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Volvo weighs in on heavy vehicle width changes

OwnerDriver speaks to Volvo Australia president Martin Merrick about what the recent vehicle width changes mean for his company's EV production

Global vehicle manufacturer Volvo welcomes in the recent announcement of an increase to truck width limits, as it continues to push its heavy vehicle production in Australia and internationally.

The company wants to become an industry leader on electric heavy vehicle production, which is currently limited by federal legislation on axle mass limits.

This means that the size of electric heavy-duty vehicles that Volvo and other manufacturers can produce is limited, narrowing the options and types of jobs that electric trucks can take on in Australia.

Volvo Group Australia president Martin Merrick says that this is a very welcomed first step in a bigger move for the industry.

“The new legislation shows that the government is listening,” Merrick tells OwnerDriver.

“This announcement about the increased width allowance, and the states’ announcements about the two-year trials allowing heavier trucks on the roads show that we are being heard when we say that the safer and cleaner our trucks get, the heavier and wider they get.

“But there is more to be done to support Australia’s growing electric truck transition.”

New South Wales and South Australia have both recently committed to a trial to advance movement in this space, allowing higher mass limits for zero-emissions trucks.

HVIA CEO Todd Hacking, Volvo Group Australia President Martin Merrick and Brisbane Deputy Lord Mayor Krista Adams at the AHVIW launch.

This trial will take place across the next two years, with hopes of leading to a more defined roadmap to increase electric heavy vehicle limits sooner rather than later.

Merrick believes that these laws need to become permanent before a meaningful change to the production of these electric trucks can be made.

“These are temporary, and we need permanent reforms at a federal level if we are serious about decarbonising Australia’s transportation industry,” he says.

“We are still a long way from seeing an increase in the maximum weight for the front steer axle at a federal level to allow cleaner, greener trucks to be operational on our roads.

“Australia’s electric trucking future is reliant on forward-looking regulatory change, such as this one. We’re working hard to play our part in bringing cleaner and safer trucks to Australia.

“We need the government to move faster with us on this journey. Australia’s zero-emissions trucking future is reliant on forward-looking regulatory change, such as this one.

“Volvo welcomes meaningful dialogue with government to continue improving our regulatory framework in a way that supports the decarbonisation of the sector, future investment, and the opportunity to create local jobs through electric truck manufacturing in Australia.

“The increased width restrictions are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but it’s not the end of the conversation – it’s the start.”

Volvo currently holds approximately 50 per cent of the electric truck market share in Europe and the USA, largely in part to a lack in restrictions over the size of electric trucks.

Australia’s restrictions are unique across the world, and Merrick has previously warned that they could see the national fall behind in electric vehicle uptake.

The transport industry, which made up 19 per cent of Australia’s emissions in 2022 according to the Federal Department of Climate Change, is steadily moving towards decarbonisation.

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Volvo is no different in this regard, with a target of lifting electric trucks to half of its production by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040.

A successful trial of the axle mass increases could see the company able to make bigger strides towards this goal in Australia, already on track across its other production lines in Europe and the world.

“If we can successfully tackle these challenges, we will aim to manufacture these electric trucks locally in Wacol, Queensland by 2027,” Merrick says.

“Our aim is to have half of our global total sales of new trucks to be electric by 2030.

“That means cleaner, safer and quieter trucks on Australian roads. But it hinges on consistent regulatory change.

“Volvo Group is currently the only company to have a full range of electric trucks in Australia The change will mean that we can get these trucks onto Australian roads without exceeding width restrictions.

“I’m very heartened to see movement regarding steer axle weights recently and we hope that these recent announcements are just the tip of the iceberg. A national approach to this issue would help accelerate the adoption rate.

“Just be clear this is not an issue restricted to Volvo, this is an issue for all manufacturers with low/zero emissions solutions waiting in the wings.”

In 2022, electric heavy-duty vehicles represented 1.2 per cent of truck sales worldwide according to the International Energy Agency, primarily dominated by China.

Chinese sales of electric trucks represented 85 per cent of global heavy-duty electric vehicle sales, with the majority of electric trucks sold elsewhere produced by Chinese brands.

In a market dominated so clearly by one country, Merrick and other vehicle manufacturing decision-makers have identified the possibility of a second global power.

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Can Australia be that? Not without a lot more work in the area, he says.

“Australia has a way to go from a policy perspective. In Europe, the zero-emission momentum started with government policy and worked its way down to industry and customers,” Merrick continues.

“It’s happened the other way around in Australia. Policies need to evolve to align with Australia’s net-zero target. That means changes to policy, better charging infrastructure, and the introduction of incentives for companies to transition their fleets.

“We also believe financial incentives – as we see in other countries – are critical to accelerating the uptake of electric trucks in Australia.

“The government has a critical role in enabling the transition to zero emissions vehicles. It is important that the government continues to look at our regulatory framework in a way that supports the decarbonisation of the sector.”

Merrick says that this is a major opportunity that the Australian transport industry needs to take to keep up with the global economy.

The transition towards decarbonisation and zero-emissions has already been a struggle for some, and the sooner these primary targets are reached the better.

“If we miss this opportunity, Australian transport will not be able to keep up with the rest of the developed world as it transforms towards a fossil-free future,” Merrick says.

“We’ve done our part and brought a fleet of electric trucks to Australia with the intention of manufacturing them locally here in Wacol, we need the government to play theirs.”

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