Setting realistic emissions strategy

TIC CEO Tony McMullan

In April the Albanese Government released its long awaited National Electric Vehicle Strategy.

While the strategy was always going to focus upon cleaning up Australia’s light vehicle fleet by means of a fuel efficiency standard, some media and industry commentary at the time drew attention to the lack of focus upon the nation’s heavy vehicle fleet.

The heavy vehicle fleet not being mentioned was appropriate.

It shows that the Government has been listening to the Truck Industry Council’s (TIC) concerns about introducing a standard for heavy vehicles.

Fuel Efficiency Standards which aim to give Australians more choice when purchasing a car are not practical for the Australian truck fleet due to the many locally unique combinations and applications undertaken by trucks.

Heavy freight vehicle decarbonisation is being addressed separately inside Government with the establishment of the Reducing Surface Transport Emissions Branch (Net Zero Unit) within the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

TIC has been in regular contact with this entity as they grapple with the complexity of reducing road freight carbon emissions from what is recognised worldwide as a hard to abate sector.

Thus, the reason why there was no mention of heavy vehicles in the Electric Vehicle Strategy.

The Prime Mover readership is well aware that the Australian heavy vehicle road freight sector is unique in the world. With long distances, remote area operations, very high GCMs, high average speeds, hot, dusty and harsh climate, currently there are no viable zero emission vehicles to undertake these tasks.

The same cannot be said for city and some urban distribution with electric trucks being an obvious solution, but only if the power source is green in the first place. In this hard to abate sector urgent regulatory reform is essential — not a fuel efficiency standard for trucks.

Unlike zero emission light vehicle take-up that can be accommodated under the existing regulatory regime, there are significant regulatory barriers that need to be reformed/removed before large scale zero emission freight vehicle deployment can take place.

Federal and State Governments will need to work together to remove these obstacles. At the top of that list is Australia’s archaic maximum vehicle width regulation of 2.5m. Most of the world is manufacturing trucks at 2.55m, or 2.6m yet somehow our policy decision-makers seem to think they can ignore this reality and dictate terms to the rest of the world.

These same decision-makers need to appreciate that their bosses, Ministers, working on behalf of the public have set the target to reduce carbon emissions.

As such, they should be working to achieve this goal. Almost all larger zero emission trucks (above 12t GVM) are made to these latter widths, making their sale and use in Australia highly restricted. Each vehicle over 2.5m in width currently runs on an individual limited access permit, making daily freight operations extremely difficult.

Secondly, axle mass, particularly front axle mass. Europe has allowed up to 2.0t additional axle mass for zero emission trucks. Australia, which has lower ICE vehicle axle masses than Europe anyway, is currently allowing no additional axle mass.

For example, without additional axle mass, a typical 16t GVM 4×2 rigid battery electric truck will carry approximately 20 per cent less payload than an equivalent diesel truck.

For an operator that means 20 per cent reduction in operational freight profitability. To recover this lost profitability freight rates will need to increase, fuelling inflation and adding to the cost of living.

To carry the same freight task on battery electric trucks, 20 per cent more trucks will be required, adding to road congestion and reducing positive road safety outcomes.

At a time when heavy vehicle driver shortages prevail 20 per cent more drivers will be required to drive these additional trucks. Thirdly, the current Road User Charging (RUC) for heavy vehicles is designed around diesel trucks.

Operators purchasing a zero-emission truck simply have no idea of the RUC charges that may be applied to a ZEV in the future.

This makes payback/cost of operation calculations for a ZEV beyond the current RUC implementation period impossible. Low and zero emission reform must be carefully thought through.

Australia should avoid the knee jerk reactions that we have seen elsewhere in the world. Europe has back-flipped on its position regarding the banning of ICE powered vehicles.

The domino effect has begun with the UK’s ban on ICE truck sales above 3.5t to 26t GVM beyond 2035 now being questioned. Forty-three per cent CO2 reduction is not practical, nor achievable for the freight sector by 2030. Europe’s specific transport sector target is 12 per cent.

This is a rational target that the Australian transport sector can work towards achieving. Tony McMullan CEO, Truck Industry Council

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