Electric trucks spark debate about road restrictions
Getting some of the world's biggest electric vehicles onto Australian roads could be a long haul.
Major vehicle manufacturers delivered a convoy of battery-powered trucks to Australia this week, with the new generation of zero-emission prime movers and light-duty delivery vehicles attracting thousands of visitors to the Brisbane Truck Show.
Industry experts say the heavy-duty vehicles, weighing as much as 44 tonnes, are cheaper to run, will cut air and noise pollution, and will help Australia meet its climate targets.
But many of these electric trucks are not allowed beyond the exhibition's walls and will remain out of reach for freight companies until Australia changes weight and size restrictions.
Without changes, they say, Australians may be forced to wait another 20 years for brands to design trucks specifically for our market.
Pollution-cutting trucks on show at the Brisbane event, which is expected to attract 40,000 visitors, include Hyundai's Mighty Electric Truck that can carry loads for up to 200km, the Hino 300 hybrid electric truck, and two heavy-duty trucks from Volvo Group, its FM and FH Electric models.
The big electric vehicles promise to cut carbon emissions, noise and vibration, and could prove easier to manoeuvre as they no longer require drivers to change gears.
But not all electric trucks are legally allowed on Australian roads. Volvo's FH Electric truck exceeds the country's weight restrictions, for example, and cannot be driven out of its Brisbane showroom.
Australian Design Rules allow trucks to carry a maximum of 6.5 tonnes over their front axle – a restriction Volvo Group emerging technology business development vice-president Paul Illmer says is putting the brakes on importing prime movers being used in Europe, the UK and US.
"When it comes to heavy vehicles, Australia is a unique market where we have very conservative legislation when it comes to front axle mass," he said.
"The states won't allow any more than 6.5 tonnes to be placed over the front axle and that's unique because in Europe it's eight to 10 tonnes.
"Australia is a really difficult market to grow a heavy-vehicle population."
A restriction on the width of heavy vehicles, at 2.5 metres, may also prevent the use of some electric prime movers in Australia as many are 2.55m wide.
Mr Illmer says the manufacturer would like to see governments raise the maximum axle weight by one tonne – a move that would see Australia maintain a conservative approach while allowing most electric prime movers into the country.
"Volvo Group has a commitment that if we can create a meaningful heavy duty vehicle market via legislation change, we will build electric trucks in our factory in Brisbane," he said.
"Australia, and Queensland in particular, has an opportunity to be a leading electric vehicle manufacturer but none of that can happen unless there's a meaningful market."
It is a proposal that has support from one of Australia's biggest freight companies, Linfox, that has added smaller electric trucks in its fleet but has been unable to test battery-powered prime movers to haul larger loads.
Linfox Logistics chief executive Mark Mazurek says without changes to design rules Australian companies could be forced to wait 20 years for foreign manufacturers to create trucks to comply with local laws.
Australia is a small market on the world stage, he says, as companies purchase about 14,000 heavy-duty trucks each year.
"We call on the federal government, state governments, local governments to allow legislation to permit electric vehicles of this nature – prime movers – that will allow us to travel up to 300 kilometres and pull about 44 tonne," he said.
"Your Coles deliveries, Woolworths deliveries and more will be done in electric (vehicles) if the government allows us to do it."
A recent study by logistics firm Adiona Tech found the use of electric trucks could significantly cut carbon emissions in Australia.
Heavy vehicles made up 15 per cent of transport pollution, the report found, despite representing one per cent of the vehicle fleet, and were responsible for using 40 times as much fuel as a passenger car.
Swinburne University future urban mobility professor Hussein Dia says the findings proved switching to electric trucks was "low-hanging fruit for decarbonisation" and could help Australia meet its goal to cut carbon emissions by 43 per cent in 2030.
It is a reason, he says, why the US state of California recently voted to ban the sale of large diesel trucks by 2036 and require all trucks to be zero-emission vehicles by 2042.
Prof Dia says Australia is not in a position to issue a similar ban but should reconsider weight limits and include trucks in discussions around a fuel-efficiency standard to cap transport pollution.
"They were missing from the electric vehicle strategy and they're missing from Australia's fuel-efficiency standard discussion," he said.
"Trucks need to be elevated in the discussion and the national agenda."
Australian Electric Vehicle Association national president Chris Jones says there is no reason why the federal government could not introduce a pollution cap on trucks in Australia with a more generous timeline than the target for light vehicles.
Transport companies, he says, could unlock significant cost savings with electric trucks.
"The whole logistics industry is about moving around the most stuff at the lowest cost possible," Mr Jones said.
"If anything, the motivation to go clean in the trucking industry should be even stronger than in passenger vehicles."