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Domenico De Rosa’s interview at ForumAutoMotive

forumautomotive

Domenico De Rosa’s interview at ForumAutoMotive

Pierluigi Bonora: Domenico De Rosa, CEO of SMET Group. You deal with a lot of trucks, distribution and logistics every day. For you, hydrogen represents the future of sustainable transport. This is a cornerstone of your vision.

Domenico De Rosa: Our company was one of the first in Europe to introduce CNG and LNG technology in the last decade. We knew it would be a transitional technology and we watched very carefully the developments leading to full electric and hydrogen fuel cells. Our gaze is focused on this technology and, for this reason, we would also like to take this opportunity to ask the manufacturers who are significantly represented by Starace and Ferrajoli: what is the current commitment of the manufacturers with respect to what is currently a massive investment in relation to what is the projected market. In the sense that it is not enough just to be innovative, there has to be accessibility to these new products. The demand from our side is that the manufacturers should guarantee effective accessibility for operators such as SMET: It is true that we want to be pioneers in the direction of sustainability, but it is necessary that there is a multitude of companies that follow this trend so that the infrastructure can evolve, and so that politics in general pays attention to these issues. Sustainability should not only be environmental, but also economic sustainability for companies. We believe that manufacturers should also see the business of sustainable innovation. If we see all these concentrations of manufacturers, we can imagine that there is a problem in terms of the significant investments they have to make. So these major aggregation policies are a bit of a consequence. On the other hand, sustainability is a goal that road haulage in general has already embraced, and I believe it is a category that has made an important contribution.

Pierluigi Bonora: This is the third generation of hydrogen, if I’m not mistaken?

D. D. R.: That’s right. We have an experience that is still unknown in Europe, but in other parts of the world it is much more advanced than that. So we look at other parts of the world where road transport is already more advanced, and we are absolutely a stimulus to manufacturers so that they can be aligned with the times of the policy itself.

P. B.: The subject of gas and biomethane has been touched on several times. In the logistics sector, as SMET is, hydrogen refuelling times are very fast.

D. D. R.: Certainly hydrogen technology is very very efficient from a consumption point of view. The costs are also very attractive. Then you have to look at the whole hydrogen ecosystem, which is fundamental for those like the transporters who need to be very efficient all the time. I noticed from the Transport Committee’s speech that road haulage was the only one not touched on in its intervention; it may have been an oversight, but let’s not forget that road haulage should be given an important dignity because it is road haulage that makes it possible, even at times like the ones we are experiencing, to be all lockdown – certainly not wanted or appreciated – but it is road haulage that holds our country together. We have talked about sustainability, about this Recovery Plan: over 209 billion, how many things we would like to go and do. It will probably be better not to start a hundred thousand projects and then not complete any of them, but to do a few and complete them. In Italy, there is probably an experience that says I open 100,000 construction sites and I don’t complete any of them.

P. B.: There’s a private initiative to develop a fleet of Hyundai heavy vehicles in Switzerland. This initiative also deals with the production and distribution of hydrogen.

D. D. R.: Hyundai is a manufacturer that is very advanced in this technology. I believe that, if it hadn’t been for the COVID phenomenon, they would have evolved to the third generation, motoristically speaking, of this technology. We are waiting for Nikola’s technology to evolve: in 2021 full electric is expected from Iveco and in 2023 the prototype element for hydrogen is already planned. We are looking forward to this: the Total Cost of Ownership mentioned earlier is very important, because it is true that sustainability is important for a technology, but we must make this technology mass marketable. When we too, as SMET, embraced a change of pace, as we did with LNG last decade, we did not do so driven by the Total Cost of Ownership: we did it to bring about change. So we have embraced even at a higher cost than Diesel, not caring about cost-effectiveness as the first element. We did this because in our Group DNA there has always been a strong push towards the sustainability of freight mobility. We did it on the basis of the concept of intermodality, of the modal shift from road to sea, with the shipowner Grimaldi in 1995. My father, Luigi, was already talking about Motorways of the Sea for the first time with the shipowner Grimaldi at that time. Today it is a reality in which Italy is an excellence.

P. B.: A truck leaves from Dusseldorf in Germany and can reach its destination in Spain, a port, between road, rail and sea. It takes traffic off the road, and with the help of hydrogen transport it makes road transport green, with a positive impact on the environment.

D. D. R.: What you have described is the way in which the SMET Group carries out its logistics activities in Europe. A model that we have defined “Intermodality squared”, where in addition to the modal shift – from all-road to intermodal – we combine rail intermodal with maritime intermodal. In Europe, Italy is a leader in the Motorways of the Sea, where we have the most important shipowner in the world in this category. It is good to remember this, because we are always behind in all the rankings, but when we talk about logistics, when we talk about evolution in transport, Italy is a world leader. In Europe we have a technology that is sustainable and which, together with alternative tractions, such as LNG first and hydrogen tomorrow, could certainly be the key to closing a very important circle.

P. B.: Let’s face it, this is what Italy is all about, intermodality.

D. D. R.: I am proud to be CEO of a Group that has always pushed in this direction. I am chairman of a committee of an important association chaired by Guido Grimaldi, who has given an innovative push towards sustainable logistics. In the category I manage, the Motorways of the Sea, it is an example that has no equal in Europe, which everyone looks at with great interest. I can’t say that it hasn’t also been opposed by Europe in terms of incentives, because Italy has favoured this type of policy and has been rewarded. We have a peninsula that is narrow and long, we have an incredible infrastructural fragility. Just think of the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic axes, and think instead of how many opportunities could be seized by putting heavy goods vehicles, and therefore the sea, off the road infrastructure. Today there is not a single motorway in Italy that has three lanes at the height of the flyovers or bridges, because out of prudence they have all reduced them from three carriageways to two and where they are two carriageways to one. So, while the whole world is speeding up, Italy is slowing down because of an objective fact: the fragility of our roads. Intermodality is the immediate answer to these issues, because the sea is already there, the ports are there and the ships are there. Promoting this means helping the country.

P. B.: Corridor 5 of the high-speed rail network should encourage this development.

D. D. R.: Absolutely, the future is intermodal. Not investing Recovery Plan resources in infrastructure, in intermodal transport, is a real crime.

P. B.: The daily movement of SMET?

D. D. R.: We move around 3,000 vehicles a week on our ships. In Italy we directly connect 16 trains a week with our company trains, in addition to the European networks. Over the next three years we will be intensifying intermodal transport more and more.

P. B.: You spoke of a safety car that has put itself in front of the sector, slowing the whole thing down, but this 2020 should not be seen in such a negative light. What can it represent?

D. D. R.: From our point of view, this is a year that we must remember very well, because it has put us in a position to critically analyse our entire performance and, in general, all of us who have corporate responsibility have made an analysis of the internal part, securing the first personal industrial lines and we have, in an indirect way, enhanced them all. From the point of view of what it gave us, important priorities for the future. Even hydrogen, which we are talking about today, is in the sustainability category: sustainability means respect for our planet. We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrowed it from our children. If we start thinking in these terms, TCO is not the element to start the change. It is an element that makes it stable, that makes it a lever, an accelerator of numbers, but it is not the first element. It never was for us, nor when we approached intermodality, it was a strange element as LNG was six years ago, and hydrogen will be in a year or two. We are definitely going in an ideal direction.

P. B.: What are we asking for, what message are we sending to the authorities?

D. D. R.: Clear ideas, few but good projects. These are elements and considerations: road transport is an essential activity for the country. Respect for what it was during the COVID period, but above all investing in infrastructure so that it is not foreign road haulage that circulates in Italy, but Italian road haulage that circulates abroad.