Diesel still leads the ultra-low emissions race

Volvo Trucks boss insists diesel engines still lead the race towards ultra-low emissions future

Diesel engines will continue to be central to the business of Volvo truck operators and dealers in the UK for many more years.

This was one of the key messages delivered this month by Mike Corcoran, commercial director at the Volvo Trucks division of Volvo Group UK. “Euro-VI diesel still has a future,” insisted Corcoran.

That’s despite this month’s unveiling of the company’s first all-electric (battery-powered) truck amid all the current brouhaha over air quality and exhaust emissions in the wake of the Volkswagen car and van test-cheating scandal.

“We are now engaged in rolling out VECTO to our dealers so that the best available driveline with regard to fuel economy can be selected. Working with customers, often using our Dynafleet on-board telematics system, we will improve operational and environmental efficiencies.”

Mike Corcoran, Volvo Trucks
Mike Corcoran, commercial director for Volvo Trucks

New EU regulations from next year

VECTO (Vehicle Energy Consumption Calculation Tool) is the computer software at the heart of a new European Union regulation starting to come into force next year and requiring manufacturers to certify and declare diesel-engined truck and bus fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions figures for the first time in Europe.

Corcoran was speaking at the Woking, Surrey base of an organisation which is no stranger to vehicle telematics and the power of the data they can produce: the McLaren Formula 1 racing team.

For the past two years, it has been running a fleet of 24 Volvo FH two-axle tractors to transport race cars, and all their extensive supporting equipment and personnel, to and from European F1 grand prix venues. The two-year-old trucks are being replaced with new FHs this month, under the terms of a four-year sponsorship deal between Volvo Group UK and McLaren.

Used truck market “saturated”

The UK’s used truck market at present is described by Corcoran as “saturated”, but he is nevertheless confident of finding buyers for the two-year-old McLaren FHs.

“Following a few teaser ads, we have pre-sold almost half of them,” he says. “As you would expect, they all have a very high-end specification and very low mileage.”

But these are by no means the only used Volvo trucks for which there is strong demand in the UK, according to Corcoran. “Our retail order intake in our used truck operation for the first quarter of this year is 68% up, year-on-year,” he says.

“Given that our direct sales force covers nearly half the UK, I think this gives a fair reflection of the demand for used Volvo trucks.”

High-mileage trucks no problem for Volvo

He is at pains to dispel any notion among truck operators that the risks associated with high-mileage second-hand trucks are best avoided. “We have just sold our first-ever retail truck with over one million kilometres on the clock, and with a warranty,” he says.

“This shows the confidence of our customers in the Volvo product and our own confidence: strong enough to put a warranty on a vehicle with this mileage. We want to promote the longevity of the Volvo product and dismiss the perception that all trucks are fit only for trade and export once they get above 800,000km.”

Around 30% of all new Volvo trucks sold in the UK typically are subject to some form of guaranteed residual value or “buy-back” deal. This meant that last year, when part-exchange trucks are taken into account, Volvo Group and its dealer network sold around 2,200 used trucks in the UK in what Corcoran describes as “a very tough environment.”

Volvo’s new truck sales on the up

On new vehicle sales figures, he reports that Volvo truck orders, invoices and registrations all grew in 2017 in the UK for the third consecutive year.

“We have had a sharp focus on improving rigid truck sales in recent years,” he says. “This has resulted in increased orders for the past few years and we are seeing this come through in market share.”

The continuing absence of any timely, detailed truck registration statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) makes it extremely difficult to identify sales trends in all truck market sectors, but it is clear that in the entire six-tonnes-GVW-and-above UK truck market last year Volvo registrations grew by around 1.5% in a market which shrank overall by 2.6%.

Non-SMMT sources suggest that the number of four-axle rigid trucks sold last year fell by about 3.0% from the record high of 2016, that Scania continues to be the top-selling marque in this sector of the market but that Volvo is now snapping at its heels. Corcoran confirms that Volvo’s share of the four-axle-rigid sector of the UK truck market grew from 22.7% in 2016 to 24.3% last year.

Tractive units (two- and three-axle) continue to account for more than 40% of the entire UK truck market. Our sources suggest that Scania is the top-seller at present in this sector, closely followed by Mercedes-Benz and then DAF Trucks, Volvo, MAN, Renault Trucks (a Volvo Group company) and Iveco, in that order.

Volvo’s share of the UK tractive unit market sector grew from 17.1 to 17.7% last year, reports Corcoran. “We are pleased to see continued development in this area,” he says.

Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore is an award-winning automotive journalist and the former editor of our sister title, Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. He is also the UK representative on the panel of judges for the biennial, pan-European Trailer Innovation Award scheme.