Government mandates are driving fuel efficiency in the Gulf

Global vehicle and equipment manufacturers are steadily incorporating fuel-efficient technologies and systems in their products, and regional operators’ adoption of such fleets is paving the way for long-term cost benefits

SPECIAL REPORTS, SUSTAINABILITY, Sectors, Dubai, Equipment manufacturers, Technology, Uae, Vehicle

Driven by the need – and necessity – for greater efficiency, the Gulf’s vehicles segment is witnessing a juxtaposition of sustainability and technology.

Manufacturers and operators working in the GCC have poured their investments across the spectrum of commercial vehicles, with efforts being made to make every type of vehicle – from compact cars used by logistics firms to dump trucks found on construction sites – more sustainable and cost-effective.

Leading such developments through both policy and practice is Dubai’s vehicles sector. Earlier this month, government-owned transport provider, Emirates Transport (ET), launched the final phase of testing for the region’s first battery-powered electric school bus.

The vehicle, comprising 45 seats, has been manufactured by the Shanghai Sunwin Bus Corporation, a joint venture between SAIC Motor Co Ltd, Volvo (China) Investment Corp, and Volvo Bus Corp. Mohammed Abdullah Al Jarman, the general manager of ET, said the bus would support the UAE’s sustainability targets, as well as its aim to foster a “green economy” in the country.

The latter, a programme aimed at making the UAE a global centre for the export and re-export of sustainable products and technologies, has been crucial to the success of green vehicles in the country.

This September, the Dubai Green Mobility Initiative was launched, with the aim of incentivising motorists to opt for sustainable vehicles. The programme included benefits such as free use of charging stations across the emirate until the end of 2019, complimentary ‘green’ parking, free vehicle registration and renewal fees, and free Salik tags.

The upcoming 2017 Dubai International Motor Show will leverage the emirate’s push for electric mobility, with international manufacturers scheduled to showcase their latest products and launches to meet the increasing demand for eco-friendly vehicles. For instance, Mirai, Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is set to make an appearance at the automotive exhibition. The car was also displayed at the 2017 Water, Energy, Technology, and Environment Exhibition (WETEX) in Dubai this October.

Converting hydrogen into electricity inside its fuel cell stack, the Mirai delivers a performance that competes with traditional petrol engine cars, while emitting only water vapour from the tailpipe. With its low-maintenance electric motor, the vehicle is able to travel up to 500km on a full tank, which can be refilled in under five minutes.

Mirai models are likely to succeed in the UAE, where agencies such as Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) are rapidly adding eco-friendly vehicles to their fleets. This October, Al-Futtaim Motors handed over 554 Toyota Camry hybrid electric vehicles to the Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC), which is operated by the RTA. The order is the first of several that will be made before the end of 2017 as part of an expansion that will see DTC grow the number of hybrid electric vehicles in its fleet by 145%.

For fleet operators, the good news is that efficiency updates are not exclusive to passenger cars. Vehicles that have typically been the greatest consumers in terms of cost and fuel are now the first to be electrified and modernised – not just internationally, but in key Gulf markets as well.

This October, Volvo Trucks launched two heavy-duty trucks, powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), capable of delivering the same power output – 460  horsepower (hp) – as their diesel-powered counterparts, but with 20% lower carbon emissions than equivalent diesel- and gas-powered vehicles.

In achieving this, the Volvo FH LNG and Volvo FM LNG tread new territory in terms of performance, according to Volvo, which noted that no gas-powered vehicle had previously been able to match the 460hp power output rating of a diesel Volvo FH 750 truck. The Volvo FH LNG and Volvo FM LNG can also operate on biogas, which would fully negate their carbon emissions by delivering a 100% reduction in net emissions compared to other vehicles.

Original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Caterpillar, has similarly updated its product lines and fleets this year to improve their levels of operational efficiency. This August, the company rolled out its first electric drive loader, the Cat 988K XE, which – Caterpillar claimed – delivers 25% greater overall efficiency and up to 10% more productivity in load-and-carry applications, compared with the 988K loader. The former figure, according to the OEM, could rise to as much as 49% in face-loading applications when compared to the Cat 988K.

In the same month, Caterpillar updated its D6K dozer model with an Eco Mode function and a range of optional Cat Connect-linked enhancements to help fleets and operators get more grading work done in less contact time. The D6K replaced the D6K2, coming in with a new Eco Mode system that lowers engine speed while maintaining ground speed, for 18% lower fuel consumption in lighter blade load applications like finish grading.

Additionally, the Cat Grade with Slope Assist feature was also included to help operators automatically maintain blade angles, allowing them to finish up to 39% faster and with 82% less effort, while delivering up to 68% better surface quality.

More recently, Caterpillar expanded its hydraulic excavator (HEX) product line with the addition of three new models that will be available in the Middle East in the second quarter of 2018. Speaking during the products’ reveal, Herwig Peschl, the global marketing manager of Caterpillar, said the units offer “up to 45% efficiency improvement for the operator, up to 25% reduction in fuel consumption, and up to 15% maintenance cost reduction”.

Caterpillar’s efforts are paying dividends – and richly so. The OEM’s revenues rose by 9.5% to reach $11.3bn in Q2 2017, compared to $10.3bn in Q2 2016. The revenue of its Construction Industries grew by $504m to reach $4.9bn, translating into a year-on-year operating profit hike of 64% to $901m.

Meanwhile, Al-Futtaim Motors – the exclusive distributor of Toyota vehicles in the UAE – posted strong hybrid unit sales in H1 2017, with the Toyota Prius and Camry models registering growth rates of 535% and 430%, respectively, compared to the same period in 2016.

The financial benefits of fuel efficiency are quickly gaining new ground, and the Middle East – led by the UAE – appears ready to capitalise on these industry trends.

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