A major change to Australian design rules promises to be a “game changer” for Australia’s shift to electric freight transport.
The new rule announced by the federal government will allow wider trucks on Australian roads, bringing the country in line with overseas markets and removing one of the key barriers to local uptake of heavy duty electric trucks, as most overseas-built models were just a few centimetres too wide to meet Australia’s previous standards.
“This Safer Freight Vehicles package responds to direct calls from industry to increase the width limit of trucks and follows extensive public consultation and feedback,” said federal assistant minister for infrastructure and transport Carol Brown.
“These changes will be a real game changer for industry, businesses and other road users, as they will save lives by adopting technology to reduce the likelihood of crashes, while also lowering freight costs and supporting better environmental outcomes.”
The change increases the overall width limit from 2.50 to 2.55 metres for new trucks, as long as they are fitted with safety features such as side guards and devices to limit blind spots.
This has been an issue that groups like the Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) have been working towards for a number of years, as the 2.50 metre limit had severely hampered options for heavy duty electric vehicles to be brought into Australia.
“Increasing the width limit of trucks brings Australia in line with major overseas markets, like the EU, which is vital if we want to increase the supply of electric trucks on our roads,” said EVC chief executive Behyad Jafari.
“Being out of step with international regulation has restricted the supply of electric trucks into Australia. Aligning these standards will make it simpler and cheaper for Australian operators to access electric trucks, while also improving productivity, freight efficiency and safety.”
Tesla, for example, had warned back in 2021 that its Semi electric trucks would not be able to be released in Australia as they were just 30 to 50 millimetres over the width limit.
In the US the truck width limit is 2.6 metres and in the EU the limit is 2.55 metres.
Other transport bodies such as Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia and the Trucking Industry Council (TIC) have both welcomed the announcement.
“Allowing 2.55 metre width vehicles on Australian roads meant that these vehicles could be fitted with the latest safety technologies and importantly will result in the faster deployment of zero emission vehicles in Australia,” TIC CEO Tony McMullan said.
The change will be particularly helpful for light duty trucks. According to a 2022 report from the EVC and the Australian Trucking Association, vehicles based on EU or US market designs make up around 60 per cent of new heavy trucks, and redesigning them for the Australian market is estimated to cost AU$15 to $30 million per year.
“This is an important step on our journey towards safer, cleaner transport solutions,” said Paul Illmer, Vice President of Emerging Technologies, Volvo Group Australia.
“We applaud the hard work undertaken by industry bodies to ensure that Australians can enjoy the same advancements in safety and emissions standards as many other advanced markets around the world.
“We hope to see momentum continue in other areas such as axle mass loadings to accelerate uptake in zero emissions vehicles here in Australia and assist the federal government in achieving its net zero goals.”
However, this is not the only challenge facing electric trucks in Australia. In May, Volvo Trucks pushed to change Australia’s weight limit on the front axle from 6.5 tonnes to 7.5 tonnes for electric trucks. These weight rules are unique in the world and have been called ‘arbitrary’.
“As the adoption of electric trucks accelerates around the world, it’s vital that Australia stops falling behind. Increasing the width limit is a great first step, but we need to keep the momentum going to support our country’s electrification of trucks,” says Jafari.
“We encourage the federal government to build on this announcement by introducing a mass concession (one tonne minimum) for electric trucks, and making it cheaper and attractive for Australian businesses wanting to embrace this technology.
“More broadly, we need a National Electric Heavy Vehicle Strategy that outlines a plan to decarbonise our heavy vehicle fleet over the long haul.”