And now it has come to this

At the end of 2020, we all sighed with relief and looked forward to a better 2021. We thought the Covid pandemic and its supply chain issues were behind us.

And now it has come to this.

I’m writing this column on December 15. There are local shortages of AdBlue across Australia, service stations have imposed rationing, and suppliers are limiting their bulk deliveries to their usual customers and usual quantities.

AdBlue prices have soared, as our suppliers scour world markets for scarce and expensive technical grade urea. I don’t know about you, but the cost of the AdBlue I buy has more than doubled.

There is hope for next year though.

Since early November, the ATA and your member associations have mounted an enormous effort to warn governments and the public about the impending shortage.

We ended up with a disappointing roundtable on December 8. We were told, at the roundtable, that there was no need to panic about the supply of AdBlue. No-one was prepared to back this assurance up with any numbers about AdBlue supply.

We continued to press the issue and have at least got some results.

The Government has appointed a taskforce of chemical manufacturing experts to work across government and with industry to develop solutions to the shortage.

Australia’s trade negotiators overseas are now working overtime to help our AdBlue suppliers buy technical grade urea and get it to Australia. We can be confident they are doing everything they can.

But more needs to be done in Australia.

We were told last week that Australia had 15 million litres of AdBlue on hand with another two weeks’ supply on the way: enough to last seven weeks. The local shortages we are experiencing, though, show that this supply is not available everywhere.

It is essential that businesses don’t panic buy AdBlue. Panic buying deprives other firms of the supply they need, and you won’t get to use it anyway. It will go off.

What the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission needs to do is to issue an interim authorisation to enable AdBlue suppliers to exchange information about stock availability and, if necessary, share inventory and coordinate the distribution of supplies.

The ACCC issued 28 similar authorisations at the start of the Covid pandemic. It’s an established process that works.

The Government also needs to develop a contingency plan to deal with AdBlue shortages if they become critical.

This must include working with truck manufacturers on the technical feasibility of de-activating the AdBlue systems in trucks that operate in regional areas, so we could, if needed, save the AdBlue we have for trucks and buses in metropolitan areas, where NOx pollution is an important health issue.

It is, of course, illegal for individual operators to turn off their emission control systems – and trying to do it yourself would be likely to cause disastrous component damage anyway.

It would not be illegal for governments and regulators to do it by exemption or regulatory change. The only issue is the technical feasibility of de-activating the systems, which is likely to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

The contingency plan should also include emergency permits for high productivity freight vehicles to be used on more routes. High productivity vehicles like A-doubles and B-triples can deliver the same amount of freight in a smaller number of trips, so their fuel and AdBlue consumption is lower.

We’ll get through the AdBlue shortage and continue delivering for Australia. But let’s hope that 2022 is better than 2021 or 2020.

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