Lively debate at CV Forum

The great and the good of the UK’s commercial vehicle industry descended on the British Museum in London this week for the Commercial Vehicle Forum 2013 organised by the SMMT, Road Haulage Association and the Institute of Road Transport Engineers.

Transport News Brief was there to hear the keynote address from the new British Under Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Goodwill, in his first public speaking engagement in his new role, and to listen to the interesting debate in two forum sessions.

Goodwill, appointed to his Department for Transport brief earlier this month, told the CV Forum that the UK freight and logistics industry was vital to economic growth and prosperity. It’s worth £75 billion to the UK and employs more than two million people across 190,000 companies.
“Freight transport ensures supermarket shelves are stocked, medical supplies get to where they are needed, when they are needed, factory floors are supplied with equipment and UK businesses have access to overseas suppliers and can sell UK goods abroad,” he said, adding, “Efficient freight transport is vital for efficient business.”

Goodwill reaffirmed government’s investment of more than £24 billion to deliver 52 new national road projects, and outlined plans to triple annual investment in road enhancements to more than £3 billion by 2021. “Over 400 miles of improved motorways will be added, linking a number of stretches to create a smart motorway corridor between the north, west, Birmingham and London.”
With commercial vehicles as the basis of the logistics sector’s development, and having pushed for it when he was in opposition, Goodwill said he was pleased to see the trial of longer, heavier vehicles now in full flow. “Longer trailers enable freight companies to transport bulk goods more efficiently, and will give economic and environmental benefits,” he commented, adding that the change in the allocation procedure to a first come, first served basis had led to requests for an additional 500 longer semi-trailers, to be delivered in the next six months.

Finally, Goodwill vowed to deal with the issue of the length of time taken to book appointments for inspections, and said that VOSA will be working closely with trade bodies, especially SMMT, to identify and address concerns with delays.

The CV Forum debates featured a variety of speakers from all corners of the industry, who addressed key issues that affected efficiency and offered solutions to help operators improve their effectiveness.

Responding to the question of how government spending cuts were affecting transport businesses, Giles Margerison, Sales Manager, TomTom Business Solutions, admitted the industry had been affected. He called on operators to embrace technology, such as his own telematics systems, to save money. “We have a great sector, and we see these challenges more as opportunities that wouldn’t have been presented to us if it wasn’t for the spending cuts.”

David Weller, Former Head of UK logistics, at the Mothercare Group, and Transport Manager (UK), at WH Smith, agreed, saying that while the 400 Mothercare stores might not represent a huge retail network, every penny spent on fuel meant an increase in costs across the fleet. This, he said, lead to difficult decisions within the company that wouldn’t normally have to be made. “Mothercare invested in telematics technology and got a payback in six months,” he revealed. “It allows [assessment of] driver efficiency, and the data that you get back on individual drivers enables you, potentially, to educate them, reduce delivery times and save money.”

The debate then moved to out-of-hours deliveries, with Weller suggesting that last year’s Olympics had made operators re-think how they deliver goods. “There are legal and environmental issues, but it would be worth looking at ways in which we could make out-of-hours deliveries work in the future,” he proposed. Margerison made the point that the technology was already available to help people become more efficient with keeping track of delivery times, and it was essential to use it to “keep the wheels of industry turning.”

Henry Foy, Automotive Correspondent at the Financial Times, used the example of India, a country he previously reported in, to highlight how restrictions in daytime deliveries had changed things for the better. “There is an opportunity for hauliers to work with all other parties to look for possible solutions,” he commented.

When talking about the most important future technology, and the effect it could have, Sarwant Singh, Senior Partner at Frost and Sullivan raised the prospect of autonomous vehicles. “They would save a lot of costs for operators, even platooning vehicles would help improve efficiencies,” he said.

Away from heavy vehicles, there was some discussion about vans, largely regarding the need for their regulation, amid concerns of their maintenance, and the standard of drivers. “Regulation would highlight a lot of vehicles that may not be roadworthy,” commented Beverley Bell, Senior Traffic Commissioner. “The drivers have no formal qualifications and the MOT pass rate is around 50% at the moment. With more people buying products online [and more vans on the road] it is only going to get worse,” she added.

Laura Moran, Commercial Vehicle Director at Hertz UK, said that her company felt a responsibility to impart their knowledge onto those driving its vans and recognised there is a huge option for education of drivers, and the need to maintain the momentum of the FTA’s Van Excellence Scheme. “Training means better drivers and more efficiency, which means more revenues and profits for transport operators,” she reasoned.

Bell agreed, highlighting the importance of the behaviour of the driver, and the van’s maintenance. On the latter point, she referred to regulation for commercial vehicle repairers. “If we don’t have industry standards, how can we say we are doing it right,” she questioned. “The IRTE’s irtec accreditation scheme offers a third-party maintenance qualification, and with innovations such as that, I think we can be leaders on maintenance schemes in the future.

Later on in proceedings, referring back to the topic of longer semi-trailers, Singh offered another suggestion: “I think we should also trial megatrucks. Planes and trains are getting bigger, so why not trucks?”

A topic for next year’s Forum, maybe?