Why can’t I currently retrofit my commercial vehicle to meet Euro-6/VI standards and when will I be able to do so?

If you’re already a member of Haulage Exchange or Courier Exchange, you’re probably already well versed on the benefits that collaborative logistics platforms can bring to your business.

You’ve no doubt seen a reduction in empty running brought about by more efficient load consolidation. And of course, with the vehicles in your privately-owned fleet making fewer journeys each month, you’ve also succeeded in lowering your carbon footprint too, as well as cutting out harmful N0x emissions, hydrocarbons and particulates.

With fuel and vehicle servicing costs down, and profits up, you decide to invest in cleaner diesel technology: technology that not only conforms to Euro-6/VI standards, but meet the exacting requirements of the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone in London and five further Clean Air Zones which will be established in Southampton, Derby, Nottingham, Leeds and Birmingham before 2020 – cities that you visit on a regular basis.

But with no government diesel scrappage scheme in sight, like so many medium-sized fleet operators, you don’t have the funds to replace the Euro-5/V vans and trucks in your fleet with vehicles that conform to Euro-6/VI standards. So what are your options?

Retrofitting: many Haulage Exchange members first choice…

By far the most cost-effective solution is to retrofit a selective catalytic reduction system (SCR) to your vehicle, which in buses our tests have demonstrated that it is possible to eliminate 99 per cent of nitrogen oxides in diesel engine exhausts, and – at least in theory – would mean that the vehicle conforms to UK clean air zone standards making it exempt from CAZ/ULEZ charges.

However, with just under a year to go before London’s ULEZ comes into force, the reality is altogether different. Currently, there are only nine approved retrofit suppliers on the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS) list. And astonishingly, none of the systems on the approved list apply to vans and trucks, because retrofit manufacturers have only developed and validated the technology for buses, which enables these heavy duty Euro-IV compliant vehicles to meet the Euro-VI standard equivalent.

This means that any Haulage and Courier Exchange member wishing to spread the burden of cost over time – which equates to around £17,000 per HGV – or is keen to run compliant retrofitted fleets before the ULEZ becomes operational, cannot currently do so.

Approved retrofit suppliers: why are there none?

So why are there currently no approved suppliers that commercial fleets operators can turn to, and most importantly, how long will it take for aftermarket suppliers to secure the necessary approval?

Colin Smith, who works for the Energy Saving Trust, the certification body that oversees the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme (CVRAS) on behalf of the Department of Transport (DfT) and the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), explains, “In order to meet the required standards, retrofit companies must firstly carry out a raft of controlled tests using a heavy-duty chassis dynamometer, such as at the Millbrook Proving Ground. The dynamometer is a highly precise and calibrated “rolling road” facility and linked to specialised exhaust gas monitoring analysers which can reliably and repeatedly detect and measure the NOx and PM pollutant emissions of say a diesel engine HGV.”

Colin Smith

“After any development testing, the retrofit system manufacturer must conduct an approval test at a facility like Millbrook to validate in order to gain an approval certificate. Ordinarily this process would take a few months, but as the heavy duty testing dynamometer in Millbrook is the only one in the UK, it is booked several months in advance. Therefore, I would expect it may take at least another six months for one or two retrofit manufacturers to have gained the necessary accreditation to make the list. But it may take a full year before commercial fleets have a wide and varied choice of approved manufacturers to choose from. It is not so much the choice of approved suppliers that is limiting, as most suppliers will provide systems covering all vehicle categories. It is more to do with which HGV applications, make and model for which to spend time and effort developing a retrofit solution.”

And while there are a myriad of type-approval facilities abroad – such as VTT in Finland TNO in the Netherlands or TüV facilities in Germany – which could carry out testing, Smith thinks many companies in the UK will prefer to use Millbrook due to the fact that getting a vehicle to and back from a test facility could be difficult.

“There is nothing to stop retrofitters seeking type-approval at a foreign facility. But it would probably prove the least cost-effective option, as they would need to ship the vehicle to the test site and back.”

Dearth of type-approved suppliers a concern for the Energy Saving Trust…

But is the lack of UK-based type-approval facilities with the appropriate test equipment for CVRAS certification, which has resulted in a long-waiting list for testing, a worry for Smith and his team?

Says Smith, “It is concerning for the Energy Saving Trust that suppliers cannot conduct the testing required for approval, one of our key functions is to receive applications with the appropriate test results and reports  in order to list approvals that supports the sector in making decisions and achieving ULEZ compliance among fleets, we carry out audits to approve the suppliers but without product or system approvals  we are largely unable to do this for the commercial van and truck market at present. It is worrying too that some retrofitters may not be able to conduct an adequate level of testing to prove that their systems work in the appropriate time-scale. We have flagged this bottleneck and the authorities are aware of the issues around test facility availability. In hindsight it is always easy to say we should have developed the scheme earlier, to have more time before implementation of CAZs, however for 2020 deadlines there is a little room, the bringing forward of the London ULEZ to 2019 has probably condensed available development time.”

A potential crumb of comfort for operators?

However, Smith doesn’t think that the Haulage Exchange members will face a scenario where there are no approved suppliers when the ULEZ takes effect in April 2019, leaving HGV drivers with no choice either to pay the £100 daily charge, or in the worst case scenario, stop running their vehicles.

He says, “I cannot speak for Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for compliance, administration and the enforcement, but based on past experience, when the London Low Emission Zone came into being in February, 2008, there was a similar issue. As a result, operators with lorries, which did not meet Euro IV standards – but had placed an order for the anticipated work – were given a period of grace by TfL to complete the DPF installation. It is not beyond the realms of impossibility, that if there is a spike in demand next spring leaving suppliers unable to cope, TfL will take similar action. But that is a decision that only it can make. I would not recommend leaving it to the last minute in the hope that the enforcement authorities provide a period of grace, it is the obligation of the operator to operate compliant vehicles, we must remember the objective of any ULEZ or CAZ is to improve air quality for all citizens including the drivers of vans and HGVs.”

When industry-leading retrofit system suppliers such as Eminox, HJS Emission Technology, Baumot and Proventia Oy finally secure type approval, Smith estimates that the actual retrofitting process for an HGV would take “between one and two days” based on the experience of a bus retrofit.

Why retrofitting is not always the best solution for van owners…

And for a van?  The Energy Saving Trust cannot provide any accurate figure on timeframe or cost, but Smith expects the current lack of approved retrofitters to have less of an impact on Courier Exchange members.

He explains, “While I am unfamiliar with Courier Exchange, if we take the commercial van sector as a whole, it is fair to say that many more operators lease their vehicles than in the HGV sector. Secondly, in most cases, the replacement cycle of a van is less than a truck. Therefore, those whose leases are coming to an end will simply replace their vehicles with brand new Euro-6 compliant ones. In contrast, retrofitting is only likely to be an option for specialist vehicles with a longer service life ahead of them, where the cost of replacing the van and customising is several times more expensive than the retrofitting.”

What to do when approved retrofitters come online…

But if retrofitting is seen as the best solution for van or truck owner, what additional steps must a commercial fleet operator take to ensure that his vehicle meets the ULEZ standards?

Smith explains, “If retrofit is the chosen option, the fleet manager would check the list of approved suppliers, get a quote and then proceed with the upgrade to his or her vehicle. Following completion, the vehicle owner must then visit a DVSA test centre, where the vehicle will be checked by an examiner. If the vehicle passes the assessment, it is issued with a vehicle certificate and then entered on to a database of retrofitted compliant vehicles. When the driver enters the ULEZ, number plate recognition cameras will record his licence plate, and check it against the DVLA’s retrofitted vehicles database. If the vehicle has been successfully entered, the driver will not be charged.”

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The lorries, which have effectively unlimited range, are the brainchild of Asher Bennett, the CEO of Tevva, a Chelmsford-based start-up. But before explaining how these leading-edge trucks could benefit freight exchange members, let me begin by telling you the extraordinary story of how Bennett made the leap from submariner to electric truck manufacturer.

Upon leaving the navy, Bennett began searching for a way to apply the knowledge and experience he had accrued in the military to a pioneering start-up business. In 2008, he co-founded Evida Power, an electric vehicle battery developer for buses and trucks, and quickly established operations in North America, Europe and China. As Evida’s Chief Executive Officer, he soon realised, however, that developing and manufacturing batteries alone would not be enough. Bennett decided, therefore, to start a company which specialised in building electric trucks. But if the new start-up was to flourish, Bennett knew that he would need to find a niche. And he found it in his past.

Bennett, who has just returned home from China where he was part of the UK’s government largest-ever trade delegation, recalls, “The big challenge for the electric truck market is that it is handicapped by range anxiety and a lack of charging infrastructure. But this was a problem that submarine engineers had already solved. Therefore, I remember thinking, what if I could develop tailor-made energy management systems for electric trucks in the same way that navy experts have done for submarines?

Filling a gap in the market…

Bennett quickly realised that he had discovered a potentially lucrative point of difference in the electric vehicle market, and he immediately set to work exploiting it. Fast forward five years, and he and his team of 20, have developed the award-winning Predictive Range Extender Management Systems (PREMS) technology. The combination of a 74kwh battery and a very small internal combustion engine, enables each lorry to travel over 450 miles without charge, while its regenerative braking system restores 30 per cent of power to the battery when the truck is moving.

As a result, Tevva Motors’ order-book grows month on month. It has recently won business from several multinational logistics providers, two of which are household names in the parcel delivery and high street coffee sectors. According to Bennett, Tevva is negotiating “with at least another 30 logistics providers in several key geographies including the UK and Europe, China, North America and Mexico and Australasia”.

What it all means for freight exchange platform members…

But how can members belonging to the Haulage Exchange platform, many of whom operate large fleets of trucks ranging from 7.5 tonnes to 44 tonne vehicles, benefit?

Explains Bennett: “We recognise that the commercial freight sector is a very complex and fluid landscape. With global demand for online retailing increasing year on year, platform economics is fast changing the shape of the freight sector. As a result, smaller operators have flourished. Therefore, we want to make our electrification technology accessible to everybody. Our business model includes a leasing option and secondly as the market matures, we believe that a ready supply of used EREVs will further broaden the accessibility of the technology to smaller operators.”

But what of the retro-fit arm of the business, where Tevva engineers can fit the technology to an existing chassis as part of re-power package? Does Bennett think that this will lower barriers to entry for freight exchange platform members in the UK?

Bennett says, “In the UK and Europe we expect most fleets to invest in new vehicles. That said, when second-hand trucks become available to buy in the next few years, we think that the demand for these used vehicles will be high – particularly for smaller fleets and newer businesses. That said in North America and Mexico, where the shelf life of a vehicle is much longer than in Europe, the retro-fit operating model may indeed gain more traction.”

The synergy between freight exchanges and the electric truck…

So, if electric lorries become more prevalent, does Bennett see them being deployed by freight exchange platforms to ease the burden of regulation for drivers of non-compliant vehicles, who wish to operate in clean air zones?

“I think in theory the idea is a good one, and while it might work for smaller vehicles, if it is to really add value, there would need to be large specially built consolidation centres so that heavy goods vehicles could transfer their cargo to electric trucks to transit the last few miles of the clean air zone. It may also be that by the time the physical and digital infrastructure is in place that electric vehicles hold sway and Ultra-Low Emission Zones are no longer needed.”

But for this to happen, electric vehicles would have to dominate the commercial freight sector. Can Tevva really turn the market on its head and eliminate diesel fleets altogether? While Bennett, believes that in the short term, ICEs will remain a focal part of the commercial freight landscape for some time to come, he thinks that the sector is on the cusp of change.

“Nobody in the industry refers to conventionally powered lorries as Internal Combustion Engine diesel powered trucks anymore. In the same way, in ten years’ time, ‘electric trucks’ in the freight sector will simply be known as lorries. That’s how commonplace they will become.”

So where does this leave freight exchange platforms, which have developed proven operating models to reduce emissions levels and carbon footprint of fleets?

Bennett says, “Collaborative logistics platforms will continue to thrive as they will help zero emission trucks to consolidate loads and cut out wasted miles. Take dead mileage for instance. In the next decade we don’t know what the charging landscape will look like. So, those driving simple battery electric trucks might still be handicapped by range challenges. Therefore, freight exchanges, which can help members reduce their empty mile count make sense. Even trucks with range extending technology will benefit because, those using freight exchanges would reduce the total amount of miles run, and every mile costs money no matter how it is powered.”

And in an industry where margins remain notoriously tight, Bennett thinks the freight exchanges, specialising in load consolidation, could help commercial fleets to reduce the cost of clean energy.

“We have calculated that the fuel cost of running one of our 7.5 tonne vehicles is around six pence per mile. Freight exchanges, in the future, will I believe be effective mechanisms to help large fleets or freelance owner operators reduce that waste mileage. Even at six pence per mile, waste mileage matters.

Continues Bennett, “And in developing countries, where in the future the electricity used to power vehicles might still be generated by gas and coal-fired power stations, collaborative logistics platforms will still be considered very effective mechanisms to cut NOx and C02 emissions.

“Finally, the life span of a Lithium Iron phosphate battery that we use on our vehicles is around eight years. If fleets can successfully cut out dead miles by using freight exchanges, they could help to prolong battery life. When you consider the cost of a Lithium Iron battery cell is USD$270 per Kwh, that would represent quite a cost-saving.”

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