vehicle. The truck is powered by a 4.6-liter single overhead cam V8, but uses a special continuously variable transmission built by Folsom Technologies. Whereas some hybrid gas/electric trucks, like Chevy’s Silverado, use electric motors inside the transmission to provide power to the driven wheels, this one uses hydraulic pump motors. Combined with the CVT, the hydraulic system allows power to be variably split between the gas engine and the secondary power source, improving fuel economy.

How much? Well, a conventional 4.6-liter F-150 has a combined city/highway mileage ratings of 18-mpg. With the CVT and hydraulic system operating, Li claims the same truck can likely deliver as much as 40-mpg in urban driving!

The CCEFP is a national network of seven universities and 55 industrial partners which is funded by the National Science Foundation, whose mission is to pursue innovation in the areas of hydraulic and pneumatic technology, including small, efficient powertrains for vehicles.

Li says that he hopes to have a running, driving hydraulic hybrid prototype F-150 on the road by the end of this year.

It will be interesting to see if his claims can actually be supported by raw data. If they can, it looks like the future of our beloved pickup truck might not be electric at all and from many angles, particularly as it applies to heavier vehicles and commercial fleets, that’s probably a good thing.

[Source: Pickup trucks.com]