Unmissable opportunity for federal government

Now that the Brisbane Truck Show is over for this year, I have been reflecting on what I have learned from this show.

My overall impression is that the industry continues to be a leader in innovation and is committed to providing quality products that allow Australia’s world-leading road transport system to thrive.

In particular, I am impressed by how many exhibitors were displaying, electric, hydrogen, alternative fuel and hybrid products.

Two truck shows ago we saw the first signs of this with electric drive trains and a handful of electric and hybrid vehicles on display.

This year electric vehicles were everywhere; we had several hydrogen-powered vehicles, and engines running on alternative fuels were also prominent.

We also had innovative technologies on display to recover braking energy to power refrigeration systems or other on-vehicle systems.

The inescapable conclusion is that the heavy vehicle industry already has much of the technology available to support the transition to low-emission vehicles.

So, the next obvious question is when will these vehicles be rolling out into the community in numbers?

The answer to that question depends on when will the energy be available to run them.

We can’t rely on the electricity grid to provide the power.

Despite decades of investment in renewables, the electricity grid is still dependent on fossil fuels and, in any event, does not have anywhere near the capacity to provide the energy necessary to run the transport sector.

This leads to my next observation about the truck show.

We are seeing a much larger engagement from energy companies at the truck show. The energy companies understand that finding innovative ways of providing the energy that transport needs is a key part of the puzzle.

They are partnering with early adopters in projects designed to allow them to generate and store their own energy (or use biofuels or hydrogen produced elsewhere) and gather data on the costs, benefits and issues associated with rolling out the energy infrastructure necessary to support these new vehicle technologies.

In many ways, this is analogous to what happened with smartphone technology.

Early adopters who are willing to commit to new technologies work out how to refine the technology and reduce costs to allow the technology to be adopted more widely.

However, the early adopters who are using this technology are currently limited to “back-to-base” operations due to the lack of publicly available charging or refuelling infrastructure.

Relying on back-to-base operations will not be adequate for widespread rollout across the road transport sector.

This is where government needs to step up and ensure that there is a clear road map for how the energy (in particular) and the energy infrastructure necessary to support the transport sector will be provided at a reasonable cost.

It is not so much that government has dropped the ball; more that they have failed to pick it up.

That is why we recently put out a joint call to government to develop a zero-emissions strategy for heavy vehicles.

In the meantime, our industry will continue to innovate; more productive PBS vehicles, increasingly fuel-efficient internal combustion engines and other innovations to improve productivity and reduce transport emissions.

So, the message to government from the Brisbane Truck Show 2023 is: industry is clearly doing our bit – it is now over to you.

This is an unmissable opportunity for government at all levels to create a legacy that future generations will admire. There is, however, no alternative option.

  • Greg Forbes is HVIA’s national manager, policy & government relations

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