Fix access issues before tyres, says PBS consultant

A leading consultant has refuted the regulator’s claim that a ministerial tick of approval for a broader range of tyres will help with the uptake of Performance Based Standards (PBS) vehicles.

In a statement released earlier this month, NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto reported that a recent Infrastructure Transport Ministers’ meeting had rubber-stamped the regulator’s push to allow any brand of tyre to be used on a PBS vehicle, as long as an assessment shows the design passes the relevant standards.

But a prominent PBS expert, who spoke to Big Rigs on the condition of anonymity, said there was more marketing in the announcement than any substance.

“Yes, there is a lot of heat and flak about it [PBS-approved tyres] but the actual cost of the PBS assessments and getting tyres tested is nothing,” said the consultant.

“To argue that is holding up PBS when someone goes and spends hundreds of thousands on vehicles, give it a rest, that’s just bullshit.

“That just does not make any sense.”

Our source added that the proposed changes may potentially have a financial spin-off for the smaller tyre suppliers, but the bigger ones do this sort of testing anyway.

Growth in PBS combinations has been consistent since 2008, with 2018 and 2019 achieving around 1750 approvals for new PBS combinations.

As for fleet operators, he said the bigger operators, such as Toll, Ron Finemore, Visy Logistics, and the like, already have tyre contracts in place with the major tyre brands.

“So it makes no difference.” 

He said it’s the smaller operators who are making most noise about changes, but he believes it could be up to 12 months before this month’s announcement becomes a reality.

The other big variable that is still to be answered, says our insider, is around the specs of the PBS-approved tyres in the broader range.

“There is either going to be loss of productivity, or a loss of safety outcome, but you can’t have both – there is a sliding scale between the two.”

He added that the biggest thing holding up PBS uptake in Australia isn’t tyres – it’s access and getting consistency across state jurisdictions.

In Victoria, for example, he said the major flag for would-be PBS users is the exorbitant cost of bridge assessments, which are anywhere up to $80,000 apiece.

“In Queensland the biggest hold-up is the fact it’s now the only state now enforcing a hard 30m length limit which means that it’s a very small selection of trucks that are able to run in front of A-doubles for example as a result.

“Whereas the other states are going ‘Yep, you can run 31, 32m as long you still meet PBS level 2 swept path’.

“Those sorts of inconsistencies across states, that’s what’s causing the hold up of PBS, not tyres.”

Meanwhile, NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto said the regulator is keen to roll out the changes to PBS tyres as soon as possible, “so industry can start to reap the benefits”.

The NHVR has developed the data for different tyre sizes and will consult with customers from September about implementation arrangements, the  statement added.

The standardised tyre approach will use specifications based on the Michelin XZA tyre, which was used to develop the current PBS standards.

“This approach will enable the PBS scheme to better support the next generation of smarter, safer and more-productive vehicles,” Petroccitto said.

Acting Chairman of the Australian Tyre Industry Council Silvio de Denaro welcomed the introduction of the standardised trye approach.

“Finally. For tyres, at least, this reform of the PBS system will mark the end of what had become an aberrating set of rules,” he said.

“While most of our members were inconvenienced by this outdated standard, the real beneficiaries will be productivity, as well as freight operators and truck and trailer manufacturers.

“We appreciate the efforts of the NHVR in addressing this challenge and look forward to working with regulators to address other challenges.”

Our source concedes that the Michelin XZA is one of the best-ever tested and a very high-performing tyre.

“But the reality is, very few operators ever fit a tyre that stiff to a drive position, which means there is no way the vehicles on the road can have the same safety outcomes.”

He added that the announcement also left industry wondering how the NHVR plans to implement this process, and over what timeline.

“They’re also supposed to be coming to assessors to discuss how this XZA tyre is going to be modelled.

“Is it only going to be used on trailers, or is it going to be used on drives as well?

“If it is used on drives, how are they going to handle the fact that it is an exceptionally high performing tyre, and not a realistic tyre choice.

“There is a lot of work still to be done.”

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