Innovate UK says get involved in low-emission vehicles or get left behind

Operators of all sizes need to stay ahead of the curve on low-emission freight technology or risk being left behind.

This is the message Innovate UK will share with delegates at the Microlise Transport Conference in May, where its ultra low emission vehicle lead Venn Chesterton will encourage them to take part in getting the industry’s future up to scratch, not just watch from the sidelines.

Chesterton is part of Innovate UK’s Low Emission Freight Trial (LEFT), which part-funds projects which are trialling low-emission technology in every day operations.

“If you look at all the different types of truck there are, each truck has got a low-emission variant, or a number of variants that could replace that truck.

“I’m going to encourage people to have a look through your fleet. Look at the different types of vehicles that you have and then have a look at LEFT, or other trials and vehicles that aren’t part of LEFT that are perfectly plausible, and next time you’re procuring new vehicles or getting hire vehicles, there probably are a couple of vehicles in your fleet that could me low emission rather than bog standard diesel.”

The future is here

There remains an illusion in the industry, Chesterton argued, that low-emission technology will be important in the future but that it’s currently not technologically or economically viable to procure these vehicles now.

He said: “There are two key elements in the freight sector, that are the bottom line - pence per mile -and reliability. Is the vehicle going to break down?

“Now there’s loads of good ideas that people have in sheds or in universities, and they’re very good at having good ideas. But what isn’t always appreciated by the innovation community is that – unless you have pence per mile and reliability you’re not going to get a winning response from an operator.”

This, he said, is where Innovate UK comes in.

An Iveco Daily Electric

“It’s not reasonable to expect operators to pay for huge amounts of R&D to bring something up to a level which they feel comfortable using.

“So Innovate UK takes the ideas that are coming out of universities and small companies that have got brilliant ideas that have been shown to work, and then help them take that technology and bring it up to a point where an operator would be comfortable with investing themselves in that technology.”

In his talk at the conference at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, Chesterton said he will impress upon delegates that they can and should be actively involved in looking at low-emission vehicles.

Mutual interest

“Just take a look. It’s in everyone’s interest. It’s not something that just happens, so you can get involved and you can lead on this,” he said.

Even smaller operators face being left behind, Chesterton suggested, and added that their bottom lines could be affected in as little as five years if they don’t try to keep up with evolving vehicle technology.

For now and the near future, he said, it might be that a couple of electric vans on the fleet give an operator a competitive edge when it comes to tenders.

But “when it becomes more normal, it won’t be much of a differentiator, Chesterton said. “Everyone will be doing it, so you have to stay ahead of the curve. That’s recognised, but I think at the same time smaller operators could be more dynamic.

“It’s like that old saying about running away from the tiger:  you’ve got to make sure you don’t get left behind, and the stragglers get caught up to. You’re safer being at the front of the herd.”

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