Like many operators around Australia, Leigh Smart is anxious about how China’s decision to halt exports of urea could impact on the freight industry here.
Without alternative supplies of urea, there is no AdBlue, and without this essential diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), a large chunk of the modern-day fleet will soon be parked up.
While Canberra was telling the industry not to panic leading into Christmas, Smart, the director of Sydney-based Formula Chemicals and former chair of Road Freight NSW, was already seeing the fallout first-hand.
“Who is the government talking to, for God’s sake? They’re not talking to the right people, they really aren’t,” said Smart, who has the capacity at his plant to make up to 40,000L of AdBlue a day.
“I’ve got one member out of Newcastle who has five trucks and he’s parked up one already. That’s 20 per cent of his business gone at Christmas.
“These are small blokes who are just trying to keep their heads above water, and now they can’t get AdBlue.”
Smart says he’s already had one of his B-doubles go into ‘limp’ mode on the Hume Highway after running out of DEF.
“That’s 20km/h in a B-double which is really great for traffic, and the trouble is, when you switch it off, it won’t start again.
“You stall a B-double at the lights in limp mode, and that’s where it’s going to sit.”
With no domestic supplier who can come to the industry’s rescue, Smart said the only option left for the government is to fly in high grade urea from wherever they can.
There’s no use bringing it by sea, it’ll be too late, warned Smart: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s desperate stages.
“I tried to put a call through to Angus Taylor [Energy Minister] and he’s not taking phone calls, which is pretty desperate. If you want to talk to him you have to send him an email, but there’s too much to discuss in an email.
“That’s not the response you want from a politician, is it? You want him to get off his backside and be proactive, come out and see the associations in each state and ask what are your members doing? How many blokes haven’t got it, how are they all coping? Not listen to some bureaucrat who says there is six million litres of AdBlue somewhere. I’m buggered if I know where it is. I’d love to know who’s got it.
“And please, when you make yourself a taskforce, don’t full it full of bureaucrats, try and put industry representatives and owner-drivers and truck drivers on it, so they can tell you what it’s really like.”
Meanwhile, Smart warned against switching off the AdBlue systems because of potential for costly fines, voiding of warranties and damaging effects of crystallisation on injectors and pumps.
“Then you get back-yarders who will just go buy urea from Bunnings and mix it up with tap water and it’s got all this crap in it and it’ll destroy your system.
“We’re hearing $90 for a 20-litre drum of AdBlue now, if you can get it, and blokes are just going down to the service centres sitting there with their boot open, flogging off 20-litre drums.
“And drivers are desperate enough to take it.”
NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto told Big Rigs that the industry needs to “calm down a bit”.
“I’m not underplaying that there is an issue here, but I think what we need to do is make sure we don’t end up with the AdBlue equivalent of toilet paper-gate,” said Petroccitto.
“We’re working constructively with the Commonwealth government hoping they’ll reach a sensible solution in the supply of AdBlue which won’t require a decision that will make engine modification a requirement for us.”