From the CEO: Let’s learn from overseas when we switch to zero emissions trucks

Finding a rest stop to take a break is challenging enough, let alone a place where you can store your spare battery and a hoist to swap it out.

Read time: 3 mins

By Warren Clark

Originally Published in Deals on Wheels Issue 492

There’s a long list of imponderables about the transition to zero emission heavy vehicles but one thing is clear: Australia can learn a lot about how not to do it from overseas.

The day before I wrote this, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) in the UK urged its government to deliver dedicated charging and hydrogen infrastructure for electric heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

SMMT bemoans the complete absence of HGV-dedicated electric charging or hydrogen filling points on the road network in UK, which is dissuading transport companies from investing in new technology to decarbonise their fleets.

There’s a huge need to decarbonise UK road freight transport: The Government has mandated that all new trucks weighing under 26 tonnes sold must be zero emission from 2035.

The same rule will apply to vehicles above 26 tonnes by 2040.

It sounds like putting the (iron) horse before the cart – especially when you consider that the first hard deadline gives many operators eight years to comply, which the SMMT says is the UK cycle of fleet renewal.

The SMMT says that the UK’s electric truck market is 20 years behind the rest of the world. I don’t know that we can say the same about Australia which, after all, is a tiny market by comparison.

I do know decarbonising is not a priority for most Australian operators. They have too many immediate priorities – like staying afloat.

And I know our governments all cop a bagging for not working together in a coordinated fashion. COVID-19 border issues underlined this.

But it’s not as if the manufacturers aren’t doing anything.

German logistics company DB Schenker has placed an order for 100 electric trucks for its European long-haulage operations.

But the European version of long-haul is very different to ours.  The vehicle going into production only has a range of 500km on a single charge.

Current batteries aren’t small and every kilo of weight displaces a kilo of freight payload.

Replacing a flat battery with a charged one is certainly possible in settings like a mine site, but as yet doesn’t seem a viable option for long-haul road freight where operators might have to vary their route.

Finding a rest stop to take a break is challenging enough, let alone a place where you can store your spare battery and a hoist to swap it out.

Manufacturers know they have to do better and governments know that strategic placement of charging or hydrogen re-fuelling stations has to suit Australian conditions. Hydrogen technology in trucks is still being developed.

To their credit, the Victorian and New South Wales Governments have started rolling out strategically-spaced EV charging stations along the Hume Highway, which is our industry’s road freight backbone.

There are 27 zero emission trucks available on the Australian market today – mostly light commercials – and there are 72 models of hybrids.

More are coming but industry predictions say that by 2030 and without some serious market intervention, 98 percent of all Australian trucks will still be running on diesel fuel.

The release of the Federal Government’s Electric Vehicle Strategy in April injected new life into the discussion.

It was another step – but not a final one.

The Government has kick-started consultations to determine what that number should be, and an announcement isn’t expected until the end of this year.

Committing to a hard standard is considered to be the tipping point for manufacturers who will then be able to plan.

That’s when the serious work of manufacturers tooling up and bureaucrats writing standards and regulations can swing properly into gear.

But back to the UK and the SMMT says that transport companies on tight budgets need stronger incentives to invest in electric and hydrogen trucks.

It says that only eight out of the 20 zero-emission truck models on the UK market qualify for a government-provided 20 discount off their purchase cost.