Low and zero emission truck sales take off

DHL's new Australian Volvo FL Electric.

As I detailed in my column last month, 2023 saw a new all-time record set for new heavy vehicle sales in Australia, with a total of 47,757 heavy, medium and light truck and vans delivered across the nation.

However, that was not the only sales record broken last year, with the Truck Industry Council’s T-Mark sales data showing that a total of 367 low and zero emission trucks sold in 2023.

At first glance this appears to be a quite modest number given the size of the total new truck market last year, except the sales figures do not tell the broader story here.

These 367 low and zero emission truck sales represented an almost four-fold increase in sales over 2022, when only 99 low and zero emission trucks were sold.

That is a significant year-on-year increase not seen by any other truck segment, or vehicle type. Furthermore, approximately 90 per cent of these low and zero emission truck sales were made with no governmental (federal or state) financial assistance.

As the vast majority of these truck sales was made without assistance, one has to presume that there is a positive business case to be made for low and zero emission trucks in many applications and operations. A deeper dive into the T-Mark sales numbers for these trucks reveals the type and use cases of many of these vehicles.

Eighty-three per cent are Light Duty trucks, primarily used for city/urban deliveries. A further 16 per cent were Medium Duty trucks, again the majority of which are destined for that metro type distribution role. Just 1 per cent were Heavy Duty trucks and all of these were rigids.

There were no Heavy Duty prime mover low, or zero, emission sales in 2023, potentially an indication of limited product availability, however equally, an indication that these power technologies currently have limited opportunities for this application in Australia, where high power muti-combination diesel prime movers prevail.

A leading factor in low and zero emission Heavy truck availability and take-up is Australia’s restrictive dimensional and mass regulations.

Currently limited to 2.5m maximum vehicle width, most of the rest of the world is 2.55m, or 2.6m, Australia’s “narrow” truck width regulations are a significant roadblock to new low and zero emission Heavy trucks that are only being designed for the majority of the world and their “wider” regulations.

Australia accounts for less than 1 per cent of global truck sales, hence we are in no position to dictate unique truck designs for such limited truck sales.

In a positive move, in late 2023 Assistant Minister Carol Brown signed off on Australia Design Rule changes that will allow 2.55m wide trucks on our roads if they are fitted with a number of new safety technologies.

However, that good news has been tempered somewhat by the delay in updating in-service regulations that are currently still preventing the use of 2.55m wide trucks in Australia. A roadblock that may take a further six months to address.

Limited axle masses are another key issue for the efficient operation of Heavy Duty low and zero emission trucks in Australia. While Europe allows up to a 2000kg axle mass increase for these truck types to offset the additional mass of batteries, hydrogen tanks, etc, Australian governments currently offer no such mass concessions.

In Australia, the additional weight of these trucks must be borne by the operator who simply has to reduce the payload of the truck, meaning less freight carried compared to a diesel truck, to ensure they legally comply with our “minimalistic” weight regulations.

This issue must be addressed by government. TIC and our members are very conscious that the Australian road transport industry must actively move to reduce its carbon emissions and as such, TIC members will be rolling out more new low and zero truck models in 2024 and beyond.

However, there must be recognition of Australia’s limiting heavy vehicle dimension and mass regulations by all levels of government, federal, state and local. This recognition must be accompanied by positive changes that will allow globally designed trucks to operate efficiently on our road networks.

Further, governments need to consider the appropriate financial incentives to drive change to a low carbon road freight transport future, one that will see our ageing diesel truck fleet replaced with new, safer, cleaner and greener trucks.

An outcome that will benefit Australia and all Australians.

Tony McMullan CEO,
Truck Industry Council

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