The powers that be are now looking into the kind of legislation which will govern truck design in the coming years. At a recent Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, three Federal Ministers sat down with stakeholders to talk about the issues which will be pertinent to truck technology and design as we move into a lower emission future.
I am sure this will be presented as a forum at which everything is on the table and the destiny of Australian truck design is in the hands of those in the room. In fact, this is far from the true situation, we are often characterised as being technology takers, but we could also be described as legislation takers.
On the table was discussion about the introduction of Euro 6, or more precisely ADR 80/04. This basic legislation has been sitting there ever since the 2013 election, put on the back burner by the Abbott government. Even if it is revived right now, the review process means it is unlikely to come into force before 2021.
Way before then just about every truck being sold will meet the new regulations. These particulate matter and nitrogen oxide limits have been in force in North America, Europe and Japan for some time. Anyone wanting to buy a new truck would have to specify an older and dirtier technology if they only wanted to meet existing limits. We will have lower emissions by default, and despite our own regulations.
Another topic on the agenda was the introduction of fuel economy standards. Here is another area where the rest of the world is way ahead of us. The US has set a timetable and a set of increasingly tight standards for fuel economy in new trucks. Europe and Japan are also heading down the same route. All of the areas of the world from which we are sourcing our truck technology are legally bound to improve fuel economy.
Unlike the exhaust gas emission rule changes, reduced fuel use actually puts money into the back pocket of the truck buyer, they use less fuel. If a new technology, which saves lots of fuel, becomes available on a US truck, for example, the pressure will mount to sell it here. Australian truck buyers are likely to be specifying and buying trucks compliant with fuel economy standards, well before any legislation becomes law here.
On both these topics, the discussions probably went round and round about how and when we should legislate. The fact of the matter is a pragmatic government could just legislate for what we are going to get anyway, and still claim to be environmentally aware and reducing the carbon footprint.
Another topic on the agenda was fuel quality standards. This area is very important for Australia and its trucking industry. In the past, we have suffered from problems associated with variable fuel quality around the country. The big engine makers have to bring in test engines and try them with different fuel from around the country to avoid issues with sub-standard fuel.
Presumably, the gradual dismantling of fuel production capacity here in Australia, and the sourcing of the product directly from overseas, means the fuel quality should consistently meet global standards. Again, we can say we are going to discuss what kind of fuel quality legislation we are going to bring in, but we better make sure the rules call for the type of stuff we are going to get from the big oil companies anyway.
Let’s be realistic about what is going on here. A number of legislators are going to have lengthy discussions to decide to follow global standards and rules, which are already in force elsewhere. The law may look a little different, the language more Aussie, but its effect will be the same.
However, we in the trucking industry do need to be aware of what is going on in these rooms. It’s no good sticking our heads in the sand, this legislation will hit us, whether it is by design or default.
The strategy should be to come up with just a few bullet points the whole industry, and the truck manufacturers, can all rally around. Probably one of the most important, is pushing to get more kilograms on the front axle allowance, to compensate for all of the extra equipment being fitted into a truck system to meet the new rules.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea if the trucking industry got genuinely serious about fuel economy and showed a real undertaking to help in the country meet the commitments made at the recent Paris Summit. What’s wrong with cutting running costs to help the bottom line, at the same time as tackling global warming?