This week saw the publication of commercial vehicle manufacturing numbers, which show some positivity since the depths of the crisis – mainly, and not surprisingly, led by the van sector. Although we can’t yet call this a recovery, given June 2019’s extremely low base, it is undoubtedly good news, and let’s not forget that the sector is still going through a long term, and positive, structural shift reflecting changes in the broader economy.
At the other end of the scale is the bus sector, which is going through a torrid time. This week’s announcement from ADL paints the picture: for some this is an existential crisis.
If we look at recently released traffic levels for two weeks before lockdown, vans were at 111% of the same time last year, falling to a low of 29% but, as of Monday, were right back to pre-pandemic levels. Conversely, bus traffic is now at less than a third of its level last year outside London, and still only 45% in the capital. Perhaps the most startling movement has been cycling, at one point hitting 349% and a still double what it was. It will be interesting to see these numbers again in 12 months’ time. Just how much change will there be?
TNB: Tell us a bit about your business. When were you founded, where are you based and how many people do you employ?
Engenie was founded in 2013 as a proof of concept business for open-access EV rapid charging. Following an initial pilot of six rapid chargers, crowdfunding then investment from Investec and Cube Infrastructure Fund enabled the business to expand and embark on a UK-wide roll-out of rapid chargers at convenient locations (160 chargers and counting).
The 25-strong team is based in London Bridge.
What does the business do?
Engenie is an EV charging network operator specialised in public rapid chargers. Providing a refuel in around 20-40 minutes and always situated somewhere with coffee and food, our sites are visited by a growing number of light commercial vehicles such as courier vans and fleet drivers who have made the switch to electric.
We currently accept the Allstar One Electric Fuel Card and are expanding to other fuel cards, as well as offering volume discounts to make charging as easy and as cost-effective as possible. We are also now installing several high-power chargers (100kW and above) for an even quicker charge at locations on major routes.
We provide this charging network by partnering with commercial landlords and local authorities to install and operate chargepoints on their sites, fully funded and managed by Engenie, so everything from paying for the connection to the electricity grid to answering driver phone calls. Our landlord partners span restaurant chains such as independent brewing and pub retailing business Marston’s, retail parks such as Brookhouse Group, local authorities such as Cardiff Council, and transport hubs such as HS1 and Transport for London. We are also in conversation with fleet operators where dedicated rapid charging solutions are required. Every charge point is powered by 100% renewable electricity, forming a major part of Engenie’s commitment to enable a low-carbon transport system and pollutant-free air.
How is business? What’s the outlook for the year ahead?
The outlook for the electric vehicle market is very good, as the monthly SMMT numbers show. EV registrations in the UK, and particularly pure electric vehicles, have seen growth throughout the COVID-19 period when the rest of the automotive numbers have been in decline. There are now more than 10,200 plug-in vans on UK roads, with duty cycles and daily mileages that require rapid charging to sustain.
Though it has been a time of turmoil and uncertainty for commercial property, we are seeing a strong appetite to provide public EV charging, from both landlords and large retailers, in recognition of this accelerating EV market and with an interest benefiting from the growing demand. Providing EV charging in places other than traditional petrol stations will help determine where drivers go for their re-fuelling breaks when vehicles are back on the road in PRE-COVID-19 numbers. Engenie is already seeing bounce-back demand for our locations with coffee, quick-serve food and amenities from commercial and light fleet vehicle drivers.
What are the big issues or technological advances that fill you with positivity?
We’re excited for the improvements that can be made in opening up public rapid charging to drivers beyond the original early-adopter private passenger car market. Historically, rapid charging infrastructure in the UK has been fragmented, poorly maintained and too few and far between. With ‘pushes’ from government and cities such as ULEZ zones, and ‘pulls’ for fleet managers and drivers looking to save on overall cost of ownership (BIK tax is 0% for EVs and they are much cheaper to run and maintain), the case will be met for thousands more commercial electric vehicles. Established charging companies are rising to this challenge by linking up with fuel cards, offering volume discounts on account and ensuring ubiquity of contactless bank card readers on chargers. Networks that don’t adapt won’t survive. In the 2020s, expect a charging landscape that is actively meeting the needs of all electric vehicle types and uses coming onto UK roads.
Ian Johnston, CEO, Engenie
Andy Palmer has made the move from chief executive at Aston Martin to non-exec chairman of Optare. We speak to him about his plans and vision for the UK bus company
TNB: From luxury sports car maker to bus company – it really is a different ball game isn’t it?
AP: I’m about cars and transport, and that is what I have always done in my 41-year career. When I was at Nissan, I was head of its light commercial vehicle business and, broadly speaking, in charge of the relationship with Nissan Diesel. Some of my happiest times have been in the light commercial and commercial vehicle business. Indeed, I drive both a Navara pick-up and an NV200 van.
I was also the architect of the Nissan LEAF, which I would argue was one of the cars that sparked the current phase of EVs. There was a big part of me that wanted to get back into the EV business, so this is one step in that direction and, obviously, the intention is that Optare will be predominantly making electric buses. I think that Darwinism – a natural evolution in transport, so to speak – is driving us that way anyway because what people want to buy now is EV buses, so all our future growth will be based on EVs.
Optare, and its parent company Ashok Leyland, both have long histories. Ashok was formed from the Leyland Motor Company in 1907 and Optare started in 1985. How much does that combined history play a part in what you are going to be doing in the future?
The history of a company is an important reference point, but I don’t think it should constrain you. For example, there was always a debate about my insistence at Aston Martin that we must have an SUV, so in that respect the past didn’t dictate the future.
Ashok Leyland predominantly trades in India and the sub-continent while Optare is in the UK. That’s fine, but we are coming to a pretty significant T-Junction on whether we base all our growth on EV or try to keep our feet in both camps. What I am implying here is that we must go down the Zero Emission route: we have an opportunity to change and also consider what the brand stands for.
Ashok Leyland, which has 99% ownership of Optare, is part of the larger Hinduja Group in India. Do you have enough autonomy to make your own decisions without interference? For example, will Optare have to use the modular approach that Ashok Leyland has developed for its trucks?
We are forming the strategy now and the Hinduja family are not insisting on anything. I do, however, understand importance of carry-over/carry-across. In the instance you cited you can’t simply carry over a platform for an electric vehicle and, in any case, it will not be optimised for our buses. We are going to end up with bespoke EV modules at Optare, but believe me, I am going to raid the corporate parts-bin to get anything I can re-use. When we sell buses in India for example, there are certain formats of that bus that lend themselves to being carried over from the Ashok Leyland parts-bin.
Optare produces around 250 buses a year from its UK plant in Sherburn-in-Elmet. Can you produce more?
We can and we must. We are still building a business plan right now, and we can see that there is a clear demand for EV buses. Most of the world’s buses are from China and that brings an economy of scale advantage for the Chinese OEMs. What we need to do is generate similar economies.
How do you see the future for zero carbon transport?
There are a hundred different views in the industry on what the right type of powertrain is and I don’t think governments should legislate one type of solution over another. It’s about finding a solution to a problem, and I think engineers are better at fixing those problems.
I am a great believer in the concept of Darwinism. Let various concepts compete, because what we will eventually end up with will be better for all. In the car and truck world all manner of technologies are fighting to compete, be it clean petrol and diesel engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, range extenders, EVs and hydrogen fuel cells.
As far as the technologies that I think are worth hanging on to, first amongst equals is EV. This technology suits a specific mission, which is for low mileage and short commutes. EVs are perfect for the inner city because the infrastructure to support them is relatively cheap, and EV is a perfect technology for urban buses: they are working to a defined mission and you can make sure that the size of the batteries are sufficient to complete that mission.
And in terms of changing the landscape/air pollution, the simplest thing the local mayors and politicians can do is basically take out the diesels and replace them with electric buses.
There is a case for hydrogen, but it’s not ready yet. I have been working on hydrogen personally for 15 years and the issue usually is the infrastructure costs. It’s also not as efficient as an electric motor and although you have some fairly significant packaging challenges to overcome, for HGVs and long-distance coaches, hydrogen could be a solution.
I say ‘could be’ because it could be challenged by solid-state batteries, or even synthetic fuel, which is particularly interesting to me. The fact that you can achieve carbon neutral using pretty much an internal combustion engine but with a fuel system that is synthetic is very attractive. And, given the installed capacities that already you have around the world – and I am thinking particularly of sports car, which obviously I have a great interest in – synthetic fuel could be an interesting alternative to both EV and fuel cell.
In a recent Transport Focus survey, the results showed that young people are not great fans of the bus. How can you attract young people back into buses?
Personal transportation has a marketing problem with Gen Y and Z. They have different priorities and they don’t have the same need for escapism that the older generation has had. Bus companies need to attract their customers by making sure their products have good connectivity, are more attractive and genuinely make them part of the solution, not part of the problem.
When was the last time you used a bus and what was it like?
I used a bus last time I was in London, which was pre-lockdown. I was going to walk to my destination, but it was a rainy day and it was on a bus route. It was easy to jump on and jump off. It was on one of those new Routemaster double-decker buses and it was a very pleasant experience overall. Progressive cities like London understand that transportation is part of that iconic nature of that city. The black cabs in London and the yellow cabs in New York are part of the charm of those two cities. The UK is somewhat defined by its red buses, red telephone boxes, black cabs… and Aston Martins, of course.
Ford has introduced a new range of protection shields designed to help operators meet social distancing requirements.
The new shields that provide a barrier between occupants for extra peace of mind can be fitted to Transit and Transit/Tourneo Custom vans and people movers.
Fully adjustable, they have been developed with operators including public transport, school and private hire in mind. They are fully compatible with safety features including airbags.
They are intended to supplement operators’ existing personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene protocols and can be fitted in configurations to suit individual applications.
Owen Gregory, Ford’s European Commercial Vehicle Aftersales director, said, “Commercial vehicle operators have faced unprecedented challenges in 2020 and are adapting to new norms as they continue to provide their vital services to our communities and economy.
“Our new protection shields provide additional support to our customers as they continue to operate in challenging circumstances, offering drivers and passengers peace of mind as they work and travel.”
The impermeable shields are made of transparent plastic with integrated straps for simple installation and can be sanitised as part of operators’ interior disinfecting procedures.
Drivers can retain full visibility of the windscreen, side windows and mirrors, and passengers can still hear and see each other as normal.
The shields can be fitted to offer four separate configurations, splitting cabins from front to rear and from left to right as desired.
Shields for Transit/Tourneo Connect, and Transit Courier will follow later this year.
A bus operator has launched a new booking system where passengers can reserve their journeys up to seven days in advance.
First Bus is piloting the scheme in Bristol and rolling it out across areas of the West Country in August. With capacity on board reduced due to social distancing, the reservation will secure a space on the chosen bus rather than a specific seat.
Managing director of First Bus, James Freeman, described the move as ‘pioneering’ and added, “As the way we all live and work adjusts to the ‘new normal’, so must public transport too.
“With capacity on board currently reduced to support social distancing, we hope this new optional booking service will help to reassure customers.”
A government plan to install overhead charging cables for electric trucks on the slow lanes of the UK’s motorways has been published this week.
The plan, which is expected to cost around £19.3bn, is part of the government’s aim to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. If approved, an £80m pilot programme could be rolled out along 40 miles of the M180 between the A156 and the M18 in South Yorkshire.
The site has been earmarked because of its high levels of HGV traffic from Immingham port and its proximity to several national distribution logistics companies.
It follows a study published by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, calling for radical action to cut freight emissions.
Under the proposal, trucks using electric drivetrains could use the inside lanes of motorways, taking power via pantographs from overhead cables similar to the method used on railways or trams.
The electricity would charge the truck’s electric motor and recharge an onboard electric battery that would harness enough power to take the vehicles to their destinations beyond the electrified roads.
Energy retailer Octopus has joined a raft of partners taking part in real-world trials of the London Electric Vehicle Company’s new VN5 petrol-electric van.
The trial will take place over the next few months, with Octopus Energy joining more than 25 partners, ranging from tool and equipment hire companies to energy suppliers and delivery services, who will take delivery of the VNS and put it to the test.
Requiring space for tools, electrical equipment and PPE, Octopus will test the prototype vans will be to ensure they can withstand the load and allow its engineers to do their work with a lower carbon impact.
The UK energy-tech company’s engineers will use the VN5 prototypes to install the same electric chargers used by the vans themselves.
The VN5 is powered by the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, 31kWh battery pack and rear-mounted electric motor as the TX taxi. Like the cab, there’s no physical connection between the engine and the wheels, with the combustion unit only kicking in occasionally to keep the battery pack topped up.
Most of the time, the VN5 works like an electric vehicle, with LEVC claiming that its powertrain will provide more than 58 miles of pure-electric motoring. Once the battery pack has been depleted the range-extender petrol engine can boost the van’s maximum range to 300 miles.
Joerg Hofmann, LEVC CEO, said, “At LEVC we are committed to making the commercial vehicle sector a greener, cleaner business environment and it is great to have Octopus Energy on board for these trials as we have a shared interest in sustainable products and services.”
John Szymik, Octopus Energy Services chief executive, said transitioning the company’s fleet to EVs is one of the first steps in its plan to drive the electrification of transport.
An awards event celebrating the outstanding achievement by women in the transport sector has announced its finalists.
The 2020 Amazon Everywoman in Transport and Logistics Awards has revealed 60 individuals who come from sectors from freight and rail to retail and air transport.
A key award in the logistics calendar, the aim is to showcase the crucial positions women hold in transport and logistics, helping to redefine and challenge perceptions of a male-dominated sector.
Since the inception of the awards 13 years ago, more women have taken up senior roles in transport and logistics, but still account for just 20% of the overall workforce.
Maxine Benson, co-founder of Everywoman, said, “With the Coronavirus outbreak shining a spotlight on how crucial our transport and logistics sector is, celebrating role models and creating a strong pipeline of female talent is more important now than ever before.
“At an uncertain time, it is clear that long-term risk management and innovation in problem-solving will be vital to ensure the future of the industry and these are skills that show marked improvement within companies where women fill leadership roles.”
The awards will recognise two winners per category; one successful industry ‘Leader’ and one individual at any stage in their career who is going ‘Above and Beyond’ for their business.
The awards will also have a global reach with the introduction of a new International Inspiration Award.
The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on October 6.
British-based start-up Electric Assisted Vehicles (EAV) has unveiled a new electrically assisted pedal van called the 2Cubed.
The 2Cubed offers load volume of up to two cubic metres and it can accelerate up to 3mph by itself with a small thumb throttle, similar to the ones on the electric kick scooters. Afterwards, the rider has to pedal, where they are supported by the electric motor which can take them up to 15mph, which is typical for e-bikes.
It is made from sustainable and recyclable materials and features a modular rear cargo pod that can be interchanged according to use.
The company is targeting the e-cargo bike market and in the launch video, Adam Barmby, founder and CEO of EAV, said, “What we really wanted to do was to create this low-down-as-possible, ultra-modular rear end that we can quite literally bolt on and bolt off separate modules depending on what the vehicle is being used for, be it supermarket chains, small to medium-sized businesses, shared or personal mobility: it can pretty much do it all.”
In freewheel mode, the 2Cubed can recuperate power with a standard range of 30 miles, extendable up to 60 miles with optional extra batteries on the roof are ordered. Batteries are replaceable and can also be charged at a household socket.
The 2Cubed is the second generation of the EAVan, a pedelec delivery vehicle launched last year. It is based on a new platform that is to be used in future as the backbone for diversifying the product range.
EAV was founded in 2018 and calls itself a micro-mobility company. With the second platform, the manufacturer wants to start series production. According to the manufacturer, the 2Cubed is already being manufactured in the British EAV production facility in Upper Heyford, near Oxford.
Several customer trials are already underway or about to start in Europe and North America.
The maximum payload of the 2Cubed is currently 150kg excluding the driver, but a new wheel and tyre package will soon be introduced to provide a higher load capacity.
Paneltex is a commercial vehicle body builder and conversion company, formed in 1991.
Today we employ 550 people across the UK, and manufacture around 3,000 units per year out of our main 25,000sq metre facility in Hull and our other factories in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
We specialise in the design and manufacture of refrigerated and specialist commercial vehicle bodies, ranging in size from the largest trailers to the smallest vans, for the UK, European and North American markets.
TNB: What do you think makes Paneltex special?
It’s all about the additional value we can provide beyond the refrigerated box. We have a particularly strong focus on design engineering and whole-life support for our products, to the extent that over the years we’ve helped customers design systems for loading/unloading that work alongside our vehicle products, as well as bespoke safety and operational features to support our customers’ individual operations. This approach has seen us build up a fantastic reputation and a loyal customer base over the years.
Our in-house manufacturing processes encompass everything from the chassis and panels to assembly, fit-out and final styling, so we are uniquely placed to offer a truly customised range of refrigerated vehicles.
In all, we have designed and built a vast array of temperature-controlled vehicles for many including Waitrose and Morrisons.
TNB: Can you tell us more about the Paneltex process and product range?
Our state-of-the-art factory houses some of the largest vacuum presses in Europe, allowing us to make insulated panels in single pieces up to 16 metres long.
This forms an integral part of our dedicated body assembly lines, which are set up to deliver high volume production of our range of 3.5 – 26 tonne rigids, trailers, portable coldstores and grocery home delivery vehicles.
From our Lincolnshire factory, we manufacture our range of Martrans Trailers. The core products here are moving-floor trailers for the construction industry, and trailer chassis which can be sent to another Paneltex facility for specialised or refrigerated bodywork to be fitted.
At our second Yorkshire production facility, our team focuses on second-life refurbishments and remounts, effectively extending the life of Paneltex bodywork by 100% or even 200%. This is a responsible, environmentally friendly solution that maximises the benefits of Paneltex vehicle bodies.
Finally, there’s our dedicated Norfolk facility, which produces a full range of refrigerated and multi-temperature Somers Panel Vans. The Paneltex Somers brand is known for its effective temperature-control and long-lasting holdover times, which makes it the ideal choice for food delivery businesses in particular
All our refrigerated bodywork is available with ATP class ‘C’ and National or European Whole Vehicle Type Approvals, with quality strictly controlled under an ISO 9001 quality assurance system.
TNB: How have things been during the pandemic?
It has been difficult for sure, but our challenges have been significantly different to those faced by most others. In March when the furlough scheme was announced, we were approached by a number of our key customers requesting that we stay open to continue to manufacture and look after vehicles on the road. As the majority of our major fleet customers are distributors and retailers of essential food and pharmaceuticals, they have been operating under increased pressure and at high capacity over this time. This has been true all the way down their supply chains, including at Paneltex.
We had a short shutdown (of only four days) to allow us to introduce a number of safety measures at work, so that we could continue to manufacture new vehicles and cold stores. Naturally our first concern was the ongoing health and safety of staff at all our sites, so our main focus was on introducing distancing, sanitiser stations, optional face coverings, an on-site temperature monitor and a dedicated COVID-19 health and safety policy and risk assessment. As we introduced a lot of these very early, we have been able to support the incredible work our customers have been putting in throughout the pandemic, to keep the country fed and healthy.
And what does the future hold?
We’ve been involved in internet shopping and grocery home delivery since its inception and this is now a major focus for us. I think the pandemic has shown those who wouldn’t normally buy groceries online that this is practical and easy, so we are anticipating further growth in this sector. Our design engineers continue to work on new designs and enhancing current designs for these products, so we’re in a good position to support this. Our export business in this sector has also expanded and we hope to continue to grow this side of the business.
We’re also seeing some significant growth in in bodies and conversions for electric vehicles and closer integration with vehicle chassis. We have been working on various solutions across the product range with all the major chassis manufacturers and we’ve enjoyed collaborating with the OEMs and dealers on how we integrate best with their systems.