Nicholls’ 10 IVECO Stralis 12.9-litre Cursor 13 NP engines, delivering 454bhp and powered by liquified natural gas (LNG) have worked throughout the Covid-19 pandemic transporting everything from paper and timber to food, bulk recycling and building supplies across the UK.
Its finance director, Darren Sherlock, sees a bright future for operators using gas trucks to deliver goods into large urban areas and when operating on longer trunking routes. He says: “We carry out regular deliveries of plasterboard from a local manufacturer in Kent to construction sites in central London. We can travel into the heart of the city without being penalised and with a clear emissions conscience.
“As more low emission zones are launched in our cities so gas will become key for operators to carry out work for their customers. Our trucks are also quieter than diesels which means we can make deliveries without compromising local noise levels.
“Half of our Stralis NPs work predominantly on trunking routes and they are performing very well. The level of driver comfort is good and complemented by the lower in-cab noise levels. The gas power is very efficient when working for long periods at motorway speeds,” he added.
Half of the gas-powered fleet is away from base all week, with the drivers quickly adjusting to the national LNG refuelling network and planning their routes accordingly. However, Sherlock is keen to see the number of depots offering gas continue to grow to further improve the operating efficiencies of running an LNG fleet.
“The network needs to keep improving; we do occasionally run slightly off-piste in some areas of the country to ensure we can refuel. My drivers can cover a 300-mile round trip from our Sittingbourne base without having to fill up, but we do encourage drivers not to risk running out of gas,” he said.
Nicholls is yet to get an early indication of Stralis NP running costs compared with his 110-strong diesel IVECO fleet due to operating cycles being disrupted by Covid-19 and December factory shutdowns.
“It’s been frustrating that our operating cycles have been disrupted for three out of six months with the trucks, so we are still yet to accurately compare operating costs with our diesel trucks, although early signs are promising,” he added.
IVECO and supplying dealer Haynes Trucks in Maidstone delivered initial education workshops to train drivers on how to refuel safely and how to get the best performance from their vehicles. Drivers have quickly become accustomed to the trucks, with the most often heard feedback being ‘how quiet they are compared with diesel’, particularly on longer motorway journeys.
Nicholls’ on-site refuelling station set up in partnership with GasRec has been busy fuelling its own fleet as well as receiving regular visits from other UK and European hauliers to fill up with gas as they travel through Kent. Although it has been shut to external operators during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicholls’ long-term aspiration is to scale up its refuelling forecourt to increase its capacity as more fleets switch to gas.
“We maintain our view that gas is the only alternative fuel to diesel suitable for operation at 44-tonnes and with more operating restrictions being introduced for diesel trucks then gas will be the fuel of choice for many more operators during the coming years,” said Sherlock.