Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, 85% owned by DaimlerChrysler, has launched a hybrid version of the Canter, which it describes as the cleanest light truck in the world.

It is expecting to sell around 50 units a months in Japan, and is exploring export opportunities, starting with North America and Mexico.

The Canter Eco Hybrid is the first light duty truck to comply with Japan's stringent, 'long term emissions regulations' due to take effect in August 2007. According to the company, it also has the best fuel efficiency of any Japanese brand of hybrid electric commercial vehicle.

DaimlerChrysler Truck group head Andreas Renschler said: "Mitsubishi Fuso's strategic role within our truck group is well-defined and includes the company's role as the global competence centre for hybrid technology. The new Canter Eco Hybrid is perfect proof of the strength of Fuso in this area, which benefits our entire truck group."

As the DaimlerChrysler Truck Group's hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) centre, Mitsubishi Fuso is charged with developing advanced hybrid technologies, including systems which will extend worldwide in the future.

The Canter Eco Hybrid is the second Mitsubishi Fuso hybrid vehicle. The first was the Aero Nonstep HEV bus, a 68-passenger city bus with hybrid drive, launched in 2004, and sold only in Japan.

The Canter hybrid will be produced at the company's Kawasaki Manufacturing Plant, Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

The vehicle's economy relates principally to its fuel efficiency. The hybrid diesel-electric drive installed in the vehicle delivers an up-to-20% increase in fuel efficiency over conventionally-powered models. The fuel savings are especially significant during stop-and-go, delivery driving.

The vehicle incorporates Mitsubishi Fuso's advanced Inomat-II transmission. An automated manual transmission, it requires no shifting or clutch pedal operation, making operation simple and efficient for drivers of all skill levels. Importantly, it can be driven with an automatic-only driver's licence. The simple operation also can lead to reduced driver fatigue, which can contribute to better safety.

The core of the hybrid system system is a newly-developed, small-displacement diesel engine. The three-litre DOHC, 16-valve intercooled turbo-diesel engine generates 92kW at 3200 rpm and 294Nm of torque at 1,700 rpm. It incorporates new technologies like a diesel particulate filter for trapping PMs and a high precision, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system for reducing NOx.

The engine is combined with an ultra-slim electric motor/generator (35 kW) and a high performance lithium-ion battery to form a parallel hybrid system, which means that power can come from the vehicle's electric motor, the diesel engine or both. The hybrid system switches its operational mode according to the driving situation. The electric motor is used to drive the vehicle when starting off. During hard acceleration, both the diesel engine and electric motor/generator power the vehicle. When cruising, the vehicle is driven by the diesel engine only, like a conventional vehicle. When slowing down or braking, the electric motor/generator functions as a generator to brake the vehicle. The generator converts brake energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery for the next moving off or acceleration. The transmission contributes to the process by proving smooth and efficient shifting during operations.

The Canter hybrid was developed by a cross-functional team using the Fuso Product Development (FPD) system. Based on the global standards of DaimlerChrysler, FPD is a method for managing the entire vehicle development process, from concept to launch. Products must pass through stringent quality validation "gates," where they are evaluated by cross-functional teams. Only when the product meets all quality requirements it can move to the next stage of development. The advanced system ensures that products are launched on time with maximum assurance of quality.

Mitsubishi Fuso in 2005 sold 178,900 vehicles including light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses, of which 119,000 were exported.