You call that a hy­brid?

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On The Web - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

FUEL-SAV­ING hy­brid tech­nol­ogy de­signed to save the planet is now be­ing used to dig it up.

Earth­mover maker Ko­matsu has adopted a hy­brid sys­tem to save money and fuel on work­sites around the coun­try.

Weigh­ing a pinch over 21 tonnes, it’s a far cry from the Toy­ota Prius C, one of Aus­tralia’s cheap­est hy­brid cars. Its bright yel­low arm (ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a 2450kg load) could lift two of the tiny-tot Toy­otas in one deft swing— and still have room to dig some dirt.

The Ko­matsu is $240,000 with a few op­tions— a 20 per cent pre­mium on a non-hy­brid ex­ca­va­tor— or equal to 10 Priuses or one Porsche.

It has a top speed of only 5.5km/h.

Keep­ing th­ese machines run­ning isn’t cheap ei­ther. A new track costs $15,000, com­pared to about $800 for four new tyres on the Toy­ota. The Ko­matsu has one ad­van­tage over its tiny tech­ni­cal twin: it has a tighter turn­ing cir­cle be­cause it’s able to spin on its own axis, equal to the length of its tracks (3.7m plays the Toy­ota’s 9.6m turn­ing cir­cle).

The Ko­matsu’s hy­brid sys­tem is used only to ro­tate the up­per bod be­cause th­ese machines spend most of their day in one spot dig­ging holes and dump­ing the rub­ble. So when the body swivels it’s al­most silent, pow­ered by the cur­rent stored in a mas­sive on­board ca­pac­i­tor. Never mind the silent men­ace of hy­brids in car parks— fancy an 830kg bucket coming your way at head height?

When the ca­pac­i­tor needs recharg­ing, the Ko­matsu’s turbo diesel en­gine kicks in. Fol­low­ing the down­siz­ing trend with cars, this is a four­cylin­der en­gine when most ex­ca­va­tors of this size have a six. The diesel also op­er­ates at lower revs than reg­u­lar models (1300-1400rpm ver­sus 1800-2000rpm) be­cause the elec­tric mo­tor pro­vides ex­tra boost.

Most machines of this size con­sume 21 litres of fuel an hour in heavy use or 15 on av­er­age; the hy­brid uses 11-15.

Ko­matsu bravely let me be­hind the wheel to leave my mark on it. I’ve been lucky enough to drive Fer­raris, Porsches and Lam­borgh­i­nis, but I was more ner­vous climb­ing— lit­er­ally— into this.

A large screen shows how much en­ergy you’re us­ing or sav­ing, with the same type of dig­i­tal read­outs as in hy­brid cars. The con­trols are fairly straight­for­ward. The lever is sim­i­lar to that of an ar­cade game, ex­cept out here the con­se­quences are real, hence a panic but­ton to shut it down in­stantly.

Not be­ing brave enough to break new ground, I ended up with a deeper hole in the same spot. Even­tu­ally I got the swing of it and the ma­chine’s min­ders had to bang on the sound­proof door to get me out.

And to think— peo­ple get paid to have this much fun.

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