The future of road passenger transport

02 July 2020

This week we received welcome confirmation of government’s commitment to fast track funding for 4,000 more zero carbon buses. However, with the sector struggling to restart from the pandemic, we need a more comprehensive plan in the form of the long promised national bus strategy.

Buses deliver billions for the economy, connect communities and help with congestion. The entire industry, from operators to bus manufacturers and the supply chain, is ready and waiting to work with government and local authorities to ensure every region across the country has a reliable, clean and efficient bus network to return to as we emerge from lockdown.

Despite the great difficulties the industry continues to face there are some good news stories out there, with some coach operations safely restarting this week. And we also, after much effort, negotiation and discussion with DfT and the DVSA, finally have the MoT service back up and running for commercial vehicles – another step on the long road back to normality. Road passenger transport is a reliable and efficient sector, capable of innovation and growth, and key to a green recovery for the nation – but right now it urgently needs support to bring passengers back on board and deliver new orders for the UK’s production lines.

Commercial vehicle production down -61.6% in May as some factories stay closed

26 June 2020

  • 810 commercial vehicles built in May, down -61.6% as many plants remain shuttered amid coronavirus lockdown.
  • Year-to-date production down -29.8%, compared with an already low volume May in 2019 amid key model changeovers.1
  • Production for both home and overseas markets falls, down -60.3% and -63.2% respectively.

UK commercial vehicle (CV) production was down -61.6% in May, with 810 vehicles leaving factory gates, according to the latest figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Many plants remained closed in the month, while others resumed operations at a reduced capacity. The fall in output follows a particularly weak May 2019, which saw a -69.9% decline due to key model changeovers.

Year-to-date commercial vehicle output fell -29.8% compared with the first five months of 2019. As some production resumed, 43.3% of commercial vehicles built were for export in May, with more than two thirds (68.7%) exported to the EU, following the gradual re-opening of showrooms in some European markets.

A recent SMMT member survey confirms the continued importance of government support measures such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with a third (33%) of automotive employees still on furlough. As the CV sector approaches restart, however, there are significant concerns over cash flow and liquidity, with 70% of automotive businesses experiencing challenges in this area. As the furlough scheme tapers to an end in November, the survey reveals that up to one in six jobs are at risk of redundancy.2

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

With many plants still shut and those open operating at reduced capacity, these figures illustrate the need for urgent support to drive a successful restart. Measures to drive demand, boost liquidity and facilitate short-time working as production ramps up are essential for light and heavy commercial vehicle makers as well as the struggling bus sector. Restoring operator confidence is key to fleet renewal and thus ambitions for a green recovery.

Notes to editors

1. CV production in May 2019 – 2,110; CV production in May

Transport For London Freight Survey

02 July 2020

SMMT has relationships with many key local authorities: due to its size and influence, Transport for London is of singular importance and we support them where we can. They have asked us as part of their programme to get London moving again, to get in touch with you. They want to hear the views of the road transport industry on the key logistics issues in London. They have prepared a short online survey on issues including the economic recovery, the Mayor’s Streetspace for London programme, changes to the LEZ, and the London Lorry Control Scheme. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to complete, and you can visit it here: Survey. Please complete it by close of play on Friday 10 July.

Supersized biomethane filling station opens its doors as fleets turn to low-carbon alternatives

02 July 2020

A new biomethane refuelling station in Warrington is now open, signalling a possible sea-change towards a new fuel of choice for HGV fleets.

CNG Fuels’ ‘superstation’ will be Europe’s largest biomethane fuelling station. With its sister outlet, which recently opened in Northampton, the two sites are capable of refuelling more than 1,000 HGVs a day.

This more than doubles the capacity of CNG Fuels’ refuelling network which could previously handle up to 600 vehicles per day at its sites in Leyland, Lancashire and Crewe, Cheshire.

It all points to a phenomenal surge in demand for the fuel, which CNG says is up 800%, and there will be no let up.

Already CNG is planning to add another six to eight stations nationwide over the next 12 months to keep up with industry demand for biomethane or biomethane compressed natural gas, with the company predicting that the number of HGVs and buses running on natural gas will increase six-fold to 60,000 by 2030.

Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels, said, “We’re at a tipping point. Fleet operators are waking up to the urgency and scale of decarbonisation necessary for net-zero emissions by 2050 and we’re seeing demand for our fuel increase rapidly as a result.

“Our customers ordered hundreds of new biomethane fuelled trucks in 2019 and that trend is only set to accelerate over the next decade.

“We’re making the transition to carbon neutrality easier for fleet operators by developing a nationwide network of public access biomethane stations on major trucking routes and at key logistics hubs.”

CNG Fuels’ numbers make it easy to see why a growing number of fleets are seeing biomethane as a more attractive choice. The company says it has helped hauliers save 55,000 tonnes of CO2 since it began supplying renewable and sustainable Bio-CNG product in 2017.

That’s expected to rise to 90,000 tonnes by the end of 2020 thanks to major brands such as John Lewis Partnership, parcel company Hermes, and Home Bargains committing to switching from diesel.

100% of the fuel supplied by CNG Fuels is renewable and sustainable biomethane approved under the Department for Transport’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) scheme. The gas is currently sourced from waste feedstocks, such as food waste, cutting vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 85%. It also has the added benefit that it is 35%-40% cheaper than diesel.

The company is now securing supplies of biomethane from manure to create a fuel that will be net zero emissions on a well-to-wheel basis. It expects to begin offering fully carbon neutral biomethane across all sites from next year at the same price as the renewable biomethane fuel it currently supplies.

The station in Warrington is located at Omega South on the M62, catering to several major hauliers based in the area. It can refuel up to 800 HGVs daily and serve 12 vehicles simultaneously.

Its sister station in Northampton station meanwhile is situated at the Red Lion Truckstop off the M1 and can refuel more than 350 HGVs a day. The site is also part of a large scale UK-wide study, supported by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) in partnership with Innovate UK, to determine how renewable and sustainable biomethane can help slash road transport emissions.

Among the companies leading the way with biomethane are parcel company Hermes, which plans to use the new Warrington filling station as a springboard towards the replacement of its 200-strong fleet of diesel trucks, along with Home Bargains, Argos, Royal Mail, and DHL.

Meantime, John Lewis Partnership (JLP) announced last week that it is building a biomethane gas filling station of its own at its Bracknell Waitrose site to fuel 120 HGVs, as it pulls forward its ambition to eliminate fossil fuels from its fleet by 2030.

That station will be built in conjunction with Air Liquide and will open in December 2020, making it the business’s first on-site gas filling station.

Justin Laney, JLP partner and general manager of central transport, said, “The evidence of climate change is all around us, so it’s important we act now using available technology rather than wait for unproven solutions to appear.”

Mervyn McIntyre, Head of Network Fleet & Vehicle Compliance at Hermes Parcelnet, added, “We’re proud our of move towards a more sustainable future as the first parcel carrier to invest in biofuels for our first-mile fleet. This will ultimately benefit people across the UK as we all look to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Alan Beech, Fleet and Compliance Manager at Home Bargains/T.J. Morris, said, “Home Bargains started operating its first ten CNG tractor vehicles in December 2019. The experience has been very positive, and we have witnessed first-hand the benefits of running our trucks on biomethane. We have worked closely with CNG Fuels over several years to develop our gas fleet strategy and are delighted to see the first ten vehicles in operation. We are looking to add more CNG vehicles to our fleet and expect the first ten vehicles to reduce total GHG emissions by more than 1,200 tonnes a year, compared to running diesel vehicles.”

The supply of gas to the new refuelling stations will come through pipelines managed by gas network, Cadent.

David Jones, Transport Strategy Manager at Cadent said, “It’s clear that big-name companies are now confident to switch from diesel to gas as a green answer to fuelling their HGV fleets and supporting the UK’s journey to net zero. Biomethane is a ‘here now’ solution to tackling climate change and a low-carbon alternative to diesel for HGVs, while a zero-carbon option, in the form of hydrogen, is coming within a few years.”

Electric Volta Zero truck set for real-world trial with cargo and mail company

02 July 2020

Volta Trucks’ first purpose-built full-electric large freight distribution vehicle – Volta Zero – has been selected for a trial by Scandinavian parcel, cargo and mail company, Bring and Posten.

The Volta Zero will be extensively tested across Bring and Posten’s network of inner-city parcel pick-up and drop-off locations in order to provide real-world data and driver feedback to engineers in the vehicle development programme.

With a 125-mile range, the 16-tonne Volta Zero has zero CO2 and NOx emissions and will undergo the trials in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, at the beginning of 2021.

Per Öhagen, Executive Vice President of E-commerce and Logistics of Bring, said, “By 2025, our goal is that all our vehicles and buildings will be emission neutral.

“To reach that goal, partnering with companies like Volta Trucks, is crucial. To be the first pilot user of a Volta Truck in Scandinavia sends a clear message of our sustainability intent, and we look forward to a good collaboration to develop the emission-free trucks of the future.”

Rob Fowler, Chief Executive Officer of Volta Trucks, added, “ Our mission is to create a purpose-built, full-electric large delivery vehicle that will help improve the safety of pedestrians and other road users and improve the air quality for all.”

Land Rover Defender ‘Hard Top’ name makes a comeback with commercial models

02 July 2020

Land Rover’s legendary Defender Hard Top name will be making its return with the new commercial Defender 90 and 110 models.

The Defender Hard Top will be launched later this year using a name that dates back to 1950, when the introduction of demountable hard tops gave early-series Land Rovers added security and protection from the elements against their soft-top counterparts.

Land Rover says the all-new Defender Hard Top continues this ethos, sharing its fixed metal roof and silhouette with the iconic original.

The new Defender 90 and 110 models were unveiled last September, and the new Hard Top models will be the next additions to the series.

Boasting an aluminium-intensive body architecture, the Defender Hard Top is three times stiffer than the best body-on-frame designs. Sharing its strong body structure and next-generation Electrical Vehicle Architecture (EVA 2.0) with passenger models, the Defender Hard Top is being developed by Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations. The 90 and 110 Hard Tops will both feature independent coil-sprung suspension, with advanced electronic air suspension also available on the 110.

Michael van der Sande, Managing Director, Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations, said, “We will maximise the functionality and usability of New Defender’s cargo area, with tough materials and clever storage solutions to ensure it surpasses the capability of any previous Defender Hard Top.”

With a payload and towing capacity of up 3,500kg the New Defender features a flexible cabin that has no second or third-row seats, but the optional front-row jump seat means it will still accommodate up to three people.

Mercedes-Benz electric articulated eCitaro G bus set for 2020 deliveries

02 July 2020

Mercedes-Benz has announced that deliveries of its first fully electric articulated bus, the eCitaro G, will begin later this year.

More than 60 orders have already been put in for the new model, which will be the first in its category equipped with innovative solid-state batteries.

The new articulated bus can carry up to 146 passengers, depending on configuration, and first deliveries to several transport operators are planned for this year.

The new model is part of a series of buses provided by Mercedes-Benz. Two years ago it launched the eCitaro, a fully-electric-driven solo regular service city bus. Currently, the battery-electric eCitaro is already a series production vehicle and there are now hundreds in regular operation in many European towns and cities.

Till Oberwörder, Head of parent company Daimler Buses, said, “With the eCitaro as an articulated bus variant, we are consistently continuing the electrification of city buses: the eCitaro G will be equipped with innovative solid-state batteries on request. In doing so, we are setting the course for sustainable and efficient passenger transport in urban centres.”

Member Profile – Drive System Design

02 July 2020

Tell us a bit about your business. When were you founded, where are you based and how many people do you employ?

Drive System Design (DSD) was founded in 2007 as an engineering consultancy specialising in vehicle drivelines. It is headquartered in Leamington Spa with facilities in Michigan, USA, and South Korea. DSD employs more than 100 engineers and specialists who serve markets globally.

The Leamington Spa headquarters has been the subject of an ambitious expansion programme, inspired by growing customer demand, and the US-based testing centre was opened last year.

What does the business do?

DSD is a vehicle driveline expert specialising in electrified drivelines. It has worked closely with vehicle manufacturers to advance driveline development and is transferring this expertise to the commercial vehicle industry, which is traditionally at a lower stage of adoption than passenger cars.

Whether it is a ground up design of a new driveline, or optimising efficiency of an existing product, we can do this and everything in between – including the design of drivelines and electrification systems, development of control systems, testing and manufacturing prototypes.

How is business? What’s the outlook for the year ahead?

Of course, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the global automotive industry. We are fortunate in that we can continue technology development and take the time to carefully analyse global markets and their varied requirements, ensuring that our focus and ongoing work is precisely optimised for individual and regional needs.

Also, product development for the commercial vehicle sector is a long, highly complex process, which we have found has been more resistant to unrest caused by the global pandemic. In short, the challenges remain the same, the technologies continue to evolve and DSD remains at the forefront of optimising electrified solutions.

What are the big issues or technology advances that fill you with positivity?

Commercial vehicle electrification is hugely exciting. The challenges are comparably vast, but the appetite for adoption of emissions-reducing technology is helping the development of next-generation drivelines. Range and charge times allied to optimised payload is obviously a clear hurdle to overcome, but incremental driveline improvements can combine to provide substantial efficiency benefits, making electrification and automation key technologies for our customers.

Automating gear shifts continues to provide a significant opportunity for the commercial vehicle industry through improving driveline efficiency, reducing the reliance on nuanced driver skill and extending component lifecycle through the elimination of aggressive use.

With the ultimate goal of reducing truck and bus transmission total life cost, alongside cutting emissions, DSD has developed automated shifting technologies that mirror the tough expectations of a fiercely competitive sector: typically 400,000 miles for medium duty and over a million miles for heavy duty applications.

Chief Engineer, DSD, Mike Savage

Uncertain times, familiar issues

25 June 2020

While it’s anything but business as usual for anyone at present, our annual International Automotive Summit, held virtually for the first time on 23 June, looked ahead to some very familiar challenges. A comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU remains critical — and with a third of automotive workers on furlough as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, government support is needed to accelerate a restart for a recovery and deliver on green goals.

With that in mind, debate on what future fuels for commercial vehicles formed a crucial part of the panel session on ULEV adoption. Biofuels appear to be the most viable technology for the present but only make up a small number of registrations. So there’s some way to go just yet – and that’s before we consider other fuel sources on their way into the market.

What is clear, however, is that incentives will be required to increase adoption of alternatively-fuelled CVs if government targets are to be hit. Total lifecycle costs for vehicles are critical in our sector. Operators will need support to make the switch and help us transition to a zero emission economy.

UK Auto calls for restart support as Covid crisis threatens one in six jobs

23 June 2020

  • UK auto industry calls for dedicated restart package to save jobs and pave the way for recovery.
  • New SMMT survey reveals a third of workforce still on furlough with up to one in six jobs at risk.
  • ‘Turbocharged’ Brexit negotiations needed to deliver a comprehensive zero-tariff FTA – crucial to avoiding crippling £40bn production losses by 2025.
  • New report highlights importance of £100bn UK auto trade hub to boosting Britain’s future growth and prosperity.

The harsh reality of the Covid crisis for the UK’s £18.6 billion automotive sector is laid bare today by a new member survey from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealing that up to one in six jobs are at risk of redundancy. With a third of automotive workers still furloughed, the end of the government’s job retention lifeline in November highlights the critical need for a dedicated restart support package to safeguard these jobs.1

More than 6,000 UK automotive job cuts have been announced in June, a result of global lockdowns, closed markets and shuttered plants. Showrooms in England and Wales are now re-opening and production lines restarting, but reduced demand and social distancing are slowing productivity.

SMMT is calling on government to address this with a support package for the entire sector to help drive demand and ease cash flow. Measures including unfettered access to emergency funding, permanent short-time working, business rate holidays, VAT cuts and policies that boost consumer confidence would accelerate a sustainable restart for the market and manufacturing – a pre-requisite to the recovery phase, and to unlocking the investment needed to drive a green future for the UK.

Speaking today at the industry’s annual Summit, Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

UK Automotive is fundamentally strong. However, the prolonged shutdown has squeezed liquidity and the pressures are becoming more acute as expenditure resumes before invoices are paid. A third of our workforce remains furloughed, and we want those staff coming back to work, not into redundancy.

Government’s intervention has been unprecedented. But the job isn’t done yet. Just as we have seen in other countries, we need a package of support to restart; to build demand, volumes and growth, and keep the UK at the forefront of the global automotive industry to drive long-term investment, innovation and economic growth. Support delivered now is an investment in the future of one of Britain’s most valuable assets… investment that we will repay many times over.

The pending jobs crisis is amplified by the prospect of a ‘bare bones’ or no-deal Brexit so an injection of fresh momentum into free-trade agreement talks is welcome. Certainty that a full, zero-tariff deal will be in place by the end of the transition period will give businesses on both sides chance to prepare, and help drive investment into the new skills, facilities and technologies that will be integral to delivering a zero-carbon future for the UK.

Mike Hawes said,

Covid has consumed every inch of capability and capacity and the industry has not the resource, the time nor the clarity to prepare for a further shock of a hard Brexit. That’s why we do need to ‘turbo charge’ the negotiations to secure a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU that maintains tariff and quota free trade… With such a deal, a strong recovery is possible, we can safeguard the industry and our reputation as an attractive destination for foreign investment and a major trade player.

The news comes as SMMT publishes its second Annual Trade Report for 2020, UK Automotive Trade in a post-Covid World, with new figures highlighting the risk a no-deal Brexit would pose to the UK’s status as the world’s 10th largest exporter of goods.

The impact of the pandemic on manufacturing is expected to cut annual car and light commercial vehicle production volumes by a third to just 920,000 units this year. With an ambitious, tariff-free FTA in place, full recovery is expected to take up to five years, with output reaching pre-crisis levels of 1.35 million units by 2025.2

However, a ‘no deal’ scenario would severely damage these prospects and could see volumes falling below 850,000 by 2025 – the lowest level since 1953. This would mean a £40 billion cut in revenues, on top of the £33.5 billion cost of Covid-19 production losses over the period.3

Automotive is one of the UK’s most valuable economic assets, exporting more goods than any other sector, generating billions for the economy and supporting some 168,000 high-skilled and high-paid manufacturing jobs in communities across every nation and region of the UK.4

SMMT‘s 2020 Trade Report shows the potential to build on this success as global markets recover, identifying key growth regions that the UK is well placed to serve, if the right conditions are in place. It sets out key recommendations for government and industry to help the sector exploit opportunities, growing existing trade relationships and unlock new markets. All keeping this vital sector at the heart of the UK’s future trade strategy, helping deliver long-term economic growth, and driving employment.

Notes to editors

1. SMMT member survey carried out June 2020. 290 responses delivering 239 individual company responses combined representing £77bn turnover and 148,917 permanent employees. 34.2% of full-time employees furloughed under CJRS. Based on average of declared numbers of permanent jobs at risk from all respondents
2. SMMT UK Automotive Trade in a post-Covid World report – Independent outlook by Auto Analysis – 1.35 million units under a best case ‘model boost’ scenario
3. SMMT UK Automotive Trade in a post-Covid World report – Auto Analysis calculations
4. SMMT / ONS data