Make your mind up time

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The advice from the government is that operators will need to be ready to use digital tachographs in new HGVs and PSVs from May this year.

Negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers led to a provisional agreement last autumn that digital tachographs should become compulsory in new vehicles twenty days after publication of revised European drivers’ hours rules.

Although this does not give a definitive date, the Council Secretariat have advised the Department for Transport that revised European drivers’ hours rules could be published as early as March.

As a result, operators must prepare against the assumption that digital tachographs could become mandatory for new HGVs and PSVs from the beginning of May 2006.

Many people will be relieved that all the confusion and delay is over – this is widely seen as one of the most badly handled legislative changes of recent times.

The positive side of it is that, once they have got used to the new equipment, operators should benefit from much better management information about their transport operations.

There are four cards that are used by the digital tachograph system.

– Driver card – used by drivers to allow the recording of drivers’ hours

– Company card – for use by the operator to protect and download the data

– Workshop card – available only to approved calibration centres

– Control card – available only to VOSA and Police for carrying out enforcement

There has been some concern that drivers have been slow in applying for cards although the recommendation is that drivers should not apply before they actually need them as the cards cost £38 each and only last for five years before they need to be renewed. VOSA has a web site to help people make the transition.

Renault marketing director Bruce Allison says that it is the rental market that will have the biggest problems with digital tachos. “They will take analogue right up to the last moment,” he says, pointing out that they are fearful that customers will not be ready for the move over to digital and drivers will be turning up to collect vehicles without the digital cards.

Promoting the virtues

David Burke, who recently joined Iveco as product director from MAN-ERF, argues that “we should be promoting the virtues of the digital tachograph, not trying to scare people with it. When customers understand it, it will very quickly become the norm.”

Tony Pain, marketing director at DAF points out that dealing with the digital tachograph issue is currently overshadowing the really big issue of the year – the introduction of the Euro 4 standard for vehicle emission.

As things stand, if operators buy vehicles before September they can buy existing Euro 3 vehicles. After that they will have to buy Euro 4 which will be more expensive.

Clearly, many operators will prefer to stick with Euro 3 for as a long as they can but it appears that many are holding off making buying decisions. Pain warns that it could be risky, as the manufacturers are on a fairly rigid timetable to move over to Euro 4 production.

Like most of the other manufacturers, he says, DAF will be switching production from Euro 3 to Euro 4 from June-July. Trucks are built to order these days – it is very rare to build for stock, and construction takes some 12 weeks. Therefore, if a truck is to be on the road by September, construction must start by late June or early July.

In fact, says Pain, after May it will be too late to order a Euro 3 truck. “Unless you are thinking about it now, you might have left it too late,” he says.

Some of the larger fleets have already made their plans but is clear that there are some that haven’t. Pain expects this September to be the highest ever for registrations while October will be the lowest. The end of the year will be pretty slow, he says. Overall, the market is expected to be similar to last year – which was strong.

Choosing the right Euro 4 vehicle is not straightforward. Most of the manufacturers have gone for a system called selective catalytic reduction (SCR). This involves squirting small quantities of urea (known as AdBlue) into the exhaust to reduce the output of noxious gases.

The alternative, being used by MAN and Scania at Euro 4, is called exhaust gas recirculation (EGR). This doesn’t need AdBlue as it forces the engine to run cleaner in the first place.

Each system has its advantages and disadvantage. The company buying an EGR truck doesn’t have to make any changes to its operating practices. However, there will be a small increase in fuel and oil consumption.

The company buying an SCR truck will have to have a system for the AdBlue. Larger operations will certainly need bunkering facilities.

Pain points out that in Germany, where there are incentives to go over to Euro 4 early, getting hold of AdBlue has not been an issue. A truck will run for 3,000 miles on a tankful of AdBlue and a five litre can from a filling station will take you 300 miles. And even if it runs out it won’t damage the engine. “It’s no more of a problem than windscreen washer fluid,” says Pain. Fuel and oil consumption will actually improve – DAF says its new MX engine give a four to five per cent improvement. This is because the engine can be allowed to run more efficiently than a Euro 3 engine as the combustion gases are removed in the exhaust.

The other point that needs to be considered is the fact that the Euro 5 legislation will follow Euro 4 very quickly and, at the moment, the only choice at Euro 5 is the SCR technology.

Renault will be switching production from Euro 3 to Euro 4 vehicles over the summer to ensure that it is ready for the 1 October deadline. Rigid vehicles will be switched first because vehicles need to be bodied.

Bruce Allison says it expects to take Euro 3 orders up to the end of March. As tractor units do not need to be bodied they can be ordered later – Allison reckons that Renault will be able to take orders for Euro 3 vehicles up to May.

Like DAF, Renault is expecting a large rise in sales of Euro 3 vehicles in September followed by a slump in the market that will last up to six months.

But over a couple of years, sales will average out to something very respectable, says Allison.

Like other manufacturers, in its production planning Renault has had to make assumptions about the proportion of Euro 3 trucks it is going to sell as opposed to Euro 4. Broadly, says Allison it expects to sell more Euro 3 that Euro 4 and it expects the orders to peak in the March-April period.

Obviously the advice is to get orders in early – Allison says it is contacting all its users to explain the situation and enable to plan their acquisition tactics for the year.

David Burke of Iveco adds his voice to those warning that operators need to be planning now for how they deal with the change. “If we are not careful there is going to be a shortage of Euro 3 trucks. There is a three month lead time on a heavy truck so to guarantee delivery before the deadline, it has to go into production in July.

Burke says there are few, if any, trucks built for stock these days and he suggests that some operators might end up having to consider good used vehicles rather than buying new.

Iveco expects prices to go up as a result of the introduction of Euro 4. Burke points out that trucks prices have scarcely risen in real terms over the past few years. “We as manufacturers, can’t keep absorbing all the additional costs,” he says.

An increasingly important part of the Iveco strategy is to build partnerships with customers. “There has never been a more appropriate time for manufacturers to work hand in glove with their customers,” says Burke. “These days, the differential between trucks is not so much in the metal as in the service back up.”

He points out that operators now expect 100 per cent reliability from their trucks. “The operator doesn’t make any allowance for a vehicle breaking down,” he says.

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