Monthly newsletters from the Vice Presidents of the HVTT Forum.

April 2023 Newsletter

Dear members of the HVTT community,

It feels almost unreal. All traces of the previously so rigorous Chinese Covid regime are completely gone. Society is back to normal. It will take years until we know which policies around the world were more efficient in combating the pandemic outbreak.

One serious effect of the Chinese strict control was that very few foreigners visited China in the past 3,5 years. The media reporting in the West focused on negative issues, which left many with the impression that China was standing still or even stagnating. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Although the economy took a severe beating last year, in the progress has continued unabated. Innovation, new regulations, modification of regulations, distorting business models and so on have all developed uninterrupted. It is sometimes said that the speed of one year in China corresponds to three years in the West. If that is true, foreign visitors will find a China that has jumped one decade during the pandemic. Certainly the sudden appearance of for example Chinese electric passenger brands in the European market feels like one such jump. Allegedly the quality of these products is surprisingly good.

Also in our field of High Capacity Transport (HCT) there has been noticeable progress, maybe not a decade jump, but nevertheless positive developments. The powerful semi-governmental automotive research institute CATARC is publishing this year a feasibility technical research report on double-trailer road train. The Ministry of Transport is preparing new standards to support the use of long vehicle combinations. This year they will issue a White Paper on Safety Specification of Double-trailer Road Train operation on Road (including 25.25 m), laying down the technical requirements of CMS (Chinese Modular system) vehicles’ structures and configurations for pilots operating on the designation roads.

Many leaders at the Chinese Ministry of Transport stand behind this development and one official who has been active in this field, whom I recently met again, was quite optimistic and expected that 25 meter road trains could be completely legal by 2025/2026. That would be very good news for the environment and it would be good news for increased transport efficiency, and it would mean less wear and tear on Chinas excellent highways. We need to keep engaging with China to give all support for this to happen.

I had the privilege a few weeks ago go on a private road trip in the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi. The state of China’s highway network is  impressive. We drove 1500 km in four days and it was both comfortable, safe and very beautiful. But these highways are more than so…

In many of its highways and in 20 cities, China has already made preparations for V2X communication. This is set to reshape how vehicles travel on the roads and how they are connected to infrastructure, to business system, to other vehicles and to entertainment systems. The intelligent communication systems built in in the above mentioned Chinese electric passenger cars that now enter the European market are advanced and are prepared to provide even more services.

After Covid, meetings and conferences resume on a big scale. I like to give impressions from two meetings that took place in the past month.

The first conference was the Dutch NGO Smart Freight Centre, who has been active in China since 2015, and its new initiative: ZEFI (Zero Emissions Freight Initiative). Finally, all stakeholders, government, industry associations, academia, forwarders, carriers, vehicles industry, software companies, journalists etc could again meet physically. ZEFI presented its 2022 Zero Emissions Road Freight Development Annual Report.  In this constellation, just like in the HVTT community, the goal is to ensure that all stakeholders take a holistic view in the continuous reduction of CO2 from road transports. The report as well as the conference presentation demonstrated how this is being achieved. Only in this way can suboptimization be avoided. One powerful tool in this context is the intelligent use of data in the complete transport and logistics supply chain. By gradually adding autonomous driving where it makes sense the CO2 impact on each ton-km can be further lowered.

The second important conference was the annual EV100 meeting. This non-profit organization was founded in 2014. It is a think tank with the purpose of boosting the development of EV industry. By providing a platform without boundaries among all stakeholders, it promotes the convergence and collaborative innovation across multiple fields through research and communication.

EV100 started out with a focus on passenger cars and since its founding in 2014, China has risen to become a global giant in electric cars. Since a few years back commercial vehicles are also included in the scope of EV100.  At the April 2 Forum on Commercial Vehicle Sustainability it became clear that a similar development within electric CV can be expected. The different players in the supply chain seem surprisingly aligned, yet with sufficient space for continuous iterative development. It was also obvious from many of the presenters that the Chinese industry, upstream and downstream, has global ambitions.

There has been a lot of talk about decoupling from China in recent years. It is hard to see how this can happen. In her recent major China policy speech and during the joint visit to China in April together with French President Macron, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said:  “I believe it is neither viable – nor in Europe’s interest – to decouple from China”.

This is a welcome message. We need China as much as China needs the rest of the world. Foreign companies need to be in China for China and in China for the world, and the same goes for academia, NGOs etc. This is not least true for the field that HVTT is focusing on – High Capacity Transport.

In China, regulation, truck technology, energy systems, information technology and so on appear to be coming together to put in place increasingly efficient transport solutions where infrastructure, vehicles, drivers and the goods itself interact in new ways.

As customary, a final note on the weather. The warm and humid southerly winds are finally winning over the cold and dry Siberian winds. The sun is warm, days longer and the cherry blossoms shine pink and the air is full of the scent from lilacs. But another weather phenomena has come back that is typical for this time of the year. Sand storms. This year we have already been struck by three sandstorms that make the air yellow and so thick that you can look straight into the sun. Spring is here!

Mats Harborn

Vice President, Asia