Claims that European truck makers and the European Commission are jointly responsible for a “lost decade of truck fuel economy” are being denounced as “incredibly misleading” by a highly-regarded former truck marketing director with a background in commercial vehicle engineering.
The claims came last month from Transport & Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based environmental lobby group, following publication of a report by the Berlin-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). The report authors contend that European commercial vehicle manufacturers and legislators have failed to take as much effective action on economy and CO2 emissions as their US counterparts.
Transport News Brief invited Tony Pain, an engineer with 45 years of truck industry experience, and DAF Trucks’ marketing director until his retirement in 2013, to respond to this and other claims in the note. Pain has long been a well-informed advocate of effective measures to improve freight transport efficiency and now works closely with the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (CfSRF), a consortium with representatives from two universities (Cambridge and Heriot-Watt) as well as various organisations in the freight, logistics and vehicle engineering sectors.
Undisputed UK road transport data contradict much of what is claimed in the ICCT report and the T&E briefing note which followed it, observes Pain. Whereas the ICCT reckons that “heavy-duty vehicles currently represent around 30% of all road transport CO2 emissions”, a recent CfSRF study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (an independent statutory body established under the UK’s Climate Change Act of 2008) puts the figure at around 22%. The total contribution of all road transport to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions of all kinds is put at 21% by CfSRF.
Focusing on the issue of truck efficiency, and specifically on the claims about its stagnation in Europe over a long period, Pain makes it clear that his starting point is the dictionary definition of efficiency, namely: “the ratio of useful work output compared to energy used in producing it.” Applied to truck efficiency, this translates into payload multiplied by average speed multiplied by distance covered to give “useful work output”; divided by volume of fuel used (“energy used”) to give a productivity factor.
Several of the T&E claims on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are said to be based on “professional magazines that test trucks in real-world circumstances.” Pain employs exactly the same sources to robustly refute the claims. Taking data from road tests published in Commercial Motor and Truck magazines, the earliest from 1960 and the most recent in 2015, Pain demonstrates how there has been no less than a 360% improvement in productivity since 1960, and a 31% improvement since 1993.
Addressing the accusation that truck-makers are focused more on “performance” than fuel economy, Pain includes engine swept volumes and nominal maximum power outputs in his table. This shows that engine sizes have hardly changed since the 1960s. Yet despite the advent of mandatory truck road-speed limiters, average road speeds have been maintained or increased since the 1980s. And payload is now 50% higher.
As for maximum power ratings, Pain emphasises that no truck needs more than about 150kW (200hp) to maintain a steady 85km/h (53mph) on a flat motorway. So the maximum power rating is “almost irrelevant”, except insofar as more power is needed for hill-climbing and to ensure the truck’s acceleration is compatible with that of other traffic.
The absence of any mention in the briefing note of truck exhaust emission cuts is a “significant omission,” according to Pain. He has produced a chart showing that there has been a 97% reduction in truck emissions of oxide of nitrogen (NOx) since 1990 and a 99% reduction in particulates emissions over the same period. And all this has been achieved without any sacrifice in driveability, performance or fuel economy.
“Not many other industries can claim such a fantastic achievement,” says Pain.
Picking up on the comparison between European and US trucks highlighted both by the ICCT and T&E, Pain notes that the suggestion seems to be that a US “Class Eight” truck is broadly similar to a typical European 40 tonnes gross combination weight (GCW) articulated combination. In fact the maximum gross weight limit for a US Class Eight rig is 36.38 tonnes (80,000lb). The maximum UK weight limit for a six-axle artic is 44 tonnes at present. This means a payload of about 28.7 tonnes when the tractor unit has a low kerb weight. If the US Class Eight weight limit applied in Europe, the maximum payload would be 21 tonnes.
This leaves Pain puzzled at the claim that ”US trucks will be the most technologically advanced and fuel efficient by the end of this decade.” To match the current productivity factor of a UK 44-tonner at the same average speed, a truck with a payload of only 21 tonnes would require a fuel economy of at least 11.6mpg (24.3 litres per 100 kilometres). “That would be rather better than the US proposal for the year 2027,” points out Pain.
So even if that ambitious US government fuel economy target is reached in future, Pain argues, heavy trucks in North America probably still won’t be any more productive and efficient than the UK’s are today.