What’s better, near zero or nowhere near zero?

In last month’s column I left readers with the message that in terms of heavy vehicle freight decarbonisation “reality must meet ambition” and suggested for this hard-to-abate sector the Government acknowledge the need for a transition plan.

Recapping for a moment, the Federal Government has set the ambition of 43 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions below the 2005 levels by 2030.

Ambition is a good thing; reality however would suggest the need for a transition. I say this based upon known facts as they stand today and a reasonable interpretation of the what future sales of low zero emission vehicles could look like through to 2030.

Last year, 2022, rewrote the record books for new truck sales in Australia. Truck and heavy van sales for the calendar year totalled 44,379 units up almost three thousand units, or 7.2 per cent, over 2021.

The increase in sales was due to the increased demand for freight across the country in particular, the customisation of home freight deliveries, a trend that will continue.

It was also due to the previous Government’s Temporary Full Expensing incentive. Just 27 of these sales were zero emission vehicles; the figure for Hybrid truck sales was 72 trucks. Reality Check One – 99 low zero emission sales out of 44,379 sales.

Looking forward, the Truck Industry Council (TIC) forecasts a year-on-year doubling of low zero emission truck sales to 2030.

As policy settings stand now, TIC is expecting that approximately one in four new truck sales in 2030 will be low and zero emission vehicles.

By 2030 there will be approximately 18,000 such trucks operating in Australia. This will equate to just two per cent of our truck fleet. Reality Check Two – 98 per cent of the fleet will still be diesel; given the current average age of the Australian truck fleet, new diesel trucks sold today will still be in operation in 2050.

Predicting beyond 2030 is difficult because beyond existing hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell technologies, the reality is that OEMs are working on various technologies to satisfy the task at hand and the needs of customers, as no single current technology can achieve carbon neutrality across the freight sector.

Reality Check Three – All truck manufacturers around the world are working on a suite of carbon reducing technologies to meet the targets set by governments.

TIC’s National Low and Zero Emission Heavy Vehicle Strategy will include a transition plan that acknowledges there is a role for low emission trucks already in the market such as hybrid electric technologies which save between 20 to 30 per cent CO2 emissions.

The transition is very much underway with OEMs voluntarily introducing Euro VI trucks into the market before being mandated by Government.

With each new Euro VI truck comes advanced fuel saving technologies resulting in up to 7 per cent fuel savings, meaning an equivalent reduction in CO2 emissions.

Reality Check Four – The transition to a heavy vehicle low zero emission future has already started.

Future measures include:

• Paving the way for the use of Low Carbon (renewable) diesel blends for use across the existing fleet, an approach not receiving a lot of attention in policy terms by governments across the world.

• Removing regulatory impediments allowing for High Productivity Vehicles to access more of the Australian road network, in other words, carrying more freight with less trucks, emitting less CO2.

• Allowing 7-tonne steer axle mass for Euro VI trucks; 2.55m vehicle width, essential for all future zero emission vehicles and further increases to axle mass for low and zero emission vehicles to compensate for the extra weight of these new technology vehicles.

The point also needs to be made that zero emissions cannot be achieved through technology only, society in general are part of the solution.

This will require behavioural change: operators making the decision to renew old trucks; operators changing to low carbon fuels; consumers consolidating orders; and Government introducing meaningful incentives that encourage behaviour change.

In this hard-to-abate sector, what’s better, near zero, or nowhere near zero?

Tony McMullan
CEO, Truck Industry Council

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