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CV Focus

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Matt Eisenegger interviews leading figures in the commercial vehicles sector. Matt and his guests discuss current issues, future issues, future technologies, and where the industry seems to be going in the short, medium, and long term. 
10 Episodes
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Arguably, there’s been more development in vehicles and technology over the last five years, than the previous 15.  This week Matt Eisenegger talks with one of those genuinely at the cutting edge: Aaron Thomas, Co-Founder and MD of TRAILAR, which uses solar panels on the roofs of vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. He explains how, along with Co-Founder Denny Hulme, the idea was developed as part of a DHL management development program, to fulfil a brief of ideas to ‘seriously disrupt the UK transport industry’. Having got their idea - putting solar panels on a trailer to power ancillary equipment – past first base, they then found a supplier of flexible solar mats and developed a prototype. Having presented to the DHL UK board, who loved the idea, the project rolled on with further vehicles fitted as proof of concept. Then, testing at Millbrook proved the CO2 and fuel savings. From here, he explains, the project went into DHL’s ‘accelerator programme’ and, rather than keeping it to itself, DHL provided funding for Oldham & Rugby-based TRAILAR to be set up as a limited company in 2018. Aaron explains how the fit-and-forget system works and the many hidden advantages, which now has DHL, Royal Mail, Ryder and others among its customers. It provides power for all ancillary equipment on the vehicle including refrigeration, tail-lifts, air conditioning and even takes better care of the vehicle battery.. And, despite the firm’s name, it is fitted to rigids, vans, waste collection vehicles and works on coaches and buses as well where it is especially beneficial due to passenger vehicles’ higher power requirements.  He explains how the system saves up to 2,800 litres of diesel and 8T of CO2, , per year, and how its telematics report those savings to customers. The conversation concludes with TRAILAR’s current work with Ocado on electric vehicles, and the potential for alternative fuel vehicles.
The logistics sector has seen sweeping changes this year and had to adapt rapidly to circumstances.  To find out more, Matt Eisenegger chats with Adam Purshall, Fleet & Procurement Director at leading logistics operator Bibby Distribution. “We’ve had to change, but it forces you to change – such as in digitalisation – it brings forward a lot of things,” says Adam of the business that has 1,400 staff operating from 45 UK locations. Adam talks about its all Euro 6 fleet, and the extra fuel savings at Euro 6d - 5% year-on-year - compared with Euro 6a. On the back of this year’s £14m fleet investment, the conversation turns to drivers and Bibby’s use of telematics: “It enables you to have very focused conservations with drivers.” They talk about how Bibby engages its 900 drivers to “win hearts and minds” and examples of improvements that have come from this to make drivers’ lives easier “often it’s the simplest things,” explains Adam.
Here’s a challenge: How do you make home deliveries greener and more economical?  One answer is lightweighting the vehicle and increasing its capacity – both in payload and space terms – so that it can do more deliveries before returning to base, have lower running costs and be easy for drivers to use. That’s not a new challenge, but thanks to the clever use of new technology, Penso Group’s ‘Blue Ocean Pods’ is delivering a solution that works. Daniel Hurcombe, MD of the long-established Coventry-based manufacturer chats with Matt Eisenegger to explain why it’s getting into supermarket delivery vehicles and what’s so radical about the project, which already has Asda signed up as a customer. He explains how, with its background in automotive and aerospace projects - clients include Jaguar Land-Rover, Mercedes-Benz’ London Taxi, Boeing, Airbus, BAE Systems - it’s been able to refine carbon-fibre technology to make it cheaper and more suitable for mass-market production. Although Penso uses high-value manufacturing, thanks to a clever business model the vehicles have roughly the same monthly cost as traditional solutions, we learn. And they do more miles-per-gallon. We discover how the ‘pods’ are the result of a project started three years ago with Mercedes-Benz to work on the supermarket home-delivery sector. The challenge is to get right amount of payload and best economics for daily operation. As experts in lightweighting and vehicle integration, Penso was well-placed to step up to the challenge. It also dealt with the conundrum of how to insulate the vehicle, and make it green. Part of the solution comes in the use of 5,500 recycled plastic bottles in every van it builds. We discover that the savings – of up to 500kg on a 3.5T van – are used not only to create extra payload, but also extra space, of up to 140 totes (the trays shopping is delivered in) from a maximum of 120 (although often lower) in conventional designs. With Penso’s experience in ‘vehicle packaging’, it has also produced a design that means it’s as easy for women to use as men – especially in the crucial area of easily-reaching the top totes. We also learn about where this technology could go; if you’re thinking 7.5T trucks and overnight freight, then listen on…
CNG, LNG and biogas - it’s all methane - so what’s the difference? Explaining everything you need to know about gas is James Westcott, Chief Commercial Officer for Gasrec, which supplies infrastructure, such as refuelling stations. He sets out the advantages of using gas - that it’s cleaner and cheaper than diesel - and ready technology that’s available now for heavy-duty-cycle trucks and buses. With Gasrec’s DIRFT, Daventry, station already filling around 350 trucks from 20 different operators a day, the switch from diesel is already well underway, learns Matt Eisenegger. That’s not surprising with the attraction of a clear duty differential for 10 years, thanks to the CO2 benefits, which are up to 90% on biogas, and with savings of up to 40% on fuel costs. While supermarkets have been early adopters of gas trucks, James explains why family businesses are now starting to make the switch.  With shorter decision-making process, they can move quickly and with a choice of Iveco, Scania and Volvo vehicles - plus a payback time of around two years - family-owned businesses can see an opportunity; and, they are taking it. While electric works well for shorter distances, and with hydrogen fuel-cells yet to come to market for trucks and buses, James predicts that up to 50% of the heavy-duty sector could be gas powered in 10 years time. Listen to why he thinks this will be the case.
It’s not everyday that a new manufacturer arrives on the truck market. Even less so when their product is electric and radically different to anything else on the road. In an exclusive interview with Volta Trucks’ CEO Rob Fowler, CV Focus discovers the driving forces behind this exciting new venture, and why such a radical and different delivery truck will be on streets all over the country pretty soon. Part of this is that Rob Fowler doesn’t come from a vehicle manufacturer, but an operating background, having spent 10 years at parcel firm DPD, latterly on its EV programme. Now one of the largest commercial EV operators in the country, DPD has an aggressive strategy having gone from five vehicles to 700 EVs in just three years. With his background of being a customer, that gives Volta a unique perspective and a radical approach to business - everything from the vehicle’s design principles, to modelling costs and working with operators to deliver the solution. Drivers, safety and productivity are all to the fore in the design, and Rob explains why they are so important; not only for the bottom line, but also for the men and women behind the wheel. And, for those who worry about the sustainability of batteries, he also explains why Volta Trucks has eschewed traditional EV battery technology, to use safe, durable cells that don’t involve mining precious metals. This change to the landscape also extends to property, and Rob chats about the effect that the EV revolution will have on landlords.
At 64,000 sq ft - the size of a football pitch - and with 39 vehicle bays, AGS’ brand new Heathrow dealership is the largest undercover workshop of its kind in the country. What’s more, of the £6m investment to build it, £1m has been spent on making it ready for electric commercial vehicles, from bespoke bays and equipment to its own sub-station. AGS Joint MD Paul McGerty tells us why it’s been future-proofed and what working with customers based at Heathrow is really like. Heathrow, says Paul, is a ‘mini-city’. Employing 76,000 people, it is the largest single-site employer in the UK, and directly supports another 114,000 local jobs, from AGS to hotels, airline caterers and more.  Airside at Heathrow, where many of his customers’ vehicles work, AGS has Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in place that demand a response within 15 minutes for a ‘code red’ - and financial penalties running to thousands if the SLA is breached. That’s tough - but AGS wants to cascade that type of SLA to the wider transport industry, with same-day booking for maintenance (rather than waits of up to two weeks elsewhere) and 24-hour servicing. This is needed, says Paul, as fleets become ‘tighter’ with fewer spare vehicles. Finally, he talks about the firm’s work on films - a separate arm, but still vehicle-based - which has equally testing demands. And, why you’ll never see the Batmobile on the M6….
British Gas is genuinely at the forefront of vehicle technology. Having started its electric vehicle (EV) journey in 2014, it’s already got 10% of its 10,000-strong UK van fleet as EVs. What’s more, as an EV100 signatory it has pledged to be totally zero-carbon by 2030. Can it achieve this? Matt Eisenegger puts this question to British Gas Head of Fleet Steve Winter, who explains what needs to be done, and the challenges that are ahead. As he starts to take delivery of 1,000 Vauxhall Vivaro-e vans (the UK’s largest single EV order to date) he explains how his fleet management team of six has risen to this challenge. With British Gas’ engineers’ vans all home-based, the tricky questions of home charging, how the energy is paid for and reimbursed and the need for on-call engineers to always have their van ready and available have been answered.  Steve explains how they’ve done this, and also how to deal with unexpected events, driven as a result of changes by local and national politicians to policy. And, that sometimes these policy changes don’t even have anything to do with transport, yet have unintended knock-on consequences. He also reveals the ‘unseen’ positive aspects of EVs’ total cost of ownership (TCO), which mean that British Gas is seeing around £800-1,000 per year TCO savings per EV. He also addresses some of the wider problems that have yet to be tackled - from the limited range of vehicles available, to public infrastructure payment methods and how to heat the vans’ drivers. Now, with six years and two-million EV miles under the fleet’s belt, Steve is one of the most experienced EV fleet operators in the UK, meaning that this episode is packed with useful tips and pointers - not least on where we might be in 10 years’ time…
While electric is starting to take over in urban deliveries, diesel still has a long-term future in heavy trucks, so what are the policy levers that government can pull to make it even greener? One that is simple to implement, requires no infrastructure investment and can be used today is (HVO) hydrotreated vegetable oil, hears CV Focus presenter Matt Eisenegger. Very environmentally friendly, HVO is a form of solar power (via plants) and all from truly sustainable products. Crucially, it’s not plants specifically grown for fuel. Compatible in all diesel engines, even older ones without modification, HVO has an immediate effect cleaning up emissions. It can be mixed with mineral diesel, so there’s no need for separate tanks in your depot or vehicles. There is no detriment to fuel economy; in urban operation HVO can slightly improve it. There are clear advantages for operators, the UK economy, climate and clean air.  So what’s the catch? As DAF Trucks Marketing Manager Phil Moon explains, it’s all down to the government to make it more popular. A vehicle engineering specialist, having completed a degree in Automotive Engineering & Design at Loughborough University, Phil Moon initially worked in truck operations before joining Foden (like DAF, Paccar-owned). There he developed an in-depth understanding of vehicle engineering and then applied it to future vehicle design by moving into a product marketing role, moving across to DAF in 2005. As a result, he’s able to explain to us in clear terms everything an operator needs to know about HVO.  He also talks about the next developments in diesel engine technology, required by law to take effect in five and 10 years’ time, that will cut emissions and fuel consumption.
“You need to start now. Don’t wait. The early you start the better.” That’s the verdict on electromobility from Carlos Rodrigues, MD Renault Trucks UK. In an exclusive CV Focus podcast, he talks with Matt Eisenegger about why COVID-19 is not an excuse to take your foot off the pedal with the renewal of your fleet and move to electric vans and trucks. One of Carlos’ key focuses is to drive the brand’s electromobility journey, with full-electric Renault Trucks from 3.1T to 26T now a reality.  For Carlos, making the decarbonisation of road transport sustainable is the only way to achieve the required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. With a finance background, Carlos knows that the equation will not be easy to solve, but believes that already there are enough components to solve part of it and begin the journey towards a fossil-free road industry.  “The deciders of tomorrow on carbon and climate change do matter; you should be on the front foot now,” he points out, observing that demand is already coming to operators from customers for clean vehicles. On cost, he notes that some sectors such as waste are already competitive with diesel - and way better in environmental terms. “You have to re-think your business and the way you do things,” he adds. For those concerned about much publicised issues of grid capacity, he reveals that “more often than not, operators already have enough power into their building.” And, unless you’re planning to double-shift your vehicle, then the charging infrastructure investment is not more than £2,500. And that’s before you factor in the reduced running and maintenance costs of battery-electrics. The switch is easiest to make for smaller operators, especially in the van sector and he sets out the path for how to convert your fleet, without over-committing, but putting you in a position where you can make reasoned buying decisions. He also talks about Renault’s 10-year promise on battery life, while looking longer term at what’s in the pipeline for long-haul.   About Carlos Rodrigues                 He has more than 15 years’ experience in the automotive sector, all spent within the Volvo Group.  Starting as an Internal Auditor, Carlos gained a deep understanding of the commercial business.  In 2009 he relocated to Spain where he successfully reshaped Renault Trucks’ wholly-owned operations during the financial crisis.  Carlos then moved to Sweden where he held various Vice-President roles on the financial side of the organisation and then in 2016, he relocated to the UK to become the Volvo Group UK & IE Chief Financial Officer. He was appointed as MD Renault Trucks UK in October 2018. Having lived in four different countries, Carlos also fluently speaks four languages. He holds two Master Degrees in Finance and Business Administration.
Doing what’s best for the customer - not the manufacturer - might seem a slightly unorthodox way of doing things, but that’s normal business for Steve Bridge, MD of Mercedes-Benz Vans UK. But then Steve Bridge isn’t your normal van MD who is chained to a desk, having just spent a day with a delivery driver to remind himself of what life at the front line is really like. And, rather than gaining insights purely through sales - which during lockdown saw the Sprinter as Britain’s best selling vehicle, beating even cars - Steve also runs a ‘business barometer’ to keep ahead of trends asking the views of 2,000 van drivers, owners and operators. As someone who witnessed the big switch from petrol to diesel vans in the early 1980s, he looks at the new ‘big switch’ to electric. Is it going to be as hard as some suggest? In a wide-ranging discussion with Matt Eisenegger, he also explains why ‘white-van man’ is much more than the stereotypical “owner of lane 3 on a motorway” - but a modern-day hero who puts food on your table, provides emergency medical treatment and fixes your broken-down vehicle. Steve sets out how this challenges everything from delivery methods to the digitisation of shopping and why diesel is no longer needed for vans in cities.
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