Calls made by Tesla for Australia to ease its vehicle-size limits has reignited the debate around truck regulations with fears they will prohibit uptake of imported low-emission commercial vehicles.
A submission made by Tesla late last year to the National Transport Commission revealed that the first generation electric heavy truck the Tesla Semi was too wide by 34 millimetres for Australian roads under current laws.
Under Australian laws a commercial vehicle cannot, without special exemption, be wider than a 2.5 metres. In the US commercial vehicles like Class 8 trucks are permitted to be 2.6 metres long whereas in Europe the cap is 2.55 metres.
Tesla have called on the NTC to amend the laws so that its long anticipated electric truck can be made available here by as soon as 2022.
Given the size of the Australian market compared to North America and Europe, it is highly unlikely Tesla will modify its design.
Now the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has joined a growing chorus of industry bodies — Austroads and the Truck Industry Council among them — in asking that revisions be made to the current regulations so that width dimensions on heavy vehicles increase to the European standard.
Local manufacturers have in the past objected citing safety concerns in regard to the impact increased truck sizes might have on other road-users and existing infrastructure.
As it stands the Tesla Semi isn’t legally fit for local roads although it was pushing for what it called “urgent changes” to Australian vehicle design rules.
“The Commission will be aware that given Australia’s small size in comparison to global markets, inconsistencies like this between Australian regulations and larger markets will delay or preclude vehicles coming to local markets,” said Sam McLean Tesla Public Policy Manager Australia and New Zealand.
The comments made by battery electric automotive company led by Elon Musk, which have since been made public, have prompted the NTC and “governments of all levels to prepare for rapid decarbonisation.”
The ATA believes the decision will only delay the introduction of zero-emission trucks in the country.
“Electric and hydrogen trucks developed overseas will need to be redesigned for the Australian market to meet our dimension rules. This will slow the rollout of zero emission trucks in Australia,” said ATA CEO Andrew McKellar.
McKellar said an increase in vehicle mass was also needed to encourage the purchase of newer, greener vehicles.
“Euro VI, battery electric and hydrogen trucks are heavier, which reduces the amount of freight they can carry and their commercial viability,” he said.
“There needs to be an extra 500 kg axle mass allowance for single steer trucks and an extra 1000 kg for twin steer trucks,” he said.
Zero emission trucks were, according to McKeller, a reality and needed the right policy settings to increase their uptake in Australia.
“We are getting to the stage now where international vehicle manufacturers are bringing electric vehicles to the market. To support this, government must ensure vehicle standards regulations are flexible enough to allow that to happen,” he said.
In a report released in 2019, Austroads said there was evidence to support a boost in heavy vehicle width from the current benchmark of 2500mm to 2550mm, excluding attachments such as mirrors and exhaust aftertreatment systems.
“New Zealand has allowed heavy freight vehicles to operate at 2550mm without restriction since 2017 and there has been no reported or anecdotal evidence that the wider vehicles are more likely to be involved in a crash,” Austroads said at the time.
In fact, Austroads first made the recommendation back in 1992.
Australia is one of six countries in the world where maximum vehicle width is restricted to 2.5m
The others are Japan, South Korea, Lebanon, Morocco and Argentina.
At present nearly 80 percent of new heavy duty trucks sold in Australia each year are imported directly or derived from truck designs from markets where the maximum vehicle width is 2.55m or greater.
Truck Industry Council CEO Tony McMullan, writing in Prime Mover in 2019, urged the Department of Infrastructure Regional Development and Cities to make recommendations to the Transport and Infrastructure Council, within COAG, for an alignment with European regulations of 2.55m maximum width.
“Our current Australian Design Rules actually allow additional maximum width for load restraint on a truck, tie downs, curtainsider buckles, chains, etc. These can be up to 2.55m in width,” he noted.
“This has posed no known or quantifiable safety risk, yet our law makers continue to push back on allowing trucks to be this width overall, costing industry millions of dollars each year and slowing the uptake of trucks with advanced safety and environmental features.”