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Father and son create idea for hybrid dinghy pusher

Better gas mileage and better acceleration. Who would have thought a motorhome could reap such benefits by towing a vehicle?

Well, not just any vehicle.

A father-son engineering duo has created a concept for an electric-hybrid passenger vehicle that is designed to improve the fuel economy of the motorhome towing it, and increase the acceleration.

Shepards develop concept for a hybrid dinghy pusher for towing behind a motorhomeThe University of Alabama Web site reports that Dr. Steve Shepard Jr. and his father, Dr. Steve Shepard Sr., developed the concept for the hybrid dinghy pusher, known as HDP.

Steve is associate professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Alabama. His father is a former faculty member and researcher at Mississippi State University. They developed the idea for the HDP after the cost of fuel curtailed both families’ traveling plans.

In their concept, the dinghy consists of a hybrid SUV towed by the motorhome. When driven as a standard automobile, the hybrid SUV operates as a fully-functional hybrid vehicle. When towed behind a RV, the SUV switches into the hybrid dinghy pusher mode, where only the electrical portion of the hybrid-SUV is utilized.

According to the story on the UA Web site, the HDP works by going into generator mode and storing energy when going downhill. Energy previously stored in the batteries is used to help push the motorhome uphill.

The previously stored electrical energy in the hybrid dinghy pusher can also be used to help accelerate the motorhome more quickly from a stop or while just driving down the road. A conventional hybrid SUV is adapted to utilize its electric system to recycle energy when being towed.

The HDP’s on board motors provide propulsion during acceleration and act as electric generators during braking. The assistance provided to the motorhome by the HDP is not meant to replace the propulsion provided by the motorhome engine; it simply supplements it to improve acceleration and reduce wear on the RV engine.

Unlike typical towed vehicles, motorhomes towing an HDP would experience a decrease in fuel consumption and an increase in acceleration performance. According to Shepard, hybrid motorhomes are just now coming onto the market, and they are expensive.

Besides being a cheaper alternative to a hybrid motorhome, the greatest advantage of this new concept is that the HDP not only assists the motorhome in transit, but it also provides motorhome owners with a hybrid vehicle to drive after arriving at their destination.

Other advantages of implementing such a system, the Shepards say, are improved gas mileage, reduced rate of wear on brake components, and improved mobility for users of motorhomes and the dinghy.

Working with UA's Office for Technology Transfer, the Shepards are in the process of securing a development partner to bring this technology to the market. UA originally filed a U.S. provisional patent application, which has since been converted to a full utility patent application.

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