In the face of ever-tightening emissions controls – which now includes London’s new Ultra-Low Emission Zone – an increasing number of road transport operators are looking to improve their fleet’s sustainability credentials. By James Walker

Trucks and vans are the lifeblood of the cities they operate in. As the largest independent contract hire, fleet management and rental specialist in Europe, Fraikin is perfectly positioned to take a leading role in showcasing the new technologies and alternative fuels that will power these vehicles in the future.

The Government’s Clean Air Strategy sets out to reduce harmful emissions by ending the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, with the goal to make almost every car and van a zero emissions vehicle by 2050. Additionally, the EU agreed in December 2018 that truck manufacturers will have to cut CO2 emissions by 30 per cent for new vehicles by 2030, and by 15 per cent come 2025.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) labelled these targets as ‘highly demanding’, and as the number of natural gas refilling stations in the UK and Europe don’t currently meet the required levels, it’s a fair comment.

It’s also difficult to predict what kind of impact the aftermath of Brexit will have on the commercial vehicle industry, so it’s our job to ensure customers have all the information they need to make valued decisions on the most appropriate and cost-effective new vehicles for their operation.

At the 2018 IAA Show in Hanover, Fraikin was proud to have the world’s first 460hp LNG-powered heavy truck for swap body operations on display on the IVECO stand.

There are obvious environmental advantages of gas as an engine fuel – for operators specialising in long-distance missions CO2 savings could be up to 15 per cent when using regular CNG or LNG, rising to between 85 and 95 per cent when fuelled with biomethane, versus a Euro VI diesel engine.

Natural gas also delivers a 99 per cent reduction of particulate matter and 60 per cent reduction in NOx emissions, compared to a modern diesel, helping to significantly improve air quality.

Fraikin also has long-standing experience with electric power, having delivered its first electric vehicle for multi-drop work in the heart of London over a decade ago, as well as trialling innovative solutions such as Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) technology in its rental fleet since late 2016.

Though all-electric, zero emissions vans and light commercial vehicles have proven feasible for urban operations, introducing this technology into heavy trucks still has a number of constraints that need to be overcome – particularly in terms of range, payload potential and the supporting infrastructure for recharging.

The evolution of alternative-fuelled commercial vehicles does, of course, raise concerns about their cost – which could potentially cripple smaller operators. The drive towards new engine technologies is already making many of our customers face some tough decisions. However, with factors like the additional weight of the electric batteries decreasing a vehicle’s working payload, or the lack of natural gas refuelling infrastructure in the UK, it’s no surprise that many are reluctant to make the move away from diesel.

Though diesel certainly isn’t yet the fuel of yesterday – the current Euro VI diesel truck engine is one of the cleanest on the road, and not to mention ULEZ-compliant – the Government’s emissions targets dictate that eventually fossil fuels will be a thing of the past, so operators should at least start to think about making changes, as it could become a major headache further down the line.

Fraikin understands the impact of these targets and the complex issues surrounding the move towards alternative-fuelled drivetrains. And though no-one knows what stage the industry will be at in the next ten years, or even what technology will be the most widely adopted, we have already adapted our business model to ensure that whatever happens, we will have the financing, maintenance, breakdown support, diagnostics and telematics technology in place to make alternative-fuelled vehicles a commercially viable solution.

Regardless of the direction the industry moves, Fraikin will certainly be ready, and we would urge everyone to follow our lead.

James Walker is Commercial Director at Fraikin. Fraikin Ltd is part of the Fraikin Group, the largest commercial vehicle fleet services company in Europe, providing expert fleet management, contract hire and rental solutions to both the private and public sectors. The Fraikin Group, established in France in 1944 by Gérard Fraikin, has operations in 16 countries, with more than 2800 employees, 7000 clients, 180 branches and a fleet of 60,000 vehicles. Its operations span Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Poland and the UK.