Hybrid trucks star in Amsterdam

One of the stars of the show was the eye-catching Renault Hybris, a hybrid-technology urban concept vehicle. Renault describes it as a "vision of urban transport for the future". Renault Trucks, which already offers vehicles that can run on bio-diesel, natural gas, diesel/electric bi-modal and wholly electric, says the parallel hybrid technology that features on this prototype vehicle, will find its way into production trucks in the medium term. While Mercedes-Benz did not have any hybrids on its stand, it took the opportunity to announce a trial involving ten hybrid Mitsubishi Fuso Canters. The trucks, which have been on sale in Japan for 18 months, will enter European hauliers’ fleets next spring.

But while Mercedes-Benz UK boss Ian Jones describes hybrids as "the sexy story of the day", he warns that they are not going to suit the majority of operations. "Although we expect them to deliver a 20% fuel saving, you have to factor in the additional cost and weight," he says. "Although there are increasing environmental pressures, we need to remember that our customers operate in a highly competitive cost-driven environment." In his opinion, commercially viable hybrid trucks are still five years away, and "diesel remains the fuel of today, tomorrow and probably the next decade". However, he believes bio-diesel will play an increasingly important role, albeit produced in a very different manner than it is today.

Iveco, which has vast experience producing hybrid vehicles, chose to show a hybrid Daily in FedEx livery – one of ten similar vans about to go into service with the parcels carrier in Turin, Italy. But while Ken Brewis, product manager for Iveco’s UK truck business unit, praises hybrid vans and trucks, he doesn’t think the technology will be commercially viable for another three years. "Which is a pity, because the market is already clambering for it," he says. He wishes the UK would take a leaf out of Italy’s and Spain’s books, and embrace CNG. "If you go to the Continent, you will see thousands of vans, trucks and buses running on CNG, but the UK just can’t get its act together. We need an infrastructure."

Environmental themes strong at Amsterdam Show

The European Road Transport Show 2007 had a clear environmental theme, with alternative fuel/driveline trucks being exhibited by almost all of the major OEMs. "The biggest challenge in our industry, and one which is not going to go away, is of course the environment," said DAF’s UK CEO Stewart Hunt on the eve of the show in Amsterdam last week.

"Just two years ago, very few hauliers were concerning themselves with their carbon footprints. It’s clear that the environment will be central to political and public life for decades to come, and you can be certain that the restrictions and challenges facing us now are only the beginning of a long, hard and complicated road."

Taking pride of place on DAF’s stand was its range of Enhanced Environmental Vehicles (EEV) – or ‘Euro 5 and a half’ as it refers to them. The trucks use the familiar SCR-equipped Euro 5 engines, but with the addition of a soot filter in the case of the CF and XF. The LF range, on the other hand, achieves EEV status without the need for the filter.

The EEV range will be sold in the UK, and according to DAF’s marketing director Tony Pain, is expected to prove particularly popular with local councils – who often have an obligation to be clean. Big household names with a reputation to uphold are likely to opt for the tractors, while construction firms bidding for contracts in low-emission zones – such as the Olympics – will purchase EEV six- and eight-leggers.

DAF used the RAI Show to give details of a major hybrid trial it is about to embark on, which will see seven hybrid LFs enter UK fleets. Pain explains that the company is on the lookout for urban operators who are interested in taking part in the trial – but stresses that they need to be genuinely interested in determining whether or not hybrid technology has a future within their organisations, not simply in search of free publicity.

"We don’t want to get involved if a company just wants to be seen to be green," he says.

DAF is confident that hybrids could be in series production by the end of 2008.