EXCLUSIVE! We speak to Iveco’s Pierre Lahutte!

The 2018 IAA was all about e-mobility and saving the planet. However, not all the solutions presented at the fair are ideal for Africa. Does this mean that transporters on this continent can forget about going green? Most definitely not, says Pierre Lahutte, Iveco brand president, in an exclusive interview with CHARLEEN CLARKE

Imagine Coca-Cola exhibiting at a trade fair, but there isn’t a drop of Coke to be found on the stand – just water.

That’s more or less what Iveco did at this year’s IAA. While diesel-powered vehicles still represent over 95 percent of the company’s sales, there wasn’t one single diesel-powered vehicle on its IAA stand. Instead, the stand was populated by 18 electric, compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles.

Aligning with Iveco’s diesel-free stand, Shell displayed a CNG/LNG filling station and an electric charging station on the stand. Pictured with Lahutte is Lauran Wetemans, general manager downstream LNG at Shell.

Some would say that this was an extremely risky decision – but Lahutte disagrees. “Were we daring? Yes, most certainly. Iveco is the first manufacturer in the history of the IAA to present a stand without a single diesel engine – on the vehicles or the truck bodies,” he says.

“Did we take a risk? No, definitely not. I would not take a risk with the brand that I’m in charge of. It’s too important to so many people,” Lahutte responds. “The fact that we don’t have diesel-powered vehicles on our stand doesn’t mean that we’re not going to sell any diesel vehicles. We just wanted to position Iveco as a brand that is ready for the future.”

The Iveco brand president reveals that he was tempted to have a diesel-free stand one year ago at Solutrans. “It would have been very daring, but my team told me that it was too early. They were right. Now, the reality is that we simply COULD do this – because we have every conceivable alternative solution to offer to the marketplace!” he notes with pride.

In fact, Lahutte contends that a diesel-free stand was the only logical option. “We needed to offer tangible proof that we are ready with alternative vehicles that are commercially available right now – and they’re also viable for transport operators. Also, what I think is especially significant is that every single vehicle on our stand is already a sales success. I say this because we have sold at least 100 of each of these vehicles.

In the first time ever at the IAA, Iveco’s stand was completely free of diesel products. Lahutte says that Iveco has gone from being a pioneer in alternative drivelines to a leader.

“There’s only one exception to this statement: the Crealis In-Motion-Charging bus, which combines electric overhead lines with on-board battery energy storage and in-motion charging. We know that it’s going to be a massive success; it has already won the Sustainable Bus of the Year 2019 title in the Urban category and the Innovation Award in the Move Green Energy-Environment category at the European 2018 Mobility Exhibition in Paris. We have one small contract for one city for the Crealis, but tenders are coming in … so I’m confident of future sales of this vehicle, too,” he tells FOCUS.

In yet another bold move, Lahutte also took the decision to shun concept vehicles. “We have moved from being a pioneer to being a leader in alternative drivetrains. Being a pioneer is one thing; I can show you fancy prototypes. We aren’t doing that. We’re not exhibiting dreams. Instead, we decided to show vehicles that we can sell,” he reveals.

The decision was also taken to exhibit complete vehicles, which meant working closely with bodybuilders. “What we are presenting here at the IAA is not a compromise or a marketing tool; these vehicles all represent ‘green’ solutions for transport operators. It took us 12 months to develop some of these vehicles, working hand-in-hand with the bodybuilders.

“For instance, we partnered with Carrier Transicold to create an industry first: the brand new 26-t 300 kW
(400 hp) Stralis NP rigid equipped with a Frappa body and featuring Carrier Supra CNG technology. This ground-breaking solution is a 100-percent natural gas, zero-percent diesel truck with a refrigerated body,” he explains.

Lahutte says he’s delighted with the outcome of all these efforts. “We didn’t just want to exhibit trucks; we wanted to show complete green solutions – and that’s exactly what we have achieved at this IAA,” he says with a smile.

The Crealis In-Motion-Charging bus combines electric overhead lines with on-board battery energy storage and in-motion charging.

While the Iveco stand was diesel-free, Lahutte believes that, for now, diesel will still rule on the roads. “I have no doubt that, in the immediate future, our diesel sales will remain high. However, vehicles powered by gas and electric motors will continue to grow in popularity. When we sit with our customers, they are in disarray because no one is offering them a solution. We are, however! This is tangibly demonstrated on this stand, which contains so many solutions that have been developed in conjunction with customers!” he points out.

However, he says that a move to “greener” vehicles is happening surprisingly fast in some sectors. “Thanks to the development of alternative powertrains, diesel is slowly losing its grip on the market. In fact, the change is happening very fast in certain segments, for example the city-bus sector. Diesel already represents less than
50 percent of our city-bus sales,” Lahutte notes.

“When it comes to heavy trucks, we can offer a gas-powered truck as an alternative to diesel in every single sector (with the exception of our Astra trucks). We are seeing the shippers – the likes of Carrefour, Nestle and Ikea – push for more environmentally friendly trucks. It’s incredible to see the growth in gas trucks.

“Two years ago, we sold a mere 500 units, mostly garbage-collection trucks for random tenders in Europe. Last year, we achieved 1 800 sales, and we will sell more than 3 000 gas-powered trucks this year! I’m proud to say that we now have 75 percent of the gas-truck market in Europe,” Lahutte reveals.

The Iveco Eurocargo Johnston combines the truck’s CNG engine with a hydrostatic transmission, achieving a dramatic reduction in emissions compared to a traditional, diesel-powered, truck-mounted sweeper.

He says that the growth in sales of gas-powered Iveco trucks simply makes sense. “These vehicles have taken the market by storm – for good reason. A gas-powered truck is far superior to a diesel; there is no doubt! It drives better and the cost of operation is mind blowing,” Lahutte points out.

So, there you have it: Iveco is undoubtedly the leader in alternative powertrains in Europe, but what of Africa? Generally speaking, operators on this continent cannot afford to go the all-electric route. For now, it’s just too costly – and they won’t pay a premium for sustainability.

Does this mean that this continent is stuck in the environmental dark ages? “No, most certainly not. There are definitely environmental solutions for Africa and, of course, South Africa,” stresses Lahutte.

The Iveco brand president reveals that the company has just sold 50 gas-powered Crealis buses to the city of Abidjan, Cǒôte d’Ivoire. “Gas is totally under-utilised in Africa! There is huge availability of gas. It doesn’t need to be refined or transformed (as is the case with oil that needs to be transformed into diesel). It’s available on site and it’s usable. In fact, it is often burnt in production because it’s not used. There is a tremendous opportunity in Africa for sustainable transport, using gas. It is the cheapest possible solution – and it’s one that saves the planet too,” he enthuses.

Lahutte says that the Abidjan deal could be the environmental turning point for the continent. “This isn’t just a breakthrough for us (Iveco). It’s a breakthrough for Africa and sustainability on the continent,” he stresses.

So, there you have it. Expect to see many gas-powered vehicles on our continent – soon. And you can bet your bottom dollar on them having an Iveco badge up front.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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