Since 2009, hundreds of trucks longer than 16.50 metres have been travelling on Italian roads as part of the so-called Project 18. Now that that project is over, the managing director of the SMET Group, Domenico De Rosa, has explained how these trucks perform on the roads, how manoeuvrable they are, what benefits they can generate for budgets and the environment.
When did you start introducing this configuration and why did you think to do it?
“The SMET Group embraced the 18-metre convoy experience in 2009, so that is now twelve years ago. The motivation for the positive approach to this experience, which was entirely pioneering, was geared towards the fact that we perceived the benefits that this technology could bring in terms of sustainability. We must not forget that the vehicles contain a number of pallets inside them: it is obvious that if we want to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, we must make the vehicles themselves contain more pallets. It was very easy to arrive at the consideration that this type of product would meet the sustainability target. So we approached the first experimental phase, which lasted five years, and we strongly relaunched in the second phase where the derogation licences were increased by the Ministry. Our Group strongly increased the number of licences and vehicles purchased with a very significant investment of several million euros, at a time when there was no sign of normalisation, which has happened recently.
How many vehicles in particular did you use?
“The first phase saw thirty authorised vehicles, the second phase three hundred authorised vehicles. All Italian semi-trailer manufacturers were able to participate.
In economic terms, what environmental benefits did it bring?
“The numbers are easy to give. As far as our 18-metre vehicles are concerned, we brought a contribution of about 15 per cent lower emissions, due to the different missions they performed. Equally beneficial was the reduction in the number of vehicles required to transport the amount of goods that were transported. So we have certainly lightened the motorways by a factor of 12 to 15 per cent vehicles. I think you can see the goodness of this type of product.
In the Italian infrastructure network, are there any points where there are difficulties for this type of vehicle?
“The vehicles are designed to cope with roundabouts: the wheelbase is the same as a traditional semi-trailer. Then they have the self-steering third axle, which makes manoeuvring around roundabouts even easier”.
Based on this experience of more than ten years, is there a market segment for which the use of these vehicles is particularly congenial?
“Certainly the sector that best coincides with the maximum efficiency of this product is the automotive sector. This sector travels, for the most part, back and forth. Of course, all sectors where the weight/volume ratio is very high are not recommended, because the overall mass has not changed. But remember that most of the saturations in Italy come from light loads. It is clear that even between the interports these vehicles are easily exploitable and the benefit is very high in terms of sustainability’.
What is happening in other countries and what experience are you looking at with interest to apply in Italy as well?
“We, in Italy, arrive at a standard that was already achieved years ago in other parts of Europe. The new standard we should be inspired by is the 25-metre standard, because Spain is already adopting it and has results that are positive. Italy has homologated and narrowed the gap with the other countries of Europe. The same concept is on the 25 metre, so our Group will be a stimulus to start experimental phases, then the whole objection phase will start, because 25 metres in Italy may be a lot, but there will be courses where they can be used. We start in an experimental measure and progress is not blocked and slowed down. This is the mission on which we have been working since yesterday.
So progress, optimisation, but also a factor of competitiveness.
‘Too many times I hear that in Italy we are behind, we don’t have the infrastructure and the possibilities. In an area where there is nothing, we have to do everything and we already start with European best practices. There will be problems, we will try to understand what they are, but we cannot abdicate with respect to an infrastructural condition of the country that is lacking. However, this is not an alibi for not following the lines of progress, because if the country is behind many times it is because there is no drive towards innovation. On our part, there will certainly be a willingness to invest and experiment and, if necessary, even go backwards.
Now that the 18-metre has become usable outside of experimentation, do you plan to increase your fleet?
“We have a growing demand for this type of vehicle. So given the particular moment we are experiencing and the lack of availability of equipment from the suppliers of these and other vehicles, we will certainly move towards a fleet implementation in this sense. Customers are increasingly willing to transport their goods in a sustainable manner. So much so that we sell the 18-metre vehicle combined with an LNG-powered vehicle, because we get the vehicle that is the best in terms of CO2 reduction and environmental efficiency.
Is it more of an advantage for the customer who ships the goods or for the carrier who can exploit this space?
“We set our action on a value discourse first and then an economic one. We have approached this line towards sustainability, which we then decline with intermodality by sea, rail and alternative traction and with the 18-metre because we believe it is ethically correct. After that it is in the commercial skill of the company and the entrepreneur to know how to value what is sold to the market. We believe that these observations should be declined in other respects: is it right to use environmentally efficient vehicles? Is it something that benefits the haulier, the customer and the consumer? I believe it benefits everyone.
Has the fact that there is a driver shortage created a favourable environment for the introduction of these new vehicles?
“The shortage of drivers, as well as the priority on sustainability, facilitates and is an accelerator. It is clear that the rest of the European countries are dictating the pace: if other countries are already ahead, we have to race to catch up”.