Walking into the Indianapolis Convention Center with the Work Truck Show in full swing makes you feel like you should be wearing a hard hat and safety glasses. Cherry pickers, scissor lifts, and dump beds dominate the upper reaches of the cavernous facility. Snowplows, outriggers, and dualie tires hold down miles of extra padded carpet in a variety of colors. In between is an array of industry-specific aftermarket upgrades to turn every class of truck and van into mechanized marvels.

The Work Truck Show products and services help equip trucks to operate farms; transport people; construct and maintain roads, homes, and buildings; provide emergency medical and rescue service; transfer disabled vehicles; provide utility services; clear snow and ice; and much more. Each of these applications requires a task specific-vehicle to get the job done. These trucks can range in size from compact to Class 8 and are often equipped with sophisticated gear that far exceeds the cost of the base truck chassis, which makes the Work Truck Show big business.


GREEN TRUCK SUMMIT
Profits are not the only concern of the show. The National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), which presents the Work Truck Show each year, also takes the lead in promoting green technology. Spearheading the eco-initiative is the Green Truck Summit, which is really a show within the show.

Five general sessions and 24 breakout meetings provided practical, real-world information on green technologies and fuels to 772 professionals this year. The summit, sponsored by International Truck, also featured a ride-and-drive event where attendees had a chance to drive alternative energy vehicles on the streets of Indianapolis.

I drove the extended-range Vtrux pickup from VIA Motors, the Chevy Volt of work trucks and winner of the Green Award at the Work Truck Show. The E-REV is always powered by the electric motor, which most of the time gets its go from the lithium-ion batteries tucked between the frame rails and driveshaft. The batteries are charged when plugged into a standard or 240-volt outlet or charging station. When the batteries run low (after about 40 miles), the V-6 gas engine kicks on to recharge them while you drive. With no mechanical connection to the drivelines, the engine can run at its most efficient rpm. Daily drives of fewer than 40 miles consume no gas at all.


COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS
Ford, GM, and Ram Truck all talked about their bi-fuel offerings featuring CNG at the show. In automotive applications, natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane, is compressed to 2900 to 3600 psi. This extremely clean-burning fuel is used in modified gasoline engines.

Ford Commercial Truck offers a variety of alternative-fuel choices, including CNG-prepared engines for its Transit Connect, plus E-Series and F-Series trucks, including the larger F-650/750 models. The Gaseous Engine Prep Package is developed and tested by Ford for preferred upfitters, who install the CNG tank and hardware. The engine comes with hardened exhaust valves and valve seats for improved wear resistance and durability for gaseous fuel systems. Ford engineers work with the upfit companies to ensure consistent and reliable performance, and Ford maintains the engine and powertrain warranty (5 years/50,000 miles). The upfitter is responsible for the system component warranty.

General Motors is taking orders for its bi-fuel 2013 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD extended-cab pickup trucks. The vehicles feature a CNG-capable Vortec 6.0-liter V-8 engine that seamlessly transitions between CNG and gasoline. Combined, the truck offers a range of more than 650 miles. These trucks will be available in standard and long box, with either two- or four-wheel drive. Although the fuel system is installed by a GM Tier One supplier, the completed truck is delivered directly to the customer, making the ordering process as seamless as it is for a standard vehicle. The bi-fuel commercial trucks will be covered by GM's 3-year/36,000-mile new-vehicle limited warranty and 5-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.

Ram Truck is the only manufacturer in North America offering a factory-built CNG pickup truck. The CNG Ram is equipped with two 4.6-cubic-foot CNG tanks located in the forward portion of the Ram's 8-foot bed. The CNG tanks provide a gasoline gallon equivalent of 18.2 gallons. The pickup uses a small amount of gasoline during engine startup, then runs exclusively on CNG. Once the CNG tanks are emptied, the vehicle automatically switches to gasoline. The CNG Ram is covered by a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty covering CNG-specific engine components, as well as a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty covering the tanks, storage compartment, and fuel filler equipment.

If you're curious, CNG availability varies throughout the country, so it's a good idea to look into where you can get natural gas before you give up on regular gas. Some parts of the country have lots of stations with CNG, while entire states are completely devoid of fueling stations. An interesting alternative is a home fueling station that takes your utility-supplied natural gas and compresses it for vehicle use. These units are expensive, at around $9000 installed, which means it will take more than 50,000 miles before you see the initial investment turn into fuel savings.


NEW DIESEL HYBRID
Waukesha, Wisconsin-based Odyne Systems brought its new advanced hybrid propulsion system to the show. The Odyne Hybrid Power plug-in system is designed to interface with a wide variety of truck-mounted equipment, lowering fuel consumption by up to 50 percent, reducing emissions, and providing quieter operation at the work site. Odyne's plug-in hybrid truck system increases fuel efficiency and power while driving by using a rugged Remy electric motor in parallel with the existing drivetrain to provide launch assist and regenerative braking.



HARDWARE, SOFTWARE EVERYWHERE
The show wasn't just about alternative power sources. There were plenty of other technologies. Some were old, such as power take-off, and others evolving, like fleet GPS data tracking, which is getting pretty sophisticated. Some bosses can zoom right in with satellite images to see where their employees are eating lunch.

There were a lot of snowplow manufacturers in attendance. Most of us never think about the wear and tear of hitting a manhole cover or curb with a snowplow, but Boss (bossplow.com) does. The company now combines trip-edge technology (for low obstacles) and full mold-board tripping (for high obstacles) to protect man, machine, and property.

That's how exhibitors roll every year at the Work Truck Show -- always seeking ways to help the working man work smarter, not harder.