Time to recognise the efficiency of modern trucks

Many members of the general public are completely unaware of the incredible efficiency gains of modern heavy commercial vehicles, especially when compared with their counterparts from 20 years ago. The myth that trucks are dirty, smelly and cause the majority of traffic congestion is perpetuated by press headlines containing words such as “juggernaut”, and implications that truck drivers are at fault for any accident involving an HGV.

It’s time to put the record straight.

Starting with vehicle emissions, a typical new Euro 6 44 tonne tractor unit emits a tiny fraction of the pollutants that a Euro 0 equivalent from 20 years ago. It would take approximately 36 Euro 6 trucks to emit the same level of NOX as a Euro 0 model, and about 70 to produce the same amount of carbon particulates. In addition to this, 20 years ago articulated combinations were limited to 38 Tonnes, whereas today most operate up to 44 tonnes, with huge improvements in braking and safety technologies. The improvement in vehicle payloads has resulted in fewer truck journeys to deliver an equivalent tonnage of goods, all of which benefits the environment.

Alongside improvements in emissions and increased payloads, there have been significant improvements in fuel economy, with fleet averages gradually increasing over the years as engineers incorporate increasingly sophisticated technology into engine and transmission design and combustion processes.

In rough terms, a new Euro 6 44 tonne combination is approximately 40% more efficient today than 20 years ago, while emitting only a tiny fraction of the pollutants. In some of our cities with a severe air pollution problem it is possible for the exhaust from a Euro 6 truck to be cleaner than the air entering the air filter! Much of this pollution is caused by older buses and taxis – not trucks!

Comparing the huge reduction in truck pollution with the passenger car market throws up an interesting statistic. Because CO2 emissions for cars have only been officially measured since 2000 no direct comparison can be made. However, EU statistics show a reduction of 23% since then, which has been counteracted by an approximate 23% increase in the UK car parc. The conclusion is, therefore, that cars in general are responsible for broadly similar levels of CO2 pollution as 13 years ago, whereas Euro 6 trucks will emit less than 5% of the pollutants compared with 20 years ago!

This technology does not come cheap however, and over successively stringent emissions requirements over the last 20 years, new truck transaction prices have barely moved. The UK remains the most competitive European truck market, especially in the tractor unit sector where most manufacturers vie for similar market shares. This aggressive trading climate has resulted in truck manufacturers and their dealers sacrificing profit margins on vehicle sales in return for maintaining a vehicle parc large enough to support their aftermarket networks.

Turning to the subject of congestion, it’s time to dispel another myth. In 1990 there were around 480,000 trucks in use on UK roads compared with today when there are about 415,000 – a 14% reduction, whereas light commercial vehicles have increased by approximately 53%, and cars by 35% over the same period. There are around 28.7 million cars currently registered in the UK. Therefore is it blindingly obvious that the increased congestion has been caused by cars and light commercials, and not by heavy goods vehicles.

Today’s trucks operate in a highly legislated environment, with compulsory on-going driver training, with ever-increasing safety requirements, even more stringent emissions limits, and yet continue to keep UK PLC operating by delivering goods to shelves 24/7, mostly unappreciated by the very people who demand instant gratification of their retail desires.