In Isuzu, June 2021, Test Short story5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJuly 6, 2021

There’s a belief in doing the right thing in this business,” says Brendan King, group general manager at TR Group. “We all have to do what we can do to abate environmental concerns.”

For TR Group, that means getting ahead of the curve and doing what it can, where it can, as early as it can to get alternative-fuel vehicles into its fleet. It’s no secret that hydrogen-powered heavy trucks are on the horizon in partnership with Hiringa Energy and Hyzon Motors. TR Group already has 20 electric vehicles in its fleet (including Fuso’s eCanter), either in operation with some of the country’s most prominent names in retail and logistics or soon to arrive. The investment in onsite charging infrastructure and the three SEA Isuzus in the rental fleet is the next step to proving the concept.

For Brendan and the team at TR, it’s also an opportunity to help develop the local market and learn about the technology.

“You wouldn’t go into electric or hydrogen trucks at this point for financial reasons; they’re not economical yet,” he explains. “But we have a big part to play in the New Zealand transport industry, so we’ve taken a leadership role to learn about the technology and have some knowledge to share with our customers.”

And TR’s customers are certainly conscious of the need to explore alternative- fuel vehicles. “Either because they’re genuinely interested themselves or because their customers are asking about it – the freight buyers are pushing in some instances,” Brendan says.

The hope is that these vehicles will help fill that gap. “We strongly believe in having the right gear. If you provide customers with less- than-ideal equipment, they’re not going to rent it unless they’re really stuck. The best gear hires itself.”

Getting the ‘best gear’ in this instance meant an almost three-year-long process, exploring the technology available (easier said than done when it’s always evolving), talking with customers, getting the support of the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (EECA), and developing the spec with SEA Electric.

Brendan makes special mention of EECA: “The trucks are co-funded by EECA, and they’ve been bloody excellent to work with; gone above and beyond to come to the party.”

That relationship could have only been a good thing, with the trucks being dearer than their conventional diesel-powered equivalents and TR needing to make a significant investment in charging infrastructure for these three rental units. “There’s a lot for customers to be aware of – it’s not just getting yourself an electric truck; you have to have the infrastructure, which is a lot more challenging and expensive than expected,” he says.

Won’t there be a payoff in lower energy and operating costs? “In theory,” Brendan says. “We will prove that over time – or not.”

There are also end-of-life costs to consider. “What’s an electric truck that’s past its use-by date worth? We don’t know, but we’ll find out. You can always find a new home for a diesel truck or rip parts off it, but all the expense is in the batteries with an EV. We’re always told the cost of batteries is coming down, and the quality, size, weight and capacity are all improving – so maybe in 10 years, they’ll be replaceable and go for two years without a recharge, who knows?”

There’s no doubting TR Group is committed to this, with another “10 years of learning to go”, says Brendan. “When we buy a diesel truck, we have an idea that we’ll own it for about 10 years. But we have to learn the whole lifecycle of a battery electric truck, see how long that is and what happens to the values when it’s no longer performing.”

No doubt those numbers will make for some interesting reading as the years go on.