Rapidly changing face of road transport

If you aren’t hiding under a rock, then you are probably well aware of the noise being made around EV heavy vehicles. No? Well maybe that’s because the sound of EVs is so quiet you didn’t even notice them sneak up beside you.

This isn’t going to be an overnight revolution, but nevertheless, it is a phenomenally big deal in changing the face of road freight transport. The changes affect every corner of the industry, and as a member organisation, it is HVIA’s role to work with members towards relieving the pressure points.

Several of our members had identified some of their early learnings back in 2021, and asked if we could help so they could get on with business – developing and refining this exciting new technology for the Australian market.

HVIA’s efforts are focussed in three main areas. 

The first is skills and training; that is identifying the mix of skills and knowledge required to ensure safety for any technician working on and around high voltage electric heavy vehicles.

This is not about a new workforce – which is where the system was heading; it is vital for existing workers to be able to upskill efficiently and safely. 

That includes manufacture, service, maintenance, repair, paint, body-builders – anyone working on or around an electric vehicle.

Our second main focus point is charging and infrastructure. 

A perfect analogy for the current situation: The news at Christmas featured images of queues of frustrated Tesla owners in regional areas, where there was only one place to charge and most having to wait 90 minutes or more to get their turn.

Our industry cannot function like that. Neither the fuel companies nor the energy companies cannot do it on their own, and there will not be confidence from fleet buyers until sufficient progress is made. 

Where the fleet is running back to base, and there is sufficient self-generated or grid capacity to support a fleet’s needs, that is another story – and there are some exciting collaborations underway amongst our membership to address just that.

Back to the infrastructure side of things: an interesting article by a motoring writer covered the experience of driving coast to coast across Australia in an EV. 

He learned quickly that there is an ethical/courteous way of approaching charging; it is more about top-ups which align with rest breaks, and are much faster. Typically, it is quite quick to get up to 80 per cent then it gets very slow. 

Nobody will tolerate you hogging a charger to go right to max capacity. I expect our industry will also need to work that out for itself, but it would be best that the protocols are introduced formally and not just laws of the jungle. 

For transport operators considering the right time to shift into ZEVs, the equation is total cost of ownership (TCO).

I contend that there is another equally important equation, with a formula yet to be adequately identified: critical mass. 

The chicken and egg problems are only going to become irrelevant when there is critical mass. That is – enough vehicles to make the investment in infrastructure profitable and enough infrastructure for the transport industry to be able to operate those vehicles efficiently. 

At that point there will not be a question about continued investment and growth in both areas. 

Our third, and most obvious function is showcasing the heavy vehicle industry’s capability and capacity to deliver and support EVs ready for the Australian market.

The 2023 Brisbane Truck Show exhibition will be a massive display of how quickly this is moving. 

That will be complemented by electric vehicles on display at the South Bank Truck Festival, where the broader community get a taste of our industry’s amazing innovation. 

The industry is also busy in the policy arena on important issues including vehicle width and front axle mass allowance. It will greatly inhibit our ability to move forward if we aren’t in line with international standards.

Further to that is protecting and enhancing manufacturing in Australia, which is part of a vital sovereign capacity and resilience piece. That is an article for another day.

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