Taming the beast

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After a tough few years the commercial vehicle market is ready to bounce back with new environmentally-friendly designs and fuel saving technology.       
Lucy Tesseras takes a look at what’s on offer as manufacturers prepare for the CV show in April.

The truck market – once focused predominantly on power and brute force – is beginning to show a softer side. In the lead up to Euro 6 in 2013 and with London LEZ changes coming into play in 2012, manufacturers are looking at alternative fuels and other ways to reduce environmental impact at the same time as maintaining efficiency and reducing operating costs.

[asset_ref id=”1118″]For the first time ever it was a hybrid truck that won Truck of the Year at the IAA International Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany at the end of last year.
The unprecedented victory went to the Mercedes Atego BlueTec Hybrid 12-tonne truck which is due to launch in the UK this year.

“It’s a complete turnaround that an eco-friendly vehicle won the award as historically it has always been won by the big, fast vehicles with high horse power,” says Daimler’s Simon Wood. “It goes to show that there is a swing in opinion.”

The vehicle is aimed at the distribution market and combines diesel technology with a lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor. It was tested in Germany by companies including Deutsche Post DHL with fuel savings of up to 15 per cent recorded, as well as a reduction in emissions, when compared to a traditionally-powered truck.

The batteries are charged by recuperated braking energy and the engine. When the driver brakes, the electric motor acts as a generator and converts the braking energy into electrical power. It also has the ability to run on just the electric motor, just diesel or both combined.

The judging panel at the IAA said of the truck: “In the new Atego family, Mercedes-Benz presents a versatile medium-duty truck with ‘two souls’. On the one hand, the short-radius distribution driver now gets equipment which not long ago was reserved to long-haul drivers. On the other hand, the progressive parallel hybrid drive promotes the reduction of the carbon dioxide emissions of commercial vehicles.”

DAF has become one of the first European truck manufacturers to begin production of its 12-tonne hybrid distribution truck, the DAF LF Hybrid, which also uses a parallel diesel-electric system. The truck can be driven by the diesel engine, the electric engine or a combination of both, which DAF reckons will reduce fuel consumption, and therefore carbon dioxide emissions, by between ten and 20 per cent, depending on the application. The lithium-ion battery pack for the hybrid system weighs around 100 kilos and consists of 96 3.6-volt cells. When these batteries are fully charged the LF Hybrid can travel up to two kilometres on electric power without needing the diesel engine to drive it.

DAF says this is enough to drive in and out of the “green zones” in city centres. In these circumstances, the diesel engine runs at idle to drive various components, such as the steering pump and the air compressor. The LF Hybrid is also fitted with a start-stop system.

DAF is starting to supply the LF Hybrid in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and the Czech Republic – countries where its market research has shown high interest in hybrid vehicles. Depending on the success of the vehicle in these markets, DAF will decide whether to include the LF Hybrid in the standard product range in other countries.

When it comes to alternative fuel sources, Tony Pain, marketing director of DAF Trucks UK, says it is a very complex subject because while there are a number of applications where alternative fuels such as gas, electric and hydrogen do have their place, they are extremely specific. “Currently, they all suffer from infrastructure and storage issues, which prevents them entering mainstream use,” he says. “To get the equivalent amount of energy from a standard tank of diesel fuel on a truck, one would need roughly 130 tonnes of lead-acid batteries. With gas there are storage issues, while hydrogen requires an enormous amount of energy to compress and store it.”

However, he goes on to say that “diesel-electric hybrids have a place in the future for small urban delivery vehicles” and references the DAF LF Hybrid, as an example.[asset_ref id=”1119″]

Pain adds: “Developments in synthetic diesel made from natural gas or coal might be a viable alternative instead…Truck refuelling times are paramount as the vehicle needs to be constantly on the move to earn money for the operator and waiting a day or two for batteries to recharge or refilling gas tanks is not viable.”

DHL Supply Chain is currently conducting trials with Volvo for what it says is the world’s first 18-tonne hybrid distribution truck. The vehicle, which is designed for high density urban operations with a lot of stop-starts, is being tested around the London area in three-month blocks over a two-year period. Volvo has predicted a reduction in fuel consumption of 15 per cent, as well as lower emissions and noise levels. “We’re doing OK,” says Keith Tress, head of engineering, customer management, at DHL Supply Chain. “We are noticing some benefits but it is early days. In some ways it’s the best of both worlds because even if the battery expires then it has the back up of an engine.”

DHL has committed to improving its carbon efficiency by 30 per cent by 2020 and believes vehicle technology and fuels will be vital to achieving this target. Frank Appel, chief executive of Deutsche Post DHL, points out that there are also financial savings to be made: “If we save fuel, we save money,” he says.
The group has one of the largest vehicle fleets in the world; it has more than 40,000 in Germany alone along with tens of thousands more in other countries, so the choices it makes could have a significant impact.

Along with the 18-tonne Volvo hybrid, DHL is testing a number of other vehicle technologies. “We already have about 2,700 test vehicles in our fleet worldwide,” says Appel. “We are testing a whole range of technologies – we are happy to do so.”

When it comes to urban operations hybrids and all-electric vehicles seem to be an increasingly popular option, particularly in the run up to the London Low Emission Zone changes, which will mean vehicles over 3.5 tonnes will need to meet Euro 4 emissions standards from 3rd January 2012, and vehicles between 1.205 tonnes unladen and 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight will need to meet Euro 3.

TfL reckons that road transport emissions are the largest source of dangerous particulate matter air pollution in the capital, with larger vans responsible for 21 per cent of these emissions.

In a bid to limit its emissions, UPS has trebled the number of electric vehicles it uses in the capital ahead We already have about 2,700 test vehicles in our fleet worldwide. We are testing a whole range of technologies – we are happy to do so.of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, increasing its green fleet from six to 20. This is however a fraction of its total 3,600-strong UK fleet.

The all-electric vehicles have been developed by British manufacturer Modec and will form a key part of the UPS fleet that will serve many of the host venues before, during and after the games. The vehicle is designed to harness the power of modern, high energy batteries to meet the medium range, high performance requirements of urban delivery vehicles. Each vehicle can undertake around 60 miles on a six hour charge.

Cindy Miller, managing director of UPS UK, Ireland & Nordics, says: “With the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games only 18 months away, we are very focused on reducing the carbon footprint of our delivery network in the capital. Over the past few years, we have invested in technological improvements allowing us to expand our electric fleet, such as installing extra charging units at our London facilities. This is an important step in our continued commitment to making our operations more sustainable.”

Globally, UPS purchased 30 next generation hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) in September 2010, adding to its growing alternative-fuel vehicle fleet in the US. The company claims to operate one of the largest private alternative fuel fleets in the package delivery industry – 1,949 in total. The fleet is deployed in eight countries besides the US and has travelled more than 185 million miles since 2000.

Mitsubishi Fuso is currently two and a half years into a three-year trial of its eco-hybrid which features a small diesel engine along with an electric one. DHL, Tesco, Royal Mail and John Lewis are all testing the vans and providing monthly feedback.

[asset_ref id=”1120″]So far, the companies involved have reported a 14 per cent improvement compared to a normal diesel version.

Simon Wood of Daimler, which owns Mitsubishi Fuso, says: “It’s very interesting. We know the technology works, now it just depends on the appetite. The operators we’re working with have all been positive, the real test will be at the end of the three years. The operators trust it but the acid test will be if they buy it?”

Iveco’s Nigel Emms reckons that compressed natural gas is the most viable option for alternative fuel at the moment in the UK.

Tesco.com is currently trialling 25 natural gas-powered EcoDailys, which run on compressed biomethane (CBM) produced by Warwick-based Gasrec. The company produces the CBM by recovering the latent energy stored in material discarded by society on a landfill site, meaning the fuel is not depleting fossil resources.

In comparison with diesel, it reduces particulate matter by 90 per cent, nitrous oxide by 60 per cent and sulphur dioxide by 50 per cent, while noise from an engine running on CBM is reduced by around 30 per cent.

Dino Papas, fleet transport manager at Tesco.com said at the start of the trial last year: “The scale of the CBM trial will allow us to assess the performance of the natural gas vehicles comprehensively. It represents one of the most important trials we have ever run, and if it proves successful, it could have a major impact on our future transport strategy.”

However, because of the extra weight of the tank a 3.5-tonne vehicle with a natural gas-powered engine has to be classed as a 4-tonne vehicle, meaning only a qualified driver with an HGV licence is able to drive it.

“So Tesco is being penalised for going greener,” says Emms. However, he is keen to point out that it is a different case in France as the added weight of the tank is not counted so the vehicle is still qualified as 3.5-tonne.

“Alternative fuels will always be an expensive option until the government helps balance things out which will make it more accessible to the masses. It can be done but clear action needs to be taken. There are no government incentives in the UK at the moment so we as an industry have to put this on the table. If companies want to be green, they’re not looking for a cash hand out, but through cost incentives it could encourage more operators to do it,” he says.

The lead up to the Euro 6 change over in 2013 will also have an effect on the heavy goods vehicle market. Tony Pain at DAF says: “The truck designs of tomorrow will focus on aerodynamics, engine optimisation and emissions reductions.”

He adds that meeting Euro 6 and the general safety regulations that follow will form part of the principal designs of forthcoming trucks. The challenge, however, will be “packaging all the additional exhaust treatment systems into the existing layout of a truck… and finding clever ways of saving space on the chassis and reducing gross vehicle weight.”

When it comes to choosing the right time to invest in a fleet, Nigel Emms of Iveco says: “We advise all operators to work out a time table for fleet renewal as manufacturers phase in Euro 6 and phase out Euro 5 because at this time it’s unlikely that manufacturers are going to build to stock. The recession has meant that no manufacturer is going to take that risk again for a considerable time. It’s also more practical to build to order as we can build the exact truck that the customer wants.”

Pain reckons we could see a dramatic increase in sales of Euro 5 trucks ahead of the introduction of Euro 6 in 2013. “This is because Euro 5 trucks are expected to be less expensive, lighter and less complex than the new vehicles and many operators will want to purchase their new trucks and tractor units just before the change. This is to offset purchasing Euro 6 for three to five years depending on their replacement cycle,” he says.

As such, he thinks 2014 will be a slow year for sales as operators will have bought the last Euro 5 trucks. Plus, there isn’t expected to be any incentive for buying or running Euro 6 vehicles which could shape buying decisions further.

He adds: “Many operators today have delayed purchasing new vehicles because of the recession and they will be looking to renew their fleet around 2012. This is not just limited to the UK, 27 countries across Europe too will be in the same situation resulting in long lead times similar to those experienced in 2007.”

Case Studies

Money back guarantee
While safety ranks number one in design terms, it is fuel economy that is the most pressing issue for operators today, according to Nigel Emms of Iveco.

As such, in what it says is an industry first, Iveco is prepared to put its money where its mouth is by guaranteeing UK fleet operators a fuel economy improvement of at least four per cent with its EcoStralis over a three-year period or 400,000 kilometres – whichever comes first.

Tests conducted by technical service corporation TÜV SÜD highlighted a 7.32 per cent improvement in fuel consumption between the EcoStralis and other comparable models. The guarantee covers the fuel saving elements which are unique to EcoStralis – the 460 hp engine, the eco-setting gearbox function and the revised rear axle ratio, which collectively account for around four per cent.

The remaining 3.3 per cent fuel saving has been attributed to the vehicle’s speed limit being reduced from 90 to 85 km/h and the fitment of Michelin’s X Energy Savergreen low rolling resistance tyres.

There are a number of criteria operators must fulfil to get the deal though, primarily that trucks must do at least 55 per cent of journeys on motorways and dual carriageways. Fleets must also be fitted with an electronic fuel monitoring system to track progress.

Henk van Leuven, managing director of Iveco UK, say: “The spiralling cost of diesel means fleets must look at all viable opportunities to increase efficiency and ensure they are squeezing every last mile out of a tank of fuel.”

Truck market bounces back
The truck market was particularly badly hit by the recession as operators put vehicle replacement on hold, but it looks like things are on the up.

In fact, 2010 ended on a high as truck sales bounced back strongly in December, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, with registrations of trucks over six tonnes up 76 per cent on 2009.

However, despite the last minute boost, overall figures for the year remained fairly static, down just 1.25 per cent on 2009.

This year seems to have started on a high though with truck registrations up 58.9 per cent in January and van registrations up 48.6 per cent.

“Strong growth continues for van and truck registrations although uncertainty remains over the year ahead,” says Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive. “A 49 per cent rise in the van market and 56 per cent for trucks is a good start to the year but next month’s budget could prove crucial if freight operators’ concerns over fuel duty and access to credit for business investment are not addressed.”

DAF’s Tony Pain adds: “Clearly the economic climate of 2010 led to what was the lowest truck market (six tonne plus) on record, however it has been four years since the UK truck market saw its last peak.” The outlook is definitely more positive though because while the numbers for the market might be at a similar level of 28,000 units, it should be on a rising trend rather than a falling one.

Pain is also keen to point out that there was a strong and consistent increase in used truck values during 2010, and that rental and contract hire use was reported at high levels in the latter part of the year.

Pain continues: “Despite the current Bank of England base rates, many road transport operators are still having issues with liquidity, especially given the pressures on haulage rates, fuel costs and cut-backs in public spending. The weakness of sterling, which still remains roughly 20 per cent below 2008 levels, has also caused new truck prices to rise, although the recovery in used and trade-in values means that the ‘cost of change’ to new has levelled off.

“We still face many challenges, not least the pressures on public spending and the industry environment will remain tough for some time, but we ended 2010 with much improved momentum and I believe 2011 will be a year of recovery, albeit a slow one.” We still face many challenges, not least the pressures on public spending and the industry environment will remain tough for some time, but we ended 2010 with much improved momentum and I believe 2011 will be a year of recovery, albeit a slow one.

Longer vehicles face opposition
There have been arguments for increasing the length of HGVs to bring down emissions, but government proposals driven by transport minister Mike Penning to allow an increase in length of 2.05m to 15.65m has not been welcomed by all.

Predictably Freight on Rail is bitterly opposed. Manager Phillippa Edmunds, says: “This approach not only runs counter to its policies to reduce freight’s emissions and improve road safety but risks ushering in mega trucks of 25 metres 82 ft, from Europe, to which the coalition has explicitly said it was opposed.”

But there is no great enthusiasm at the Road Haulage Association either. Director of policy Jack Semple says: “Mr Penning may have convinced himself that the evidence points to longer trailers being a good idea but he is denying operators in the industry the opportunity to make up their own minds, based on the evidence and their own experience, and to contribute their views.

“Mr Penning says that the industry is split 50/50. But I suspect that there are many more operators against than in favour at this stage. Nor is the concern about longer trailers restricted to smaller operators, as he suggests.

“The transport industry has long suspected that this policy is being driven primarily (although not exclusively) by supermarkets along with one specific transport contractor and the way in which Mr Penning has expressed his view, that he is looking at proposals to ‘add more crates to the back of certain vehicles’, will do nothing to diminish that view.”

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