The European Union has decided to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the transport sector by 20% between 2008 and 2030, and by even more in the longer term. At the same time, transport needs continue to increase and, it is the heavy freight sector that is increasing most. In other words, European haulers face a complex challenge.
How is Europe to meet its tough climate targets as transport needs increase? Although it may initially seem strange, larger and more powerful trucks may be one of the answers.
"In order to succeed, a number of different measures will be needed such as better logistics, more efficient engines, more fuel-efficient driving techniques and new fuels. But one of the solutions may also be larger and more powerful trucks." This is the opinion of Anders Ahlbäck, project manager in the Area of Advance for Transport, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.
There are already some high-horsepower engines in the European market to meet that challenge.
Europe is also still phasing in its exhaust emissions standards. The Euro 6 standard, which means about one fifth of the emissions of nitric oxide and particulates compared to Euro 5, goes into effect within the EU and certain neighboring countries on at the end of the year for all new heavy vehicles.
As early as March 2011, Scania launched its first Euro 6 engines in order to give far-sighted truckers the opportunity to be one step ahead before the new emission standard go into effect. The flagship engine is the Scania V8 with 730 horsepower, succeeded by Volvo FH16 and its 750 in-line 16-liter six-cylinder.
MAN's 680-horsepower engine will not go pass Euro 6 and Mercedes has no engine in the 700-horsepower range yet.
Getting more done with less fuel
The basic principle is simple: With larger and more powerful trucks, more freight can be carried by fewer vehicles, which in turn reduces fuel consumption and climate impact in relation to the transport work being undertaken.
The fact is that demands on more efficient transport have for many decades driven development in the direction of increasingly powerful trucks. In the mid-1970s a power output of 350 horsepower was regarded as high. Today you would need to add another 100 horsepower to reach the average for a truck on European 40-ton long-haul assignments.
For operations in very hilly terrain and in high-altitude conditions, really high performance is needed to be able to quickly transport food and other fresh goods or to haul heavy loads such as wind-power stations, timber, ore or machinery. For this sort of demanding operation, there are trucks with power outputs of 730 - 750 horsepower.
Lower climate impact
"What is remarkable is that during the same period, fuel consumption and climate impact have dropped by an average of about 40%, while emissions of nitrogen oxides and particles have been cut by more than 90%," says Claes Nilsson, President of Volvo Trucks Europe.
But more still remains to be done. A company like Volvo Trucks works actively and continuously to reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from its trucks. And if more countries in Europe decided to follow Sweden's and Finland's example and allow truck rigs of up to 25.25 metres in length (83 feet) and 60 tons (133,000 pounds), one in every three semi-trailers on Europe's roads would no longer be needed – at least in theory. In actual fact, what is probably more likely is that it will be easier to meet expanding transport needs without adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
"Longer and more powerful trucks are of course not the only solution to the transport sector's climate problems, but they are one of many answers," Nilsson says. "At Volvo Trucks we see it as our mission to pursue development and to make truck transport's environmental footprint as small as possible. Trends thus far show that a smaller climate impact and more efficient transport really do go hand in hand."
Here's how much more powerful European long-haul trucks have become:
- 1970-1975 330 hp
- 1975-1980 375 hp
- 1980-1985 400 hp
- 1985-1990 450-475 hp
- 1990-1995 500-525 hp
- 1996-2006 550-660 hp
- 2009-2013 700-750 hp