A very weak end to the year for new truck sales in the Australian market appears likely. Mark Hammond, chief technical officer of the Truck Industry Council (an association of truck manufacturers), has written that the fourth quarter of the year is “shaping up to be the worst year end in four years for truck sales… Should the current slump in truck sales continue through December, quarter four sales will be the lowest since 2015.”
Hammond warns that a long-term trend is emerging, that of poor quarter-three sales coupled with a further slowing in the final three months of 2019.
“Such poor numbers have not been seen since the post Global Financial Crisis of over a decade ago,” Hammond writes in his monthly analysis.
Australia’s heavy-duty truck segment has undergone the greatest slowdown, with 1,031 trucks delivered in November this year, down 26.3%, or 368 units, compared with November 2018. Year-to-date sales are down 11.7%, or 1,541 fewer heavy vehicles, sold this year compared to the same period last year.
Sales of medium- and light-duty trucks have also slowed “considerably since the halfway point in 2019,” Hammond writes.
Tony McMullan, CEO of the Truck Industry Council, called attention to the safety implications. Australia’s “already old” truck fleet is aging further, which, McMullan wrote, is slowing the take-up of advanced safety and environmental technologies. He called on the Federal Government to introduce incentives “to aid the purchase of new safer and more environmentally advanced trucks.”
More massive road upgrade programs underway around Australia
Australia’s huge road upgrading program continues, with Federal Government Minister Alan Tudge, minister for Population, Cities and Infrastructure, revealing an A$1 billion ($677 million) freeway upgrade.
“Shovels will hit the ground next year on the project, which will be delivered in three packages,” Tudge said.
The upgrade will include the building of a new service road bridge over Tallebudgera Creek connecting a new western service road; installation of new “smart motorway” technologies; preserving a corridor for a future rail extension; along with environmental upgrades such as koala habitat and improved fish passage through culverts.
Meanwhile, over in Western Australia, a new motorway bridge will be built over the Kwinana Freeway to improve traffic flow. The A$237 million project ($160 million) is being jointly funded by the Federal and state governments. The project also includes several road upgrades.
And, finally, down in the Australian state of Victoria, the Transport Infrastructure Minister, Jacinta Allan, has endorsed recommendations from an independent planning panel on the North East Link, a 26-kilometer-long (16-mile) freeway. The North East Link is no small project — it’s an A$15.8 billion ($10.8 billion) project.
A wide variety of environmental issues have been taken into account, including a recommendation to undertake one of the biggest tree- and shrub-planting infrastructure-related programs in the state’s history. However, the green credentials of the project as espoused by Allan might be a bit of greenwash. While, yes, the project will see lots of trees and shrubs planted, it will also see nearly 26,000 existing trees cut down. The independent panel itself said the project has not yet resolved tensions among road functionality, infrastructure, safety, community liveability, landscape character and economic prosperity. Locals have also been lobbying for the tunnel part of the project to be extended so as to reduce surface disruption and return land to the local community.
Drug-taking truck drivers busted
South Australian Police have caught several meth-using truckers in operation “Eyre Safe.” Police have stepped up an inspection campaign on the Eyre Peninsula following the end of a freight rail service. The police believe that there will likely be more heavy vehicle freight traffic.
So far, seven methylamphetamine-taking drivers have been caught out of 180 drivers (of vehicles of all kinds) were stopped and required to undergo a drug test. Among that number was a driver of a heavy lift crane who police said was both drug-affected and in possession of 1.5 grams of meth. Another truck driver tested positive for cannabis consumption.
Happily the data from the police shows that the vast majority of drivers are, in fact, law-abiding. Eight positive results from 180 drug tests is a 0.44% hit rate. South Australian Police stopped more than 1,200 drivers and required 1,140 to take an alcohol test. No one returned a positive result for alcohol.
There were also five “cannabis expiations,” notices from the police alleging that a minor offense has been committed and giving the person the option of paying a small on-the-spot fine rather than being prosecuted. These are likely to be issued for simple possession offenses involving small amounts of cannabis. A person found to be driving under the influence of a drug does not have the option of an expiation notice.
There were also two “drug diversions,” whereby adults found in possession of small amounts of drugs are directed into health assessment and education.
There were 164 heavy vehicle inspections, with one “critical fatigue notice” and one “minor fatigue notice” issued, as well as four “work diary” offenses found.
Advanced Braking Technology reduces debt
Australian Stock Exchange-listed Advanced Braking Technology (ASX: ABV) has repaid an A$620,000 ($423,600) research and development loan. The company used funds received from a research and development tax refund. Now, following the conversion of approximately A$1.5 million of convertible notes into equity, the company reports that it will be “effectively debt free.”
“With this significant reduction in debt levels, the company is now well positioned to implement its growth strategy,” CEO John Annand said.
Senate inquiry into Australian road transport attracts over 90 submissions
A federal parliament inquiry into viable, safe, sustainable and efficient road transport has attracted 93 submissions from a wide cross section of the public, academics, industry players and lobby groups. No further submissions will be accepted.
The inquiry is examining the importance of an enforceable minimum pay rate along with sustainable standards and conditions in the road transport industry; the development and maintenance of road transport infrastructure; the regulatory impact on the road transport industry; training; the social and economic impact of road-related injury, trauma and death; efficient cost recovery measures for industry stakeholders; the impact on new technologies in freight; and related matters.
The Australian Trucking Association, a lobby group for trucking operators, has called for safer roads, improved truck rest areas, mandatory autonomous emergency braking for all new trucks, improved driver training and licensing, regulation of freight matching platforms, and the creation of no-blame safety investigations into heavy vehicle crashes.
The ATA observed that there is a downward trend in the number of fatal crashes that involve articulated trucks but that there is an upward trend in the total number of fatal crashes involving heavy rigid trucks.
“The ATA considers that the only effective way to continue improving road safety is to press on with the safe systems approach … [which] recognises that people using the road network will make mistakes and that the whole system needs to be more forgiving of errors,” the organization said.
It added that the road is a factor in about 30% of all crashes and in the severity of 100% of crashes.
The ATA called for the National Land Transports Act 2014 to be amended so that safety becomes a focus and for the Australian Federal Government to require the adoption of safe system principles for project design; prioritize funding for projects that minimize road safety risks; and require projects to use the “willingness to pay approach to valuing the lives saved and injuries avoided from safety improvements.”