CV output falls in April but exports keep driving demand in 2017

25 May 2017

  • British CV manufacturing falls 28.3% in April 2017 as the late Easter bank holiday affects production.
  • Year-to-date figures also decline, down 8.1% compared with 2016.
  • Exports continue to account for the majority of production in 2017, up 12.6%.

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British commercial vehicle (CV) manufacturing declined in April 2017 as the late Easter bank holiday resulted in fewer working days for UK plants, according to figures published today by SMMT.

6,132 vans, trucks, buses and coaches were built in Britain last month – a 28.3% drop on the same period in 2016 following very high levels of demand over the past two years and fleet purchasing cycles affecting the timing of monthly production volumes.

Year-to-date export figures remain strong, up 12.6% on 2016 and bolstered by a significant boost to the European market.1 The proportion of CVs built for overseas markets reached 64.5% for the first four months of the year, and at 19,087 units, was 12.6% higher than the same period in 2016 and the highest level since 2010.2

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

With fewer working days in April and following two years of exceptionally strong demand, it’s not surprising to see a decline in CV output, especially when you consider the effect of fleet buying cycles on manufacturing timing. However, as the proportion built for export reaches levels not seen since the start of this decade, it highlights the importance of maintaining good links with our biggest trading partner, Europe. Securing a strong trading relationship will be vital to the continued success of UK CV manufacturing.

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Notes

1 ACEA figures show a 3.8% rise in European CV registrations for January – April 2017.

2 In the year-to-date 2010 70.2% of production was for export.

Autonomous refuse truck begins live trials

23 May 2017

A Swedish waste and recycling company has begun trials of a fully autonomous dustbin lorry, which it claims will increase the safety and environmental benefits of weekly waste collections.

The truck, which is being tested in Gothenburg by waste and recycling operator Renova, attains autonomy by first being driven on a refuse collection route manually and then ‘remembering’ the route.

As a result, the truck knows when to start, stop, turn and reverse, allowing operatives to go about the task of waste collection without having to continually jump on and off the truck.

The system, developed by Volvo Trucks in conjunction with Renova, uses similar autonomous systems to those fitted in an autonomous tipper the truck maker developed for the Kristineberg stone mine last November.

The first time the automated refuse truck is used in a new area, it is driven manually while the on-board system constantly monitors and maps the route with the help of sensors and GPS technology. The next time the truck enters the same area, it knows exactly which route to follow and at which bins it has to stop.

At the first stop with the automated system activated, the driver climbs out of the cab, goes to the rear of the truck, brings out the wheelie-bin and empties it in exactly the way the job is done today. When the operation is completed, the truck automatically reverses to the next bin upon receiving the driver’s command. The driver walks the very same route that the truck takes and thus always has full view of what’s happening in the direction of travel.

“By reversing the truck, the driver can constantly remain close to the compactor unit instead of having to repeatedly walk between the rear and the cab every time the truck is on the move,” said Hans Zachrisson, Strategic Development Manager at Renova. “And since the driver doesn’t have to climb in and out of the cab at every start and stop, there’s less risk of work related injuries such as strain on the knees and other joints.”

Reversing is otherwise a fairly risky manoeuvre since the driver may find it difficult to see who or what is moving behind the vehicle – even if it is fitted with a camera. Since sensors monitor the area all around the refuse truck, if the street is blocked by a parked car, the refuse truck can automatically drive around the obstruction provided there is sufficient space alongside. The automated systems also optimise gear changes, steering and speed, meaning fuel consumption and emissions can be reduced.

The project will continue until the end of 2017 and will be followed by an extremely thorough evaluation of functionality, safety and how well the vehicle is accepted by drivers, waste operatives, other road users and local residents.

World’s largest biogas bus fleet enters service in Nottingham

23 May 2017

The biggest fleet of biogas powered buses in the world has gone into service in Nottingham this week.

The £17m fleet of Scania double-deckers will be powered by a biogas produced from sewage and waste, via anaerobic digestion.

Gary Mason, Nottigham City Transport (NCT) Director, said, “We are hugely proud of our new biogas buses. This is the largest order for gas double decks in the world and is the culmination of our extensive research into alternative fuels.”

The move towards biogas vehicles began last July when NCT, working in partnership with Nottingham City Council, successfully bid to receive £4.4m in funding from government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

Since then, and with a further investment of £12.4m from NCT itself, the bus operator has worked closely with manufacturers Scania and body maker Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), together with local companies Roadgas and ZF Transmissions, to create a sustainable biogas infrastructure at the city’s Parliament Street Garage, where the new fleet is based.

NCT’s first 30 bio-gas buses began operating on routes 6, 10, 24, 25 and 44 this week, with a further 23 buses being added to the fleet early next year on routes 36 and 45. The buses all include free WiFi and USB charging points.

The Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA)’s Chief Executive, Charlotte Morton, added, “Scania’s new Bio-Gas buses are a great example of the effectiveness of biomethane as a low-carbon, low-cost transport fuel that can help to reduce the levels of air pollution we see in towns and cities across the UK.”

Feature: How a transatlantic partnership is helping van ergonomics

22 May 2017

We’ve all climbed into a vehicle and immediately been frustrated by poor ergonomic design: a seat in which you can’t get comfortable, a steering wheel that won’t adjust to your reach, or a simple control that’s buried in a menu instead of falling easily to hand on a dedicated button.

That’s why the UK’s biggest selling van is now also one of the country’s most comfortable places to sit, by virtue of a transatlantic partnership. Under the One Ford development philosophy, Ford Interaction and Ergonomic (I&E) engineering teams on both sides of the Atlantic have weekly meetings to share new ideas and best practices on items like the location and legibility of dashboard controls, the comfort of the armrests or the form of the steering wheel.

As a result, the Transit development team, based in Dunton, UK, benefits from the latest thinking on the world’s best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-150 pick-up truck, making life better for the people who work in these vehicles.

According to Cary Diehl, Lead Ergonomics Engineer for the F-150, he’s happiest when his work goes unnoticed. “I know I’ve done my job when people feel comfortable in a vehicle, but they don’t necessarily know why,” says the Detroit-based engineer, whose work begins when a vehicle is still at the clay model stage.

“Take the steering wheel as an example. Most people can’t tell you the most comfortable steering wheel they’ve ever used, but they can tell you one that they hate. We spent a lot of time optimizing the shape and feel of the F-150’s wheel. The palm swells aren’t too big or obnoxious. For comfort, the wheel cross-section isn’t a perfect circle, and there are no rough edges. The switches are chunky so that they can be operated easily with gloves, and are a certain distance from the edge of the wheel to make them easy to reach and push. You don’t want to accidentally hit them if you’re backing up a trailer.”

Gloved operation looms large in the priority list for Diehl’s team, given the truck’s loyal but demanding commercial users.

“We hear from our customers that something bad only happens when you’ve taken your glove off,” he explains. “For someone doing manual labour or another job that involves wearing gloves, taking them off when you get in the truck can mean forgetting them when you get out again. If you’re parked five minutes from your job site, you might not walk five minutes back to the truck to get them, so it’s important that the driver can leave them on in the truck. As a result, we spend a lot of time thinking about gloved usage in this vehicle.”

Some of the design features that result from a gloves-on design approach include climate control, volume control and radio tuning knobs that are bigger than in Ford’s passenger cars, as well as a continued emphasis on assigning major controls to buttons rather than slavishly following touchscreen fashions. Headroom is greater than average, too, so that site workers needn’t always remove their hard hats.

Working drivers often spend more time at the wheel than behind a desk, so Diehl’s team goes all out to make the F-Series trucks – and by association, the Transit – as comfortable as possible.

“We try to position the armrests properly so that it feels like an armchair,” he says. “Also the beltline armrest [on the door trim] is usable, which is not the case in every vehicle. During the digital design stage we have a virtual ‘box’ for where the armrests need to fall for maximum usability, and we try to get as close as possible to our preferred spot. We work with our safety team and body engineers to ensure that the [internal] structure of the door is optimised to still enable us to provide a comfortable armrest, giving you options to twist, turn and find different comfortable positions so that your back doesn’t get sore as you drive.”

Ergonomic design isn’t confined to the cockpit of a vehicle, either. One example is in the smooth finish of a door handle that’s easy on fragile hands in cold, dry climates, with plenty of clearance to fit a large, gloved hand around it, and plastic rather than chrome on the backside, so that the hand doesn’t slip off when it’s wet. And in the latest Ford Transit, the tie-down hooks and fixing points in the loadspace were relocated to the body sides to make it easier to clean the floor.

Interestingly, the F-150’s ergonomics are designed as much with short, female drivers in mind as tall males, due to the truck’s popularity with horse owners that use it to tow their animals to events. Customer clinics, ergonomic studies and usability testing involving many different user groups are crucial in informing the decisions that the ergonomics engineers make: in the US market, for example, the Transit has recently been updated with several interior changes driven by fleet-customer feedback, such as a low-profile centre console option for drivers who wanted easier access from the cab to the back of the vehicle, or to install computer equipment in the central area.

Digital tools can help, too, such as in assessing sunlight reflectivity to minimise glare. “We sometimes hear comments about black buttons with white lettering looking old-fashioned, but we do that because when sunlight hits it, that combination gives you the best contrast,” Diehl notes.

Sometimes new controls are added to the mix, but in the CV market, any new vehicle technology – particularly if it’s a high-cost item – must immediately prove its worth to some of the most selective and cost-conscious of all vehicle buyers. For example, an earlier switch to electric power steering enabled Ford to add Pro Trailer Backup Assist last year, to help drivers who aren’t experts at reversing with a trailer hooked up. But Diehl says that in other areas, such as infotainment, we can expect CVs to take a different track to the rapid advances in passenger cars.

“Commercial vehicle customers are as advanced as anyone else in their technology,” he acknowledges. “Blueprints are often now viewed on iPads and shared via Dropbox. Farmers have fleets of autonomous John Deere vehicles managing their fields. But we do know that our customers don’t want to take time to learn new systems unless it’s adding value to their day. Our users are passionate about their vehicles but they’re busy, and any investment in time to learn something new needs to be repaid tenfold.

“Pro Trailer Backup needs some setting up, but when it’s done the truck can be handed to just about anybody to back up. If someone already uses an iPhone with Siri and they use Apple CarPlay in their truck, we’re not asking them to invest that time, we’re just building on what they already know. But if I change the volume knob to a touchscreen control, I’m not adding value, I’m just creating frustration.”

First Direct Vision cement mixer enters service

22 May 2017

The first truck-based mixer to fully meet London’s new Direct Vision Standard has gone into service in the capital.

The Volvo FE Low Entry Cab 6×2 rigid has joined the fleet of concrete construction company Trenchcon in North-West London and demonstrates new levels of safety towards vulnerable road users.

According to Trenchcon Managing Director Ronan Byrne, much of the company’s work takes place in areas of high-end residential buildings in the capital. He explains how the business, which has been operating for 20 years, needed a specialist 6m³ mixer to be used exclusively for work in inner London, with all the operating pressures that entails, including heavy, slow-moving mixed traffic in close proximity with large numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. The tight access to construction sites down residential streets lined with parked vehicles is also a daily challenge.

“With the Volvo FE LEC, we believe that we are paving the way for a new type of construction truck for use in the urban environment. One of our main reasons for choosing the FE LEC is that we are committed to safety for vulnerable road users,” he said. “The greatly enhanced direct vision afforded the driver, which is aided by his sitting about 400mm lower in this truck compared to a standard six wheel mixer, we believe brings the percentage chance of harm to such as cyclists and pedestrians, down by a significant amount. It’s the first truck of its kind for Volvo and I think that we will see many more operators opting for this type of mixer in London.”

To ensure that the truck met all the requirements for the best possible Direct Vision, as well as safe manoeuvring in the often confined access situations found in London’s residential streets and mews, Ronan Byrne worked closely with Volvo Trucks’ Head of Product Management John Comer and his team at Warwick, and in Sweden, on the development of the specification of Trenchcon’s new mixer.

In addition to air suspension on all three axles, the 3500mm wheelbase vehicle is equipped with a hydraulic steered tag-axle. The Volvo safety cab features two step entry and a lowered window in the nearside door to increase the driver’s visibility alongside the cab. It comes with a CIFA truck mixer body fitted by Wilcox and a Brigade four-camera safety system.

First British double-deckers enter service in Switzerland

22 May 2017

The first ever British double-decker buses to be exported to Switzerland are about to enter service, courtesy of a British bus maker.

Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL), which has its headquarters in Falkirk, is supplying Swiss operator PostBus with a fleet of 19 Euro VI ADL Enviro500 double deckers, the first of their type to enter service in the country. The buses are powered by a UK-sourced Cummins diesel engine and have a total passenger capacity of 133 people.

PostBus, which is affiliated to the Swiss national post office and runs many of the country’s regional and rural bus services, will take delivery of the new fleet in 2017 and early 2018, with the buses serving the eastern part of the country.

The new double-deckers are equipped with two sets of stairs to the top deck, and have three doors instead of their predecessors’ two. Both decks have dual destination display screens and free WiFi. The vehicles are 13 metres long and four metres high.

The buses will be used predominantly on the Engelburg–St. Gallen–Heiden routes and then subsequently in Obertoggenburg and the regions of Rorschach and Goldach. Double-decker buses are well suited for the winding roads that are common on these routes, where PostBus’s bendy buses would not be capable.

The first two buses to enter service were unveiled to the public in the town of Engelburg on Saturday 20 May 2017.

New Mercedes-Benz Vito-based taxi joins UK ranks

22 May 2017

An all-new taxi designed to comply with both London and national regulations has made its public debut at the Private Hire and Taxi Exhibition 2017.

The Mercedes-Benz Vito Taxi appeared at the event last week, held at Stadium:MK in Milton Keynes.

With integrated wheelchair access, a turning circle within London requirements and seating for six passengers, the Vito Taxi is derived from the more comfort-focused Vito Tourer and is sold via the Mercedes-Benz Vans network.

Steve Bridge, Managing Director, Mercedes-Benz Vans UK Ltd, said, “This event offers a great platform for people, businesses and industry experts to come and meet with our experts and get to grips with our vehicles.”

“We work closely with London and national taxi businesses to ensure they can keep moving, and are extremely proud to keep cabbies ‘on-the-go’ with great success year after year.”

“We always welcome the opportunity to meet with the hard-working taxi and private hire fraternity, as they have helped to shape the unique products and services we offer, so at the PHTM event we can demonstrate how these can benefit drivers and keep their businesses moving.”

The Vito Taxi is specifically designed to operate in congested urban environments, and comes with rear-wheel steering to aid manoeuvring and a seven-speed automatic gearbox.

The vehicle costs £47,000, or is available to lease from £168 per week.

Van man beats all comers to be named Apprentice of the Year

22 May 2017

A technician working on the commercial vehicles side of the business has won Volkswagen Group’s coveted ‘Apprentice of the Year 2017’ award – the second time in succession that a VW CV apprentice has won the group-wide award.

Damir Zubairi, an apprentice service technician from Citygate Van Centre in London beat apprentices from across VW Group, including its car brands; Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda.

Picking up the award at a graduation event in Rockingham, Northants, Damir said he was looking to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Harry Garraway from Heritage Van Centre, and work his way up to the highest rank of Master Technician in the Commercial Vehicles brand.

Having had a passion for all things automotive from a young age, Damir has gone from strength to strength during his three years as an apprentice and was overwhelmed to be awarded the accolade.

He said, “I’m surprised and honoured to have won and now look forward to carrying on working hard, becoming a master technician and going as far as I possibly can within Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. I encourage current apprentices to give their very best throughout the course. Three years seems like a long time, but the sense of accomplishment when you qualify is second to none.”

Training apprentices in world-class facilities and learning on-hand from experts, the Volkswagen Apprenticeship Programme aims to give all apprentices the skills they need to build their careers.

The programme includes courses for Service Technicians, Parts Advisors and Service Advisors, and combines learning and working in a Van Centre with time at the Group’s National Learning Centre in Milton Keynes.

John Connelly, Apprentice Training Manager, said, “From the very start, Damir established what was needed to become a successful apprentice; to satisfy his thirst for knowledge he was always keen to ask questions and he showed a determination which helped him complete his apprenticeship on time and to a very high standard. He passed his service technician assessment at the first attempt, scoring 100 per cent on his assessment papers. Damir always behaved in a professional manner and his gregarious character gained him friends within his group and the ability to share his knowledge with his peers.”

Erica Belsom, People Development Manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, added, “The Apprenticeship Programme is a great start for anyone looking to launch a career in the motor industry. It’s a qualification that unlocks many doors for future opportunities.”

More information on Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle apprenticeships can be found here.

New heavy truck market has steady start to 2017

15 May 2017

  • Demand for new HGVs remains stable in Q1 2017, up 0.4% on same quarter last year.
  • Rigid and artic segments remain buoyant following exceptional growth in 2016, up 0.4% and 0.5% respectively.
  • 10,406 vehicles registered in first quarter, matching strong levels of 2016.

SEE HGV REGISTRATIONS BY BRAND

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The new HGV (heavy goods vehicle) market in the UK remained steady in the first quarter of 2017, according to figures released by SMMT. More than 10,000 new commercial vehicles over six tonnes were registered in the first three months of the year, a 0.4% increase compared with Q1 2016.

Demand for rigid vehicles grew 0.4, with a 17.2% rise in the >6-16T segment offsetting a -8.1% decline in the >16T segment. Meanwhile, registrations of artic vehicles matched 2016 levels, up 0.5% to 3,914 units. Tractors were the most popular body type for HGVs in the first three months of the year, accounting for 37.6% of the heavy goods vehicles that hit British roads in Q1.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

The stable start to the year for the heavy truck market is welcome news, particularly as it follows such a strong first quarter in 2016. HGVs are essential for transporting goods around the country and are vital for the UK economy. Almost all HGVs are powered by diesel, and thanks to heavy investment by industry the latest Euro VI CVs hitting our roads today are the cleanest and safest ever.

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Download the full press release and data table.

Double-deck demand surges, but bus and coach market falls overall in Q1

15 May 2017

  • UK bus and coach market dips -4.2% in Q1 2017.
  • Double-deck demand climbs 42.4% to nearly 500 units.
  • A total of 1,877 vehicles registered overall in Q1.

SEE BUS AND COACH REGISTRATIONS BY BRA

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New bus and coach registrations in the UK declined in the first quarter of 2017, according to figures released by SMMT.

Data shows that across the country demand fell -4.2% in the first three months of the year, with 1,877 new buses and coaches registered. Despite the overall decline, double-decks continued to enjoy the strong growth seen in 2016 with an uplift of 42.4% in the quarter to 487 units. This contrasted with decreases of -16.7% and -9.7% for minibuses and single-decks respectively.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

The uplift in double-deck demand is significant as they are used in our towns and cities so fleet renewal here will help improve air quality in urban areas. Following the strong market performance of 2016, some levelling off in the market overall was to be expected this year, as many operators have now invested heavily in their fleets.

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Download the full press release and data table.