XL Hybrids Ups Investment Round to $1.8M, Plans to Convert Commercial Vehicles to Hybrids

This is one of the stealthiest and most intriguing cleantech companies in New England. XL Hybrids, based in Somerville, MA, has just received $300,000 in investment from an undisclosed professional fund, which brings its total seed funding to just over $1.8 million. The company previously had raised a little more than $1.5 million in angel investment, about half of which we reported back in February.

XL Hybrids is keeping things quiet for a while, but I’ve gleaned some new details about the operation from talking with Tod Hynes, the company’s co-founder and president. Hynes is a lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he teaches a course on energy ventures. He is also the co-founder of the MIT Clean Energy Prize, and has been working in the cleantech industry for eight years, having made his name in wind power development.

The idea behind XL is to convert commercial fleet vehicles—town cars, duty vans, and trucks for hire—into hybrid (gas-electric) vehicles. The company is initially targeting vehicles that travel more than 30,000 miles a year, Hynes says, but that figure will go down with the cost of the XL system. By retrofitting conventional cars and trucks with lithium ion batteries, electric motors, and other integration and control technologies, he says, XL can reduce fuel consumption by 15 to 30 percent, depending on how the vehicles are used. Hynes declined to give details about the retrofitting process, saying it’s proprietary.

Of course, retrofitting existing vehicles to make them hybrid or electric has been a popular idea for some time. What makes XL unique is that it’s focused on low costs and the ability to deploy its technology quickly in a large number of vehicles, Hynes says. Hence the focus on conventional hybrids instead of pure electric or plug-in vehicles. “Our strategy is to focus on the most cost-effective system,” he says. “Our target is a good economic solution…that will reduce petroleum consumption very rapidly.”

“It’s a great economic opportunity,” Hynes adds. “You have to deal with the vehicles on the road. You need to have a hybrid before a plug-in.”

Hynes founded XL Hybrids together with four other MIT alums in 2009. It currently has six full-time employees. The company has been developing and testing its technology over the past year, and is now lining up pilot tests in the Boston area for this fall. If all goes well, the plan is to roll out national pilots soon thereafter.

It probably doesn’t hurt XL’s prospects that crude oil is currently above $75 a barrel. Hynes acknowledges that the price of oil “has a big impact on the business.” But he maintains, “We can make the numbers work down to $50 a barrel.”

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