Last week I mentioned that the Automotive Council is updating its technology roadmaps with SMMT support. These roadmaps have helped inform decision making for many years and are internationally recognised.
This review is timely, as the debate on the long-term technology solutions for the commercial vehicle sector hots up. Manufacturers are introducing even more low emission products onto the market, while additional academic research into the industry is starting to help identify which solutions are the most feasible. Shortly we will also see the final report published on the Low Emission Freight and Logistics Trial, where several technologies have been trialled with fleet operators.
Despite all the current challenges and uncertainty that we face, I think for many years to come it will be an exciting time for our industry with enormous opportunities for the UK market. We just need the right long-term economic and political climate to allow us to embrace them.
A British company at the forefront of the design and manufacture of steering systems for commercial vehicles has seen interest in its latest concept – a detachable steering wheel for buses – surge during the coronavirus pandemic.
West Midlands-based Pailton Engineering first developed the concept to raise awareness of the unhygienic conditions faced by bus drivers, with multiple drivers using the same vehicles and making frequent contact with the same touch points.
Now though, with interest in the idea having spiked following COVID-19, the company, which supplies many of the industry’s biggest players from its plant in Coventry, is looking to bring the product to market.
This week, TNB caught up with Roger Brereton, Head of Sales at Pailton Engineering, to find out more about the concept, how it would work and how likely we are to see it appearing on buses in the future.
TNB: Tell us a bit about the background to the detachable steering wheel concept, why were you already working on it pre-COVID-19 and what was the interest like prior to the pandemic?
RB: We’ve long been aware of a couple of major issues facing bus drivers, including unhygienic conditions, and so we have been working on several design concepts to address these.
We first developed the detachable steering wheel concept because bus cabin environments can be surprisingly unhygienic. Simply wiping the wheel with disinfectant is not an ideal solution because that will degrade the material that the steering wheel is made from.
We showcased the concept at the Busworld show last year. Part of us doing so at the time was as much about raising awareness of the issue and testing to see how the concept would be received. There was quite a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the idea from OEMs, trade bodies and unions alike.
Tell us about the concept. How does it work, what technology is involved and could the steering wheel incorporate other controls?
It comes down to the mechanical engagement of the steering wheel to the steering column, with an easy and quick to release mechanism instead of the conventional taper/serrations/nut engagement of the steering wheel to the column shaft.
We used existing knowledge of serrations interface and quick release mechanisms and adapted them to be part of the steering wheel.
The concept allows all controls to be done with the existing vehicle set-up and, if required, features such as gear changes and indicators can be added to the steering wheel.
How would you see the concept working in reality? Would drivers each be issued with their own wheel to take home or would they collect a sanitised wheel when they arrive at work?
The idea would be for each driver to have their own steering wheel that they would be able to take to and from work. You might have heard of ‘bring your own device’ to work (BYOD) before. The detachable steering wheel fits in with that broader idea. However, if bus operators wanted to do things slightly differently and maybe keep clean steering wheels at the depot for collection at the start of each shift, there would be nothing stopping them.
What interest have you seen in the concept since the pandemic struck?
We developed the concept before the pandemic. At the time we knew it would be valuable in helping stop the spread of germs where drivers are involved in constant shift changes. Obviously with the pandemic, that becomes an even more worthwhile benefit.
Interest in the design has undoubtedly raised in line with pandemic measures. However, the design concept is still in its early stages, and detachable bus steering wheels won’t be implemented in buses overnight. This could offer better sanitation in the future, should we see a similar situation.
Do you see the product going into full production? If so, when do you think that might happen?
The regulations will need to catch up to this new idea, but theoretically, this product could be a reality in two years’ time. As with any novel concept, it will take the early adopters to implement it first, prior to taking it into full production.
Can you give us a bit of background the business? What’s the main nature of your work, how many people do you employ, where are you based?
We specialise in providing steering wheel systems for a range of sectors, including commercial vehicles and the military. We have a reputation for design flexibility and providing non-standard parts to help vehicle manufacturers meet different design specifications. This is particularly important for vehicle OEMs working with non-standard or custom chassis designs.
We are based in Coventry but we have customers all over the world. We currently have 150 employees and last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary as a company.
Are there any other COVID-19 related solutions you’re working on?
While we haven’t created any other concepts for COVID-19 specifically, we have looked even closer at driver conditions, and the promotion of driver health.
We currently have a very exciting project underway, which is an electric steering column. The steering part uses Bluetooth to automatically adjust the steering wheel position, based on which driver has entered the cabin.
This will prove very useful for shift changeovers, as it ensures all drivers are in an optimal position for health without time-consuming manual adjustments.
Roger Brereton – Pailton Engineering
Go North East – the regional bus operator serving Newcastle and Gateshead – is stepping up the electrification of its fleet with a trial of the fully-electric Optare MetroCity single deck bus.
The move follows the company’s investment last year in nine all-electric Yutong buses through Castleford-based Pelican Bus and Coach, as part of a strategy to improve air quality in the region.
This investment, totalling £2 million, was supported by £1.6m top up funding from the Government’s Ultra Low Emission Bus Fund. The funding will support the additional capital cost of electric buses and the installation of depot charging infrastructure.
The Yutong buses are set to enter service later this year.
Meantime, the Optare MetroCity trial will involve some of the region’s busiest and most geographically challenging routes. It is expected that the bus will be able to operate all day on a single charge.
Martijn Gilbert, managing director at Go North East, said the reduction in traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had already led to improvements in air quality and that the introduction of more electric buses would help further.
He added, “It is great to have the Optare MetroCity EV on trial, a British built product from a North East of England manufacturer.
“170 low emission buses have also joined our fleet in recent years with more on the way, and we are committed to ensuring that our buses provide a clean, safe and efficient way of getting around our region as the economy recovers.”
The rise in demand for home deliveries since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen parcel service DPD massively scale-up its planned order for new trucks.
The company had been planning to order 80 new Mercedes-Benz trucks, including 50 Actros tractor units and 30 Atego 7.5-tonners, during 2020 to keep pace with expected growth.
But the pandemic has seen business boom so much, it has now placed an order for an additional 100 Actros tractor units.
The company has seen UK parcel volumes grow by 50% year-on-year since the beginning of March.
To further cope with the increased demand, DPD recently announced plans to invest £200 million on expanding its next-day parcel capacity, with half the cash going towards new vehicles.
Meanwhile, £60 million will be spent on 15 new regional depots – £10 million more than originally planned – and the remainder on technology.
DPD believes the investment will create 6,000 new jobs, 3,500 of them for HGV and delivery drivers.
Bakery giant Hovis has won the Microlise Driver Excellence Award for 2020 following detailed analysis of telematics data from almost a quarter of a million UK commercial vehicle drivers.
The annual award is made following an in-depth study of driver data captured from in-truck telematics systems, and driver performance across areas including acceleration and deceleration, braking, fuel economy and safety.
This year’s analysis found Hovis had more drivers in the top 1,000 nationally than any other company.
The baker employs around 600 drivers across its network, operating a mix of Class 1, Class 2 and 7.5 Tonne vehicles, all equipped with Microlise telematics systems.
Since introducing telematics across its fleet, the company has seen improved driving styles, with drivers taking a real interest in their individual performance. This has a positive impact on safety, fuel efficiency and vehicle running costs.
This cultural improvement has been led by a team of in-house trainers who deliver assessments and CPC training, focusing on developing drivers and their awareness. It has also seen the company make steady improvement, with members of its team winning the Microlise Driver of The Year award in 2018 and the Young Driver of the Year award in 2019.
Adam Bassant, General Manager Hovis Logistics said, “It’s essential that we have drivers who care about what they do and are true ambassadors for the Hovis brand and the logistics sector in general.
“Developing our drivers and improving the culture is something we’re passionate about and it’s great to see our drivers reaching their true potential.”
He added that the award was particularly well-timed, coming after Hovis drivers keeping the nation’s supermarket shelves stocked with fresh bread during lockdown.
“The past few months have been very challenging,” said Adam, “but Hovis has responded to increased demand, virtually overnight, with our drivers playing a key role in supporting this unprecedented demand.
“It’s a tough job driving for nine or 10 hours a day, often in and around our big cities, so this is fitting recognition for the drivers, the in-house trainers and the managers who contribute to making that happen day in and day out.”
Bob Harbey, Executive Director of Microlise, said the awards are helping to drive cultural change and driver improvement in fleets across the UK and that, as a result, standards are improving year-on-year.
He added, “The standard of entries was simply outstanding and a true credit to all those companies who entered the awards. Although for many, it has regrettably taken a global crisis to highlight the critical role of drivers, it remains our privilege to take part in recognising the best organisations and drivers who deliver with such commitment and expertise and literally keep our economy moving.”
I didn’t think it was possible but it’s getting even busier here at SMMT. This week saw the Government announce two new consultations as part of its Transport Decarbonisation strategy, one for LCVs, one for HDVs. This consolidates much of the debate that started with Road to Zero about two years ago, and represents a return to business as normal, in so much as that will ever be possible.
A key part of developing this strategy is the revision of the Automotive Council technology roadmaps, and work is underway to update what is one of the foundations of vehicle research and development in the UK.
On a more prosaic matter, work continues apace on the resumption of the HDV MOT service: much planning still needs to be done, but sometime over the next week or so we should have capacity up to 90%. Nonetheless it could still take until the new year to clear the backlog.
In recent years the UK’s network of motorway service areas (MSAs) has transformed, with the arrival of big-name brands and high street eateries delivering greater choice and elevating the customer experience.
But while improvements across much of the network have been plain to see for ordinary motorists, can the same be said for the army of HGV drivers, who count on MSAs for essential facilities when on the road?
According to the results of the annual Motorway Services User Survey carried out by the watchdog Transport Focus, the simple answer is ‘yes’.
In its annual poll of users of the 112 MSAs in England Transport Focus this year – where almost 10,000 users were interviewed – there was a significant increase in the overall satisfaction of HGV drivers: up six per cent year-on-year to 89%.
However, despite overall satisfaction being up, HGV drivers remain the least satisfied of all user groups with the facilities on offer. Plus, when it comes to value for money, only 38% were satisfied that the facilities on offer matched up to the cost of parking.
The survey of the HGV facilities revealed the following:
Lee Rowbotham, Senior Stakeholder Manager at Transport Focus, said, “When we look across all users, we’ve seen an improvement in satisfaction across the board and the same is true for HGV drivers. However, it’s also true to say that HGV drivers are the least content of all the people that used service areas in the last year and so there’s still lots of room for improvement.”
He added, “We’ve been doing this research for quite a few years and the motorway service operators are listening and taking the feedback from customers on board.
“HGV drivers are big users of these facilities and as a result of what they’ve told us in these surveys, we’ve seen motorway service operators making improvements year on year.
“People are very clear about what they want out of a service area and in general they do tend to deliver as a place to stop for the loo or to grab a coffee or something to eat. But if you’re an HGV driver, you’re going to use those facilities more than most. You might visit one or two per day and your needs are different.
“Not everybody’s going to use a shower in an MSA. But if that’s your only option to stop, have a break, get clean and ready for bed, then the shower facilities and toilet facilities do need to be open, well maintained, well repaired and more importantly, they need to be clean.”
But as the survey showed, value for money is a big area where HGV drivers are less than satisfied.
Rowbotham explained, “When it comes to value for money it’s about so much more than just the cost. It’s everything from the parking facilities outside, to the security, which is obviously incredibly important, to showers and toilets, general facilities and range of food.
“HGV drivers keep telling us that they want more options, like home-cooked meals and not just fast food. They also want better rest areas where they can relax.
“Also, we tend to find that those service areas that have a lake to sit by or a walking route tend to get better feedback. All of this together feeds into what drivers perceive as value for money.
“Overall, MSA operators are really switching on to the fact they really need to make improvements and are making investments in areas that make a real difference.”
Moto, the UK’s largest MSA operator with 58 services areas nationwide and 45 in England covered by the survey, said, “HGV and commercial drivers are an integral part of Moto’s business as well as providing a vital lifeline for the country. Every year 600,000 HGV drivers park overnight at our service areas.
“In recent years we have supported HGV drivers by increasing the number of shower facilities at our sites and introducing overnight security patrols. At five sites, we have installed electric hook-ups at so that drivers can run refrigerated trailers without needing on-board generators. We have also brought popular high street food brands to all our sites to improve choice.”
Moto added that it has also taken steps to improve value for money for HGV drivers by recently introducing an enhanced voucher scheme for those parking overnight. Under the scheme, drivers are given two £5 vouchers to spend at on-site catering outlets rather than the £10 voicher previously offered. This, Moto says, will give drivers greater flexibility over their spend.
The company also pointed out the role its facilities had played in keeping Britain moving during the coronavirus pandemic, with its scheme to provide free hot meals and drinks for the HGV community as a ‘thank you’, having provided 30,000 meals and more than 20,000 hot drinks before coming to a close last week.
Meanwhile a spokesman for Roadchef, which has 23 sites across England and 30 UK-wide, said it supports the work of the HGV community, and had kept all of its sites open throughout lockdown, providing toilet and shower facilities as well as retail units selling essentials.
The company added, “We also reduced the HGV overnight parking rate to £15 per 24-hour period, while free parking was doubled from two to four hours. Additionally, we provided microwaves to heat our increased range of ready meals and ‘food to go’ snack ranges, available from our retail outlets, as well as customers’ own food.”
The Road Haulage Association, the trade association representing the industry, had been concerned about reports MSA operators were closing off shower and toilet facilities at the pandemic and pressed government to make it clear this was unnecessary. It was also pleased that where food outlets were forced to close initially, that MSA operators generally made microwaves available for drivers to heat their own food.
Responding to the findings of the survey, Tom Cotton, Head of Licensing and Infrastructure Policy at the RHA said, “We’d like to see more lorry parking available at motorway service areas as there’s a shortage of around 11,000 spaces across the country. Often drivers arrive at a services to take their mandatory rest break to find the parking is full.”
He added, “Drivers need safe, secure and quiet areas to sleep at night with power supplies for refrigerated units. But where new sites are being planned they are often constrained by decisions being made at a local level.
“We’d also like to see more healthier eating choices at MSAs. Driving trucks is a sedentary occupation and it’s fair to say many lorry drivers suffer with health problems that are not helped by the generally unhealthy hot food choices available at fast food outlets.”
All London buses are once again taking payments for fares, after new measures designed to protect drivers and passengers from coronavirus were introduced across the entire TfL fleet.
The reintroduction follows a detailed analyisis by University College London’s (UCL) Centre for Transport Studies and Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering.
This found that the protective measures introduced by TfL, which included sealing off gaps in the driver’s assault screen, significantly reduce the risk to drivers of contracting coronavirus from customers.
Claire Mann, TfL’s Director of Bus Operations, said, ‘The safety of our staff has always been paramount. That’s why we commissioned expert research to ensure driver cabs are as safe as they can be before reinstating front-door boarding and accepting customer payments.
‘It is thanks to drivers, and all other bus workers, that bus services have continued to run during the pandemic, and at levels close to what they would be normally. This enabled many thousands of NHS and other key workers in London to get to work and carry out their vital jobs. The bus network is now playing a vital role in enabling the journeys of people returning to work and to London’s restaurants, pubs and other venues, helping London’s recovery from the pandemic.”
Customers must now touch in with Oyster, contactless and concessionary cards on all buses, entering through the front doors on most buses in a near complete return to traditional front-door boarding arrangements.
An array of other measures have also been put in place by TfL to ensure maximum safety. These include strict new cleaning and hygiene measures, with all regular ‘touch point’ areas such as poles and doors being wiped down with a strong disinfectant every day, and the use of additional hospital-grade cleaning substances.
Customers must also wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth for their entire journey, unless they are exempt. Already more than 10,000 people have been stopped from travelling without a face covering.
Passengers tapping in also gives TfL accurate information to ensure it is providing the service needed to enable safe travel for all. This has allowed temporary bus capacity limits to increase in line with the Government’s latest social distancing guidance. Double-decker buses can now carry up to 30 passengers, while single-deckers, depending on size, can carry either 11 or 14 passengers.
Signs on buses clearly mark these new passenger limits, and drivers have the discretion to allow more customers on board if they are travelling in household groups. A one out, one in policy operates on buses at full capacity.
A new £1 million project has been launched to ensure the nation’s motorways can accommodate connected and autonomous vehicles.
The new project, a partnership involving Loughborough University and Highways England, will get underway immediately and is a crucial step towards truck platooning and the introduction of driverless autonomous vehicles.
While the project will look specifically at England’s motorway network, its will help to realise the government’s target of having self-driving vehicles on the UK’s roads by 2021. Named CAVIAR (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Infrastructure Appraisal Readiness), the new research project was announced as a winner in Highways England’s innovation and air quality competition last year.
And it comes at a vital time as British businesses seek to be at the forefront of emerging autonomous and connected vehicle technologies. Last year, SMMT’s Connected And Autonomous Vehicles Report highlighted the enormous potential of CAVs to the UK economy.
It concluded that CAVs could be worth £62 billion a year to the UK economy by 2030, creating 420,000 new jobs and more than 20,000 new jobs in UK automotive alone. It also estimated that CAV technology could save more than 3,900 lives between 2019 and 2030 and prevent around 47,000 serious accidents during the same time frame.
Furthermore, the report suggests that one in every five miles travelled by consumers in the UK could be autonomous by 2030.
Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems, Mohammed Quddus, the principal investigator on the project, said, “To date there is significant investment and advancement in Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.
“It is, however, not known whether existing road infrastructure, which was designed for conventional vehicles, is ready for the safe and efficient operations of CAVs. CAVIAR directly addresses this challenge.”
He added, “Although CAVs are designed with existing infrastructure in mind, ensuring they are safe to operate on motorways will require evaluating how road layouts affects their operational boundaries such as their ability to sense lanes and make appropriate decisions.”
As part of the project, researchers will look at operations at roadworks, merging and diverging sections (across lanes and at junctions) and lane markings to understand the challenges connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) may face. This will directly inform the development of commercial vehicle automonomous technology, such as that involved in vehicle platooning.
Real-world data from different lane configurations will be collected and fed into simulation models to calibrate and examine how CAVs respond to dynamic lane changes.
Digital maps representing dynamic lane configurations will be transmitted to CAVs in advance for informed routing decisions.
In terms of lane markings, the platform will be utilised to understand how environmental conditions affect a CAV’s ability to detect lane markings, such as snow, and low lighting – for example at night.
For merging and diverging scenarios, inconsistencies in geometric configurations will be appraised to examine whether CAVs are able to merge safely from the local road network (low speed) to the motorway network (high speed).
The electrification of UK’s commercial vehicle fleets appears to be gathering pace as British Gas signed what is believed to be the country’s biggest ever order for electric vans.
The company is to take delivery of 1,000 all-electric Vauxhall Vivaro e vans, which will be delivered over the next 12 months and used British Gas engineers nationwide.
The deal is a major endorsement for the British-built Vivaro, which is made at the company’s historic plant in Luton.
Centrica, owner of British Gas, has committed to electrifying its 12,000 strong fleet by 2030.
The first 1,000 vehicles will be allocated to engineers who volunteer to switch from existing diesel vehicles to electric. These engineers will install chargers for the vehicles at their own homes as part of the company’s training plans. The company is currently upskilling engineers in EV charging and is accelerating EV adoption for homes and businesses with charger installs and EV tariffs.
Matthew Bateman, Managing Director of British Gas, said, “We are committed to the transition to electric vehicles which involves changing our fleet as well as helping consumers and businesses with charge points and infrastructure.
“We chose to work with Vauxhall as they were able to give us a large number of high-quality and low emission vans to help us effectively serve our customers – and they will also work with us on future EV solutions.
“Transport is a key area where we can improve carbon emissions and is an important part of our strategy to meet our net zero targets.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “This announcement marks another milestone as we continue on the road to a green transport recovery.
“This is a huge step for such an iconic British company, who are showing leadership in making the switch to zero emission vehicles as we to strive to meet net zero emissions by 2050.
“We’re determined to build back greener – to deliver better air quality and lower our carbon footprint, which is why we’re investing more than ever in zero emission grants and infrastructure.”