Monthly newsletters from the Vice Presidents of the HVTT Forum.

October 2023 Newsletter

Dear friends of the HVTT Forum,

On October 28, 2014 I made my debut as presenter of a paper at HVTT13 in San Luis, Argentina. I did not really know what to expect from HVTT and I had originally planned to attend only that one day. However, the warm reception from the organizers and from participants made me stay the whole week. The program was packed with interesting and useful information. This was a community that I wanted to be part of. The “love at first sight” was reciprocated and I was elected to the board and was even made vice president, Asia.

The board gave me a clear and simple task: get China and more countries in Asia involved in the HVTT community. We agreed that one of the next HVTT should be held in China. HVTT14 was held in New Zealand with the first representative from the Chinese Ministry of Transportation and HVTT15 was held in Rotterdam with even more Chinese participation. At HVTT15 the baton was handed over to the Chinese delegation who agreed to arrange HVTT16 in China in 2020.

Then came Covid.

It was agreed to postpone HVTT16 one year in the hope that Covid would have abated and that it would be possible to physically travel to China again. Unfortunately this turned out to be a too optimistic assumption. But the HVTT community is a very flexible bunch of people and it was soon decided that HVTT16 was to be held in Beijing On Sept 6-9, 2021 as a hybrid event, which meant that those who were able to travel to Beijing attended physically, the rest attended online. What was even more innovative was that a number of smaller physical gatherings took place around the world where participants met physically and made joint dial-ins to the online sessions.

As a whole, the event went surprisingly well and as an extra bonus the Chinese organizing committee arranged a physical follow up of HVTT16 with a HCT-related exhibition in Qingdao, January 21-22, 2022, which attracted quite a number of Chinese participants and generated good and useful publicity. (HCT stands for “High Capacity Transport”, also known as “High Capacity Vehicles” or “Long Combination Vehicles”.)

I mention all of this because the past nine years have seen a gradual acceleration of China’s engagement with HVTT and with other international bodies that in various ways pursue the development of HCT. As I have reported earlier, one breakthrough was the 2016 revision of the Chinese Masses and Dimensions Standard for commercial vehicles (GB1589-2016), which opened up for legal long vehicles – up to 22 meters. Inspired by the European EMS system a Chinese Modular System CMS concept was included in the revised standard and has since won wide recognition.

But, of course, as we all are aware of, there are always pockets of resistance that need extra convincing before HCT can win full support by all stakeholders. Covid has been a bit of a set-back in China as it delivered a hard blow to the Chinese economy and in particular to SMEs. Therefore transport companies are struggling to survive in a very competitive market with suppressed freight rates. Since China has so many small transport companies that still make up the backbone of the transport system, the authorities have recently looked between the fingers on overloading and over-sized vehicles, which temporarily allows financially strained transport companies to carry more goods to offset the low freight rates. It is expected that the authorities will be reining in this malpractice as soon as the economy regains stable growth.

In parallel, a new revision of the GB1589 and other relevant standards is under way. It is also encouraging that all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Public Security, who among other things is in charge of road safety, have accepted on-road pilots of 25.25-meter-long vehicle combinations in several geographies around China. The paper Feasibility Study on the Application of Modular Combination Vehicles in China Road Transport, co-authored by Zhang Hao of China Research Institute of Highways (RIOH), my colleague Tommy Xu and myself, that will be presented in Brisbane, describes two of these pilots and the rationale behind them.

The timing of the GB1589 revision could be quite good if it coincides with again stricter enforcement of masses and dimensions as it will offer legal and safe ways of transporting as much goods per vehicle as currently is done illegally.

One Chinese transport industry friend, who spent a few weeks in Europe this summer, concluded that the secret behind Europe’s low transport and logistics costs in relation to GDP (8-9%) as opposed to the 14% China equivalent, is standardization. In Europe transport companies don’t speed, don’t overload and use high quality equipment. Still they keep the total costs down. This they can do because standardization reduces loading and unloading times, keeps accidents under control, maintains low operating costs and reduces unnecessary stress among drivers. My friend concluded, that China needs much better and strictly enforced standards. This is what we jointly are contributing to in the HVTT community.

So when looking back at the past nine years there is reason for a sense of accomplishment in supporting China to follow the trajectory toward building a sustainable and efficient road transport system. That said, we must also recognize that China herself has made innovation leaps in technologies that will help shape future transport solutions, such as electrification, autonomous driving and intelligent connected vehicles. The experience and knowledge sharing is now truly going two-ways between China and the outside world.

When I write these words there are already 170 paying delegates of 25 nationalities that will attend the HVTT17 conference in Brisbane. On behalf of the organizers let me sound a great thanks to all who lodged their papers and presentations on time.  It will be a fantastic experience-sharing and networking event!

At the upcoming HVTT board meeting I will leave my post as Vice President Asia and hopefully hand this role over to Zhang Hao of RIOH who has been nominated as my successor. In this way the Chinese involvement in HVTT will get even deeper. In the next five to ten years we hope to see tangible breakthroughs in the introduction of legal HCT on Chinese highways, which would be a great contribution to reducing global CO2 emissions from road transports.

Next week, when many of us meet in Brisbane, Beijing will experience its first nights this fall with freezing temperatures and the cold Siberian winds will soon take grip over most of China. Until now we are experiencing an unusually pleasant autumn and trees are just beginning to turn yellow and red. One of my favorite trees is the Gingko tree, an ancient tree that grew back during the time dinosaurs roamed the earth. The fan-shaped leaves of the gingko tree represents the evolution from coniferous needles into photosynthesis leaves. The gingko tree turns intensively yellow after the first cold spells of the autumn after which its leaves start falling like yellow snowflakes. It is a favorite photo object and many artists have been inspired by the yellow gingko leaves on black branches set against a blue sky.

I like to express my gratitude for having had the chance to serve nine years as a vice president of this fine organization and look forward to supporting in other ways for many years to come.

Mats Harborn

Beijing 2023-11-01