Mercedes-Benz reveals bus of the future

Posted on: July 19, 2016

The world’s first autonomous bus made its debut on a pilot run through a major European capital city this week.

The Future Bus, from Mercedes-Benz, successfully drove itself 12 miles from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport in the Netherlands to the town of Haarlem, using a system called CityPilot.

The bus is the German company’s vision for public transportation in the future and uses cameras, radar and connected data to drive itself. The CityPilot system uses essentially the same technology as HighwayPilot, a system which it developed on the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck, first seen in 2014.

Citypilot is refined to enable it to navigate busy areas, and is able to recognise traffic lights, communicate with them and safely negotiate junctions controlled by them. It can also recognise obstacles such as pedestrians and cyclists on the road, and brake autonomously. At bus stops, it automatically opens and closes its doors, and can drive through tunnels with no loss of GPS communication.

A total of 11 cameras scan the road and surroundings, while long and short-range radar systems constantly monitor the route ahead. Using data fusion, which brings together GPS, radar, 3 and 4G and the camera data, the bus can be positioned on the road to within centimetres.

To prove it, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated the Future Bus, which is just less than 40 feet long and based on the Citaro low roof single decker, on Europe’s longest rapid transport bus route – the 12 miles from Amsterdam Schipol to Haarlem, which includes a number of tight bends, tunnels, numerous bus stops and high speeds for a city bus, as well as the more traditional urban hazards.

Mercedes-Benz says the driver only needs to take control when the bus faces oncoming traffic, in line with local laws, and does not need to intervene in any way, though he or she remains in place at all times

£24 million boost for reduced emissions freight

Posted on: July 18, 2016

The Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) and the government-led innovation agency, Innovate UK, are to invest up to £24 million into schemes that reduce emissions from freight, it was announced this week.

OLEV is now inviting consortia, including academic institutions, freight operators and small-to-medium enterprise business, to bid for a slice of the funding, applications for which are open until October 12.

The focus of the scheme will be trialling new technology in a real world environment, and any syndicate bidding for funding will need to prove its idea will significantly reduce emissions in freight, logistics, utility, or emergency vehicle use. Funding will be available across both the heavy and light commercial vehicle sectors.

The primary objective of the low-emission freight trials is to encourage the growth of ultra-low carbon vehicles, helping the UK meet increasingly stringent CO2 reduction targets.

Two streams of funding are being made available. The first relates to vehicle development, or high-tech on-vehicle technology – the aim being to test and validate new systems before they come onto the market.

The second stream will concentrate on ‘disruptive technology’ that focuses on emissions reduction. These are new or innovative types of business model or on-vehicle technology that challenge or overturn traditional methods.

Project bid registrations must be received by 12 October 2016.

Technology goes from track to truck

Posted on: July 18, 2016

A breakthrough hybrid truck system, based on technology honed in Formula One racing, will be trialled on UK delivery routes in the coming weeks, marking the first time a rigid lorry will be transformed into a hybrid using regenerative braking technology.

French technology leader Adgero has signed an agreement with fleet services company Fraikin to supply the company’s UltraBoost hybrid system, which it says delivers fuel savings, extra power and reduced emissions for rigid lorries.

Fraikin will supply the Iveco Euro 6 test vehicle equipped with Adgero’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) technology to the British division of an as-yet unnamed international logistics company for use on its urban UK delivery routes, including Greater London.

The truck will also run on compressed natural gas (CNG), with a conversion carried out by Southampton-based Alternatech.

Mack Murray, Adgero’s president, said, “We are proud to partner with Fraikin and Alternatech to offer the first rigid lorry application of our technology to a market leader in logistics. Our solution will help demonstrate the efficiencies that companies can realise through reduced fuel consumption and greater power.

“Vehicle emissions are a major concern for London and Adgero is proud to be working on part of the solution. We look forward to exploring the future of our application on other routes and vehicles in the weeks and months to come.”

The hybrid system is claimed to reduce fuel consumption and associated emissions by up to 15-30%. During braking, the unit becomes a generator, recovering kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost as heat. This energy is then stored in a bank of five high-power graphene-based ultracapacitors, supplied by Skeleton Technologies.

Adgero recently unveiled a KERS-equipped trailer, which made its debut at the CV Show in April. The French firm partnered with leading European manufacturer SDC Trailers to install its UltraBoost system on a 13.6m curtainsider trailer, finished in Eddie Stobart livery.

Feature: Why the pick-up sector is picking up

Posted on: July 20, 2016

The LCV market has seen substantial growth in the past five years, and it’s not only fleets and the burgeoning home delivery sector that have contributed to the trend. Over in the pick-up sector things are also, well, picking up, with more manufacturers introducing new model offerings.

In recent history, typical pick-up customers tended to be those in the market for a private use recreational or utility vehicle. But this is changing, with transport companies now looking more closely at the sector.

And manufacturers have responded. At the CV Show in April this year, for example, there were new offerings from Isuzu, Toyota, Fiat Professional, Ssangyong and Ford on display – and more plans have been announced since.

The opportunity is significant, with global pick-up sales now amounting to an annual five million units – more than one-third of total LCV sales, according to sales data including that from the SMMT, ACEA and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (USA). The world’s best-selling pick-up is the Ford F-Series, closely tailed by the Chevrolet Silverado and the Toyota Hilux, though only the latter is sold in the UK.

In the UK alone, there has been steady growth in the market over the past two years. According to SMMT new vehicle registration figures, June 2016 saw 4,219 vehicles registered, a 17.3% increase on the same month in 2015, and more than 1,000 units up on June 2014. For the period January to June 2016, 22,893 pickups were registered, up 10.9% on the same period in 2015. The latest rolling year figure is 42,844 vehicles, up from 37,584 at the same time 12 months prior.

In contrast, the sub 2-tonne van sector is contracting (unlike the 2-3.5-tonne sector) and its numbers are now dwarfed by pick-up volumes, which might explain where some of the extra demand has come from. There has also been the emergence of crew cabs on pick-ups, giving the ability to carry more people, which can also bring down costs by reducing the number of vehicles on the fleet.

There is also more choice, with new entrants into the market rivalling the more established players. The recently re-launched Toyota Hilux might be on its eighth iteration, but most of the other contenders are relative newcomers – Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi L200 to name just three. And that’s before you factor in the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz and Renault offerings, as well as revisions to existing products such as the Volkswagen Amarok, which goes on sale in September.

Pick-ups have come a long way since early examples, which while often quite basic agricultural-type vehicles, suited the then customer base’s appetite for utility. Now, however, drivers have different standards and demands, and vehicles need to feature comfort levels on a par with other models in the manufacturer’s range, while retaining the versatility and usefulness that makes them so appealing to fleets.

A good example of this trend is Europe’s most popular pick-up, the Hilux, the latest version of which Toyota has just this month launched. It comes with a higher quality interior, stiffer chassis and more efficient powertrain. Improvements such as these are making pickups become more like cars to drive than ever before and, therefore, more wide-ranging in appeal.

Unlike the Hilux, the Mercedes-Benz pickup won’t be available to buy for a while. But when it does arrive, the first mid-size vehicle of its kind from a premium marque won’t disappoint, says the manufacturer. The company is the only vehicle maker to have a full range of passenger cars and commercial vehicles under one brand.

Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, says, “As part of our ‘Mercedes-Benz Vans goes global’ strategy, the pick-up is the ideal vehicle for the international expansion of our product range with a newly developed model.

“We can perfectly serve customers looking for a vehicle that offers a high level of utility and at the same time has the comfort, safety, and design of a Mercedes-Benz passenger car. We will design our brand’s first pick-up according to this recipe for success.”

Elsewhere, after introducing the Dacia Duster Oroch half-tonne SUV in Latin America, Renault has revealed plans for a global one-tonne pickup, the Alaskan. Helped by expertise from its partner Nissan, the French manufacturer believes that Alaskan – and any pick-ups that follow – will appeal to a worldwide audience.

“This pick-up will fulfil the needs of professional users and individual customers across the world,” says Ashwani Gupta – VP, global head of light commercial vehicles business at Renault. “With Alaskan, we are on track to take Renault’s LCV range forward from being a top regional player to a top global player.”

Time will tell whether Gupta’s vision becomes a reality, but one thing is for sure, there will be plenty of competition for the title of premier pick-up, and a market where growth shows no sign of abating.

Printed parts bring aftersales innovation

Posted on: July 18, 2016

A brand new innovation in the truck spare parts business will be introduced to market in September, after Mercedes-Benz Trucks announced it will be offering 3D printed parts on demand.

Using pioneering printing processes, the truck maker will have the capacity to produce plastic spares via its GenuineParts brand, offering the same level of quality and made from the same materials as more traditional injection-moulded parts. The components will be ordered and supplied at the push of a button, quickly and in any quantity, reducing storage and shipping costs and time.

Mercedes-Benz Trucks’ parent company, Daimler, currently produces more than 100,000 printed prototype car and CV parts a year, including covers, spacers, spring caps, air and cable ducts, clamps, mountings and control elements.

The ‘printed’ spare parts are created on demand with state-of-the-art 3D printers based on the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing process.

“We set the same benchmarks for reliability, functionality, durability and economy for spare parts from 3D production as for parts from conventional production,” said Andreas Deuschle, Head of Marketing & Operations in the Customer Services & Parts Mercedes-Benz Trucks Division. “However, 3D offers many more possibilities; this is why we shall be rapidly extending the production of 3D printed parts.”

3D printing promises environmental benefits, too. Unlike conventional parts manufacturing, in batches, there’s no need to predict and produce to demand, meaning that the range includes spare parts for which there is only a low demand in small quantities every year.

Historically, producing them was uneconomical for suppliers – production facilities and tools often have to be retained and maintained for years. With 3D printing, every spare part is available on demand at short notice, all over the world.

As spare and retrofit parts can still be ‘reprinted’, even after a long time, using stored data means no warehousing is required, nor is there any surplus material or waste to deal with.

DVSA awards weighbridge contract

Posted on: July 18, 2016

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has awarded a four-year contract to maintain and certify its network of roadside weighbridges to axle weighing specialists Axtec, it was announced last week.

The DVSA has 55 weighbridges across the UK, which are used for spot checks and roadside enforcement. Because the weighbridges are often used in prosecutions, they need to be frequently calibrated and rigorously tested to ensure compliance.

Axtec is the incumbent supplier of weighbridge technology to DVSA, and holds two approval certificates for its axle weighing systems; one for accuracy to within 0.5% and the other to within 0.25%.

It secured the repeat business based on its progress in efficient routine maintenance and calibration of the bridges over the past four years, as well as its ability to supply a unique weighbridge test vehicle, specially developed for the role.

Currently hauled by a DAF XF 105 Super Space Cab, the unique truck and trailer combination replaces the roles previously carried out by four separate vehicles – signalling a significant improvement in speed and efficiency.

The Axtec test vehicle is also used for emergency repair work at night or weekends, enabling repair and re-certification to be completed quickly and within contract deadlines. The contract also includes regular level surveys to certify the flat weighbridge approaches are within the stringent limits specified by law. Any remedial work is completed by Axtec’s own in-house construction team.

Axtec Managing Director, Keith Gresham, said, “Winning this contract for the fifth consecutive time is a ringing endorsement of the quality, speed and effectiveness of our service and a great way to mark our 25th anniversary as a business. DVSA has asked us to develop ways of reducing costs further, without compromising service standards, to deliver even better value for the taxpayer during the course of the new contract.”

Shortlist announced for Low Carbon Champion Awards

Posted on: July 18, 2016

The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) has announced its shortlist for this year’s Low Carbon Champion Awards, which will be presented during the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle Show (LCV 2016) in September.

The awards recognise manufacturers and suppliers that have significantly driven forward developments in lower carbon vehicles and fuels, helping to reduce road transport emissions.

Now in its sixth year, the awards ceremony will be held at a dinner taking place at the MK Dons Stadium, Milton Keynes, on Wednesday 14 September.

The ‘Grand Prix’ sponsor of the Low Carbon Champions Awards is Millbrook Proving Ground, which also plays host to the two-day LCV2016 event.

Andy Eastlake, LowCVP MD, said, “It has been another year of significant progress in decarbonising UK road transport from the point of view of both technology and uptake. LowCVP is at the centre of this exciting industry and we look forward to celebrating the UK’s continued leadership in this vital area.”

Iveco, the sole CV manufacturer to appear on the overall Manufacturer of the Year shortlist, is recognised for its move towards using CNG and other alternative fuels, while the shortlist for Low Carbon Heavy Duty Vehicle Manufacturer of the Year includes bus manufacturers Alexander Dennis and BYD Europe, plus Scania Great Britain.

A full list of shortlisted entrants appears below:

Low Carbon Car / Van Manufacturer of the Year
BMW, Iveco, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Tesla, Toyota GB

Low Carbon Heavy Duty Vehicle Manufacturer of the Year
Alexander Dennis, BYD Europe, Scania Great Britain

Low Carbon Vehicle Operator of the Year
Alphabet, Bibby Distribution, First Bus, John Lewis Partnership

Low Carbon Fuel Initiative of the Year
Argent Energy, CNG Fuels and National Grid Gas Distribution, ITM Power

2016 Award for Low Carbon Innovation by an SME
Microcab, Riversimple, Tevva Motors

Low Carbon Road Transport Initiative of the Year
Addison Lee, Gnewt Cargo, H2 Aberdeen, Reading Buses

2016 Outstanding Low Carbon Publication or Report
Cambridge Econometrics, EA Technology, Element Energy, Element Energy & the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)

There will also be special awards to the Outstanding Individual in Promoting Low Carbon Transport, along with the event’s ‘Grand Prix’ award for Outstanding Achievement in Low Carbon Transport.

Specialist maintenance vehicles highlight skills of British convertors

Posted on: July 18, 2016

It’s not only the booming home delivery market that’s proving fruitful for convertors, with various other sectors moving away from heavy trucks towards the sub 3.5-tonne market.

One of the latest to do this is civil engineering contractor, Amey, which has just added a range of specialist vehicles to its fleet that draw on the technology and innovation of the UK’s diverse convertor network.

Amey is responsible for more than 10,000km of road infrastructure in Gloucestershire, as well as nationwide projects for Highways England and surface maintenance on the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.

The contractor has this month added a fleet of 3.5-tonne tippers based on a mixture of Citroën and Renault chassis, and completed by convertor Bevan Specialist Products.

The 16 Citroën short-body tippers used on the Gloucestershire highways project are fitted with an innovative ‘Safe-T-Drop’ system, which is designed to eliminate any risk of a fall from crew working on the vehicle bed, this being especially useful for road workers when putting out traffic cones for lane closures.

The contract has also benefited another British conversion specialist, Penny Hydraulics, which has supplied 16 250kg SwingLift miniloader cranes for the tippers.

Meanwhile, Bevan Specialist Products has supplied Amey with a further 19 Renault 3.5-tonners. These are all dropsiders and also fitted with Safe-T-Drop systems. Twelve are traffic management vehicles with rear-mounted light boards. They wear a Highways England livery and are used to assist with mobile – as opposed to static – lane closures, which minimise disruption to traffic.

The remaining seven are based in Scotland, where they are assigned to Amey’s Forth Road Bridge project. Three are short-bodied mobile workstations, tool pods and, in one case, a welding plant.

Two, which also have short bodies, are fitted with rear-mounted cranes from UK-supplier HMF and are used for bridge maintenance, and the remaining pair has longer bodies for carrying scaffold equipment.

Bevan Specialist Products operates from a factory in Stone, Staffordshire, and has just celebrated its first anniversary following the acquisition by parent company Bevan Group of the former Stag Bodies. It caters for niches in the LCV market, helping customers meet the challenge of individual vehicle type approval, and has seen strong sales growth in the past 12 months as operators increasingly move towards smaller, lighter vehicles that do not require specialist licences.

Government calls for platooning change to Highway Code

Posted on: July 13, 2016

The government has this week called for changes to the Highway Code to enable HGV platooning on motorways, while at the same time pledging a further £30 million to developing and trialling driverless technology.

The call came as an open consultation was launched into the future of autonomous and advanced drivers assistance systems, aimed at shaking up the insurance industry, removing scepticism and broadening public acceptance of the latest in-vehicle technology.

They feature in the report Pathway to Driverless Cars: Proposals to support from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Among the proposals is a very specific call to allow platooning of HGVs, where trucks connected via vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) telematics are to be exempted from regulations around stopping distances. Platooning works by V2V-equipped trucks being allowed to effectively operate as a single unit – accelerating and braking simultaneously.

While operating in platoon mode, because there is no delay between vehicles when braking, the headway between each vehicle can be reduced to a few metres, allowing the vehicles to benefit from reduced aerodynamic drag and therefore increased fuel efficiency. Platooning could also free more road space and improve traffic flow, but would still require manual intervention for situations where the V2V systems wouldn’t be able to operate, such as emergencies and steep inclines.

Platooning allows the driver of any trailing vehicle to temporarily delegate control to the driver of the lead vehicle. The platoon would operate over long distance journeys, and would need to separate when the system reached its performance limits. Depending on the sophistication of the system, drivers in the trailing vehicles may be in-the-loop (controlling steering and/or monitoring the system), or out-of-the-loop entirely.

The government says it is investing in a platooning trial later this year to assess the benefits that could be obtained when operating platoons on our roads. The report states: “We believe that platooning trials will require no additional changes to domestic regulations, as long as the driver of each vehicle in the platoon remains alert and ready to take control in the event of platoon separation, or to avoid an incident. Changes to the Highway Code may be appropriate to support the commercial use of platoons.”

Highway Code Rule 126, which calls on drivers to allow a two-second gap between vehicles to enable both thinking and reaction time, however, will need to be reconsidered to cater for platoon situations, according to the report: “By employing a system, which can brake simultaneously with the vehicle in front, such as in a platoon, the thinking distance is reduced if not removed completely. As such, there is an opportunity to reduce the separation distance required between these vehicles, and hence to maximise the efficiency gains through reduced aerodynamic drag.”

The consultation period will run until 9 September, 2016.

Speaking at the launch of the consultation, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, said, “Britain is leading the way but I want everyone to have the chance to have a say on how we embrace and use these technologies. Our roads are already some of the safest in the world and increasing advanced driver assist and driverless technologies have the potential to help cut the number of accidents further.”

An additional £30 million from the Intelligent Mobility Fund will be used to fund further research into autonomous vehicles and development projects

When it comes to low emissions, Blackpool rocks

Posted on: July 12, 2016

It may be famous for its antique tram network and traditional seaside feel, but Blackpool is surging ahead as one of the UK’s most environmentally sustainable towns, as it enjoys record numbers of tourists.

The Lancashire resort has seen an unprecedented growth in visitor numbers in the past couple of years, and now welcomes in excess of 20 million tourists a year. Many come from China and other distant destinations, making a modern and efficient transport network essential not only for moving people around, but also as a clear signal to the rest of the world that Blackpool is an environmentally aware and sustainable town.

Jane Cole, Managing Director of Blackpool Transport, has committed to replacing the resort’s entire 140-strong bus fleet in the next four years, and has secured £7.7 million of council funding to speed up the process. The move will make Blackpool one of the first big towns in the UK to have an entirely Euro 6 compliant fleet, with no single vehicle older than five years old in public service.

The first of the new generation buses to join the Blackpool fleet will be Alexander-Dennis Enviro400 City buses, developed to a specification specific to the seaside town after Blackpool Transport bosses saw the model at the CV Show at the NEC earlier this year.

Chris Pannell, Engineering Service Manager at Blackpool Transport, said, “The first thing we did was take the Enviro400 City show bus away from the NEC and back to Alexander-Dennis’s headquarters where we pulled together our whole team of senior management , supervisors, fitters, electricians, trade union representatives, board members and drivers. Everyone played a part and the latter had a big influence on the ergonomic cab area that ultimately transpired, right down to the positioning of the peg for drivers’ jackets.”

“As a team, we crawled all over the demo bus and the universal opinion was that we liked the aesthetics, the design, the engineering, the unique features – but could Alexander-Dennis redesign it as a one-door vehicle and incorporate Euro 6 stop-start technology, the complete ‘smart pack’ and guarantee Low Carbon Certification in time to meet tender and delivery deadlines?”

They did, and features of the new Blackpool bus include quick-release glazing for emergencies, Wi-Fi, USB charging points, audio and visual stop announcements and Low Carbon Certification, which enables the transport executive to claim back a considerable amount of its investment through the government’s Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) scheme.

Colin Robertson, CEO of Alexander Dennis Limited, said, “This is a superb example of what can be achieved by two like-minded organisations committed to a philosophy of inclusive management and progressive partnerships. This latest venture with Jane Cole and her team takes that approach to a new level and may well become a model for the industry.”