Dan Cook Europa (1)

Which fuel will operators ultimately adopt for long-distance heavy haulage? Dan Cook (pictured), operations director at Europa Worldwide Group, insists the government must put greater investment into a preferred technology and give it scale and convenience

The medium- to long-term future for fuel is most definitely not diesel, though which of the alternatives really takes off is something of a question.

Earlier last year, Europa launched itself with vigour at electric vehicles, with a plan to take one or two large rigid trucks (18 / 26T) into our distribution fleet. This was with a focus on work in and around London, so within a reasonable distance range of our Dartford hub. The problem was simply that the cost of the technology made the whole project unviable, and not even close to affordable - such that we could offset pure economics with doing the right thing from an environmental perspective. The difference did not allow us to make any sort of commercial argument to take this path.

So, is it about waiting for the costs of the technology to come down? Waiting for technology to evolve further? Waiting for the government to intervene to subsidise the costs such that there is an economic logic? In the end a customer may ask the right questions in a tender about a supplier’s ‘green credentials’, but faced with the concept of paying more for that privilege, I suggest very few really put that above cost.

So, I think if the government is serious, as it should be, about moving the transport industry towards alternative greener solutions, then there needs to be far more investment either subsidising the current cost levels, or developing the technology such that it costs less in the first place.

Cost is one part of the equation of course, but then is the practicality of operation. Batteries don’t last long enough, charging takes too long, the infrastructure for charging points and locations are not well enough established.

Smaller vehicles operating in much more localised territories are seemingly getting there, and I imagine the evolvement is much better established within the parcel sector for example, or any localised last mile environment, but for the multi drop freight distribution operator, sadly there is a distance still to go I feel.

If you then consider long-distance heavy freight movements, we are further away still from a workable option. I think governments need to settle on one technology and go all out to bring it to market on a scalable and cost-effective basis. What I mean by that is that the biggest hurdle to breaking into the mass market for alternative fuel vehicles being the convenience to ‘fuel’ as we do today - at fuel stations across our road infrastructure that are maybe no more than 10Km apart on average. Uptake will be limited if you can only fuel, charge or whatever at a handful of locations - which mean routes need to be planned in a sub-optimal way, or certain journeys simply don’t work because there is no mid-way or end point fueling option.

If you add into this the initial cost of that vehicle is also much higher, then I guess operators will take a NIMBY view. We all agree it’s the right future direction, but can it be something somebody else does at their cost and inconvenience?

What is needed is a focus on one technology. I don’t profess to know enough about them all to proffer which, but whichever one is looked at needs to be brought to market with the flexibility and convenience that comes with how vehicles are fueled today. So, I believe this is about focussing the investment on one type, and then making sure there is enough scale to make it truly useable.